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Free Willy is a 1993 family film about a boy and his orca whale. The story is about Jesse (Jason James Richter), a young boy, who is caught vandalizing a theme park. His social worker manages to find a way that he can escape punishment, by helping out at the underwater attraction. Over time he befriends Willy, an orca whale kept in the park after being captured and taken away from his family.

Dial (Michael Ironside), the owner of the park, sees the bond between Jesse and Willy and plans on making a show of those two together. It turns out that Dial is greedy and has evil ulterior motives for the orca. Jesse and his friends are determined to find some way to save Willy from his impending death (you can kinda guess how from the title).

At the time, the movie was subject to frequent parody (especially its climax). A movement to "Free Keiko", the animal actor of the movie also was brought about by it. It... didn't work out as well as it did in the movie.

The film managed to spawn 3 sequels: Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home (1995), Free Willy 3: The Rescue (1997) and the most recent Free Willy 4: Escape from Pirate Cove (2010). There was also, believe it or not, an animated adaptation of the series that ran on ABC, and a really weird one at that.

Also spawned many "Whip it out in public" jokes in middle schools across the US.

Tropes used in Free Willy include:
  • Adults Are Useless: Just where were the adults supervising those noisy children in the underwater observation area, when they were screaming and banging on the glass, causing Willy to freak out?
  • Animated Adaptation: And it was weird even by the standards of animated adaptations. Let's see, Jesse turns out to be a "Truth-Talker", there's a Lost World-style island where recently extinct species thrive in secret, and -err- there is an antagonistic character called The Machine. He is a cyborg who lives in a technological fortress underwater and wants to kill every living thing. No, this was real; you can see him at around the 18 second mark in the opening credits. Because why not replace the "let's keep Willy away from humans who want to mistreat him" conflict from the films with "there's an underwater cyborg who hates everyone"?
  • A Boy and His X: A Boy and His Whale
  • Artifact Title: There isn't a whole lot of freeing in the sequels. Unless the "free" there is supposed to be an adjective describing Willy, so it doesn't really make sense.
  • Badass: Do you need to keep a truck from falling off a mountain? With a seven thousand pound whale in the back? Randolph's the man.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Elvis was telling the truth about learning karate.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Machine's alter ego.
  • Crying Wolf: Elvis in the sequel. The foster parents didn't believe him about the crashed oil tanker.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Free Willy. Um... (It is funny because Willy means 'penis.')
  • Hey, It's That Voice!: Sam Fisher/Darkseid is the Evil Popcorn Man's boss!
  • Humans Are Bastards: Subverted. The only human who's really a jerk is Dial. Oh, and the tons of kids who beat on the walls of Willy's tank.
    • On the other hand, in Real Life the movie title has often been used as an insult to fat kids everywhere.
    • The Machine and humans who do his dirty work for him.
  • Insurance Fraud: The reason Dial wants to kill Willy is for his million dollar insurance.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Jesse and Randolph
  • Magical Native American: Randolph, though this is largely averted in the first film. It's played painfully straight in the Animated Adaptation.
  • Playing Against Type: Michael Madsen as a very nice guy..for a change.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: The last time Jesse's social worker, Dwight is seen on-screen, is when he lectures the boy on how his mother is never coming back, and how he is better off with the Greenwoods, only for Jesse to send Dwight away. Dwight doesn't appear again for the rest of the film.
  • The Other Rainforest
  • Title Drop: "Let's free Willy!"