Where was Free Willy filmed?
Astoria, Portland, and Seaside, Oregon; Mexico City, Mexico
Beach, State Parks, Contemporary Homes
Beachfront, Boat Style, Exotic/Tropical, Federal Building, Contemporary Modern
About Free Willy
Free Willy is set in the Pacific Northwest, and the filming for the movie is chiefly set there as well. Free Willy is considered a franchise of films, with multiple sequels to the original 1993 film. The film cost $20 million to film, and it grossed over $153 million at the box office. The film was created and produced under Warner Bros. Family Entertainment Group.
Free Willy is the story of a whale with three distinctive spots, so picking Willy out is easy. He and his family are swimming along in a pod when whalers encounter the pod and separate the distinctive orca from his pod. Willy, as he will later be named, gets trapped and he’s eventually sent to the Northwest Adventure Park.
Enter Jesse, a troubled twelve-year-old boy who was abandoned by his mom before meeting Willy. Jesse has been in trouble with the local police, and he’s eventually taken in for vandalism. That night, Jesse encounters Willy for the first time.
Jesse ends up in a foster home, and to remove the charges from his record, he’s required to clean up the graffiti at the park. Jesse sees the whale multiple times during this period and the two bond. Willy even saves Jesse when Jesse almost drowns. The pair become inseparable.
The owner of the park entices Jesse to get Willy to perform tricks on camera, but Willy refuses. The park owner becomes angry because so far, Willy has cost him a bit of money.
Drama comes when Jesse realizes that employees of the park intend to crack Willy’s enclosure and allow him to die. The employees want to cash in on an insurance policy worth $1 million.
Jesse enlists his friend Rae, who helps him procure a forklift to get Willy out of his enclosure. Jesse plans to get Willy back to his family (by now the pod has come close to where Willy is captured). However, Dial discovers that Willy is missing, and he does whatever he can to stop the release of the orca.
Jesse’s foster parents step in, and they help Jesse to get Willy to a place where he can be released and return to his pod. Jesse has to encourage Willy to actually swim out to the pod; for a moment, viewers think Willy has been on dry land for too long and might be dying anyway. However, Willy swims out to his pod, where he is finally free.
Free Willy Locations
Free Willy was shot chiefly in three cities, all in Oregon: Seaside, Astoria, and Portland. Some Free Willy locations were in Mexico City, Mexico. Many of the best scenes in Free Willy were actually shot with computer graphics.
The location of Jesse’s foster home on the Free Willy film set is a real-life home in Astoria, Oregon. Astoria is no stranger to the filming of big movie projects! The Goonies and Kindergarten Cop were also filmed, at least partially, in Astoria! Jesse’s foster home is on a beautiful lot in Astoria. The address of this lot is 3392 Harrison Avenue.
The park Jesse is assigned to clean is called the Northwest Adventure Park. However, this location is Oaks Amusement Park in Portland, Oregon. At the real location, the building where Jesse meets Willy is now the Oaks Park Roller Skating Rink.
Some water tank scenes involving Willy and Jesse were filmed in Mexico City, Mexico. It’s important to remember that this is where Keiko was kept after he was captured. The water tanks are now a part of Six Flags Amusement park in Mexico City.
Randolph’s home, in the movie, is just across from the Oaks Park in real life. The Oaks Park is free to the public, so you may visit any time. However, the home that is filmed and credited as Randolph’s home is a private home.
At the end of the film, Jesse is attempting to get Willy to Dawsons Marina. In real life, this is the Hammond Marina in Hammond, Oregon. There is a sign identifying the film shoot location for visitors.
Free Willy was loosely based on the story of Keiko the Whale, an orca captured in 1979 in Iceland. Keiko played the role of Willy in the film.
Willy’s performance scene in Free Willy
Aquatic Theater, Six Flags México, Carr. Picacho-Ajusco Km 1.5, Jardines del Ajusco, Tlalpan, 14200 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
The man who runs the park has seen his patience grow thin with Willy. Willy is known to bang on the glass in the tank, splash water everywhere, and generally do whatever he can to make a mess - and cost Nate money!
