- Accidental Innuendo: The title would send a lot of people giggling.
- Awesome Music:
- Fridge Logic: As iconic as the jumping over the rock-wall scene is, you do have to wonder why Willy couldn't just do the same jump over the boat nets.
- "Funny Aneurysm" Moment:
- By the time the third movie was released, a critic was moved to ask, "Maybe they should have 'freed' a smarter Orca?"
- The documentary Black Fish casts everything about this movie in a dark light. Orcas being captured in the wild, separated from their families, kept in unsuitable enclosures, owned by Corrupt Corporate Executives, and being unpredictably dangerous are all Truth in Television.
- Heartwarming Moments:
- Jesse's relationship with his foster parents. He starts off as a cynical kid who doesn't trust anyone after having been abandoned by his mother. Over the course of the film, Glen and Annie slowly manage to convey to him that they really do care about him. In the final sequence, Jesse decides to trust Glen and ask for his help in saving Willy, which is a huge moment of Character Development for him.
- In the second film, Jesse's half-brother Elvis initially tells him that his mother never talked about Jesse to Elvis. At the end, once he and Jesse have bonded, he gives Jesse a photo of their mother, and then tells him that their mother actually talked about him all the time, that she loved him and regretted the way things turned out.
- Jerkass Woobie: Jesse starts out as this, deeply troubled by his feelings of abandonment by his mother and yet constantly rejecting the help of those who are trying to provide a better life for him. He gets better though.
- Moral Event Horizon: Dial and Wade cross it when they decide to cut their losses and sabotage Willy's tank so they can collect the one million dollar insurance policy on him.
- Memetic Mutation:
- Nightmare Fuel: The moment where Willy slams into the observation deck, having been agitated by the constant banging on his tank by everybody inside; it quickly becomes a scene of complete panic as everybody flees in fear of the glass breaking.
- Retroactive Recognition: In the Nelvana animated series, Willy is Suddenly Voiced by Paul Haddad, the future first voice of Leon Kennedy.
- Sequelitis: Three arguably forgettable sequels, the most recent being a Non-Actor Vehicle for Bindi Irwin.
- Signature Scene: Willy jumping over the rock wall.
- Tear Jerker: Right off the bat, the scene where Willy is captured by whalers as his family looks on helplessly.
- In one scene, Jesse sees Willy crying to the ocean at night, wondering what's wrong with him. Later on, before Jesse tries to leave to search for his mom, he saw other whales (his family), and decides to set him free.
- In the first sequel, Jesse learns that his long-lost mother who they couldn't find for years has passed on, leaving him and his adoptive parents to care for his half-brother. Jesse takes the news about as well as you'd imagine. His brother eventually admits that their mother never forgot about Jesse, and regretted that she was not able to be there for him.
- Visual Effects of Awesome: The whales in the sequels were portrayed by very detailed full-sized animatronics. Some were even fitted with propellers so that they could "swim" underwater.
- What an Idiot!: The children's constant banging of Willy's tank; same goes for the adults who should've been aware and stopped the commotion, as doing such a thing actually does cause very real stress to whales like Willy. Seeing Willy suffer likely won't make you feel too bad for them when he's finally had enough.
- What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: The animated series, full stop. Jesse can talk to animals, there's a hidden area in the Arctic where extinct animals live, there's a cyborg/environmental terrorist called "The Machine" running around attempting to wreck the environment and kill Willy and Jesse.... one has to wonder what the hell they were smoking at Nelvana during the pitch meeting.
YMMV / Free Willy