ByMara Mullikin, writer at
I'm an aspiring writer, filmmaker, actress and werewolf.
Mara Mullikin

Whether you love it or hate it Free Willy was a popular film during the '90s and its impact on pop culture is still relevant today, as it's often heavily referenced in TV shows and films. It also rose the discussion and efforts of animal rights after it was discovered its star Keiko a.k.a. 'Willy' was living in dreadful conditions.

he movie is about a young boy called Jesse who's determined to set free an Orca named Willy after learning the aquarium owners intend to kill him. Twenty two years since its release, how much or little do you know about the film? Well, here are ten facts about the film that may surprise you.

10. Free Willy and Phantom of the Opera Together?

In the sequel to Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies' composer Andrew Lloyd Webber included the beginning of the harmonica melody the boy played for Willy into the musical's title aria.

9. Koko the Gorilla

An intelligent gorilla named Koko who communicates by sign language apparently loves the film, and it's said to be her favorite.

7. British Humor

Apparently English audiences found the film's title humorous as Willy is slang for a man's ding dong.

6. The Simpsons' Constant Target

The Simpsons has frequently spoofed the film on its program. In "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" , Homer's watching the film's finale except in this version the whale lands on the boy, and in "The Treehouse of Horror XI" after Lisa freed a dolphin named King Snorky it jumps over her, but its tail hits her in the face.

5. Jack Nicholson Turned Down the Film

According to, the legendary actor was reportedly approached to play the movie's villain Dial, but he wasn't satisfied by their monetary offer.

4. Free Willy Raised $20 million for Charity

In its end credits there was a hotline for donating money to 'Save the Whales Foundation' a.k.a. 'Pacific Whale Foundation'. Well, millions of patrons ended up phoning the organization and a total of $20 million was accumulated. We should start doing this more often!

3. Jimmy Neutron was in this Movie

Technically, it was his voice actress Debi Derryberry, but the veteran actress served as Jesse's body double during the scenes where he rode Willy. After the film she too joined efforts preventing whales from living in captivity. If you click on the link below you can see a couple production shots of her with Keiko on her Facebook page.

2. "Will You Be There"

The movie's theme was performed and written by Michael Jackson while he was staying at his Neverland Ranch. It was the eighth track on his album Dangerous. In the UK, it stayed in the top forty charts for six weeks while in the US it remained in the top ten for the same amount of time. In 1999, it was included in Sony's album 'All Time Greatest Movie Songs.'

1. Free Willy Becomes a Reality

As reported by The Telegraph, during the making of Free Willy it was discovered that 'Willy' a.k.a. Keiko wasn't properly being taken care of. The enraged public fought to free Keiko, and after he was moved a few times to more stable accommodations he was released in the waters of Norway after spending 22 years in captivity. However, a year later in 2003 he died from pneumonia. Keiko was 27 years old.

It's remarkable how much of a strong response this movie evoked-not just in terms of pop, but also how it sparked people's interests in animal welfare, and rights. Whether it's viewed as a classic or mediocre movie, just the reaction and awareness it procured alone makes it worthwhile that this film was made in the first place. Hopefully everybody gets something out of it. Now, go triumphantly pump your fist in the air.

If you'd like to find more information about Keiko's story, donate money or help captive orcas visit


Do You Love Free Willy?



Latest from our Creators