Soon, Nate observes Willy and Jesse interacting. He sees Jesse ask Willy if he’d like to do some tricks (Willy nods in agreement, of course).
Jesse tells Willy to go squirt the observers, which he quickly does. He commands Willy to do a tail slap, and Willy obliges. Willy, of course, performs a few cute tricks as well. He waves at the audience using his fin, and Willy and Jesse play ball.
These scenes were filmed in Mexico City, where Keiko the Whale was housed. Known as Reino Aventura, the official site where Keiko lived, and the scenes were shot is now closed.
The almost free scene in Free Willy
Hammond Marina Boat Launch, 1080 Iredale St, Hammond, OR
The water is ablaze, and it seems that Willy won’t be freed in time. The boat that Jesse is in is taking on water, and the boat is trapped in the fire. A search and rescue helicopter looms overhead, and viewers are as scared for Jesse and his friends as they are for Willy.
Willy is in great danger, as are the children. However, they see an opening in the flames, and they begin paddling toward it. Jesse comforts the others, telling them he won’t let anything happen to them. Willy is swimming nearby, and he’s in great danger too.
Soon, Jesse’s foster parents are present, and they’ll begin helping Jesse and Willy to get out of danger. They’ll also help Willy get to freedom.
They back a trailer into the marina and try to get Willy to swim out. Only Jesse can help Willy at this time. Jesse tells Willy, “I got you to the water; now you’ve got to do your part.”
Nate and his cronies are trying to get to Willy and kill him. A fistfight breaks out and Willy’s foster dad tells Nate, “Let go of my boy!” and punches Nate.
With Jesse’s encouragement, Willy swims away to freedom. Nate warns of the fishing nets, and he says the whale will never make it. This sets up the scene where Willy jumps and is finally free to rejoin the pod and his family.
There are actually multiple Free Willy locations around the Marina where this scene was shot. There’s a boat landing where Dial and Wade encounter Jesse’s foster father. They attempt to block the release of Willy while aboard a boat, and the fight between the men ensues. Jesse, who has felt abandoned for so long, finally realizes that he has a family during this scene.
Be sure to visit the jetty where Jesse runs and signals to Willy to jump over the structure. Although it looks (in the film) as if Jesse runs the length of the jetty, this is impossible, and you’ll be able to see the difference when you visit the Marina.
Again, be sure to look for the signage around Hammond Marina to find exactly where the scenes were filmed. Hammond is just a short drive from Astoria, and it’s a beautiful natural location for visitors to the Pacific Northwest.
Underwater rescue scene in Free Willy
Hammond Marina Boat Basin, 1080 Iredale St, Hammond, OR
While visiting Willy at night, Jesse falls into the water. Nate and his cronies are at the tanks, and Jesse was attempting to hide when he fell in. Willy shows just how attached he is to Jesse by rescuing him during this Free Willy film scene.
Jesse had passed out while he was underwater. When Willy brings him to the surface, Jesse appears lifeless. However, Jesse soon begins to cough and sputter. When he realizes what happened, Jesse looks at Willy and says, “You saved my life.”
This is one of the most talked-about scenes in Free Willy. The bond between Jesse and Willy is palpable, and fans can’t help but feel a tender moment between the boy and the orca. This will make it all the more difficult to watch when Jesse helps get Willy to freedom at the end of the film.
Free Willy is loosely based on the life of its star, Keiko the Whale. Keiko was taken captive near Iceland in the late 1970s. Keiko had been housed at the facility in Mexico City, Mexico where many of the best scenes in Free Willy were shot.
Individuals became interested in Keiko’s plight. They thought Keiko should be moved back to the wild. Keiko, however, had been captured when he was a calf, and he’d never really known any other life. Many in the public eye wanted Keiko released, so he was returned to Iceland. At the time, he was the first captive Orca to be released back into the wild.
Unfortunately, Keiko was not able to adapt. He lived for six years off the coast of Iceland, but he never fully integrated with the pod. He kept a distance of about 300 meters from the pod at all times. Keiko did not forage for food when with the pod. Caretakers would boat out to Keiko to feed and interact with him. Keiko would spend much more time interacting with humans than his own kind. He died in 2003, just a decade after his initial hit movie.