Orca: The Killer Whale

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Orca: The Killer Whale
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The Dollar Store Jaws
Genre: Disaster
Directed By: Michael Anderson
Written By: Luciano Vincenzoni
Sergio Donati
Robert Towne (uncredited)
Starring: Richard Harris
Charlotte Rampling
Will Sampson
Bo Derek
Photography: Color
Distributed By: Paramount Pictures
Dino De Laurentiis Company
Release Date: July 22, 1977
Runtime: 92 minutes
Country: United States
Budget: $6 million
Box Office: $14 million

Orca (also known as Orca: The Killer Whale) is a 1977 American disaster horror film directed by Michael Anderson and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, starring Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling and Will Sampson. It is based on Arthur Herzog's novel of the same name. The film follows a male orca whale tracking down and getting revenge on a captain for killing the whale's pregnant mate. It was released to a negative reaction from critics on July 22, 1977, though it gained a slight cult following.


Captain Nolan (Richard Harris) is an Irish-Canadian seafarer who catches marine animals in order to pay off the mortgage of his boat and eventually return to Ireland. Nolan's crew is looking for a great white shark for a local aquarium, but a scientist named Ken (Robert Carradine) is targeted by the shark. An orca intervenes and kills the shark, saving Ken. This switches Nolan's target to the orca. While Nolan is on the journey with his crew, he tries to capture what he believes to be a bull orca, but mistakenly harpoons a pregnant female. Nolan and his crew get the orca on board, where she subsequently miscarries. The captain hoses the dead fetus overboard as the male orca looks on screaming.

Seeking release for his near-dead mate, the male orca tries to sink the ship. One of Nolan's crew members, Novak (Keenan Wynn), cuts the female off the ship, but the male leaps up and drags him into the sea too. The following day, the orca pushes his now-dead mate onto shore. Al Swain (Scott Walker) berates Nolan for his actions after finding the dead whale. Nolan denies responsibility, but Swain and the villagers eventually find out his involvement. The villagers insist that he kill the orca, as the latter's presence is causing the fish vital to the village's economy to migrate. The orca then terrorizes the village by sinking fishing boats in broad daylight and then breaking fuel lines, thus destroying the village's fuel reserves.

Dr. Rachel Bedford (Charlotte Rampling), a colleague of Ken and a whale expert, shows him how similar whales are to humans and tells Nolan that, "If he [the orca] is like a human, what he wants isn't necessarily what he should have." Nolan confesses to Bedford that he empathizes with the whale, as his own wife and unborn child had previously been killed in a car crash caused by a drunk driver. Nolan promises Bedford not to fight the whale, but the orca attacks his sea-front house, containing an injured crew member of Nolan's, Annie (Bo Derek), within it. The house starts slipping into the sea and the whale bites Annie's left leg off. Nolan decides to fight the orca, although with Novak dead and Annie maimed and unable to help, Nolan and Paul (Peter Hooten) are now the only crew members left. Bedford and Ken join the pursuit, along with a Native American man, Jacob Umilak (Will Sampson), enlisted for his orca knowledge.

The crew begins to follow the whale after he signals Nolan to follow him. Ken is leaning over the side when the whale surfaces and grabs him, killing him in the process. They follow the whale until they reach the Strait of Belle Isle, though when Paul starts to get into a lifeboat, the maddened orca knocks Paul out of the boat and drowns him. The next day, the whale shoves an iceberg into the boat and starts to sink it. Nolan manages to harpoon the whale just before he and Bedford escape from the boat, while Umilak is crushed beneath an avalanche of ice just after sending out an SOS.

Nolan and Bedford hide in an iceberg, although Nolan slips onto another. The orca separates the icebergs, trapping Nolan. The whale jumps onto the ice, causing it to tilt and sending Nolan into the water. The whale lifts Nolan up with his tail and throws him onto another iceberg, killing him. Bedford looks on as Nolan slips into the water in a cross shape. With his revenge complete, the whale swims southward under the ice, while a helicopter is seen which presumably will rescue Bedford.

As the credits begin to roll, the orca is shown swimming beneath the thick arctic ice and butting his head against it, attempting unsuccessfully to surface for air. Though his fate is ultimately uncertain, it is suggested that the orca will likely drown beneath the ice.

Why It's a Whale of a Bad Movie

  1. This film is an extremely obvious and total rip-off of Jaws.
    • There's even a scene where an orca kills a shark. It's basically the movie's way of saying "We're better than Jaws!"
  2. The film's portrayal of orcas is grossly inaccurate. In the movie, orcas are portrayed as blood-thirsty man eaters who are more intelligent than man and vow to avenge the pod member. In reality, orcas are no more intelligent than other dolphins and the only known attacks have been reported in captivity.
  3. So many scenes that make absolutely no sense at all, such as the male orca literally roaring (Sound familiar?) and somehow ripping a hole into a boat.
  4. The orca sonar sound mixing is awful and annoying.
  5. The rubber orca animatronic is unrealistic and very ugly.
  6. The visual effects and editing is one of the worst parts of the movie, as the visuals look too silly and cheap to be taken seriously.
  7. The dialogue is very corny and cheesy.
  8. Inconsistent and campy acting.
  9. Aside from clearly trying to capitalize off of Jaws, it also steals elements from other horror films.
  10. It isn't even that scary and has little suspense.
  11. This movie does a laughably terrible job at trying to look like Jaws with its violence and "horror", although it completely lacks the tension and suspense Jaws had.

Redeeming Qualities

  1. The musical score is awesome and genuinely creepy.
  2. The opening scene was well filmed.
  3. The acting is still great, especially for the Orcas, but sadly, this didn't save the film.
  4. The female Orca's death was quite emotional.
  5. Despite the inaccurate depiction of the orcas, the pro-wildlife moral is actually well conveyed.
  6. Surprisingly great cinematography that can actually make some scenes pretty tense.
  7. It can be considered so-bad-it's-good.


Despite being a box office success, Orca: The Killer Whale received poor reception from both critics and audiences, with both criticizing the mediocre visuals, the plot, and being a Jaws rip-off. Orca: The Killer Whale currently holds a very low 9% Tomatometer on Rotten Tomatoes and a 33% Audience Score, with the official Critics Consensus stating "Content to regurgitate bits of better horror movies, Orca: The Killer Whale is a soggy shark thriller with frustratingly little bite." It also currently holds a 5.7/10 on IMDb and a 27 "generally unfavorable" score and a higher 7.0/10 "generally favorable" audience score on Metacritic.


  • Orca: The Killer Whale started production in 1975 to compete with Jaws.
  • Most of the scenes were filmed in Petty Harbour.


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