Where was The Big Blue filmed?
Amorgos Island, Maisons-Laffitte, Chattanooga, New York, St. Croix, Taormina, Sicily, Messina, Rhône-Alpes, Savoie, Tignes, and Cádiz.
Beach/Oceanview, French, Italian, Naturescapes, Buildings/Offices
About The Big Blue
The Big Blue dramatizes the sporting rivalry between two real-life leading free divers; Enzo Maiorca (Jean Reno), whose surname is renamed Molinari for the movie, and Jacques Mayol (Jean-Marc Barr). Released in 1988, some countries received the Luc Besson film under the French title “Le Grand Bleu.”
Produced by Patrice Ledoux and directed by Luc Besson, the movie opens by recounting the childhood experiences of two friends who hail from the Greek island of Amorgos. Two decades later, the two have since become well-known swimmers/ free divers who can dive down to great depths and stay underwater for long periods.
Enzo has since settled in Sicily, and even with his profile raised as a champion free diver, he yearns to reconnect with his childhood friend. He has an ulterior motive, to prove that he is the best diver yet, he hopes to convince Jacques to take up no limits freediving once again.
Jacques has since shifted his focus to scientific research with a particular interest in humans and dolphins. He is involved in studies about human physiology when traversing the iced waters of the Peruvian Andes. Even more fascinating, he is the test subject.
The friends reconnect and go about facing off at various diving competitions. Jacques wins their first contest, but Enzo emerges the victor at their next World Championships event. Pushing their limits, the pair embark on a challenging mission to explore greater dive depths,
Dr. Laurence (Paul Shenar), the dive doctor, recommends ceasing the competition when the stakes get to lethal proportions. The two divers don’t heed his warnings and decide to forge forward with their quests to conquer the sea (for Jacques) and outdo the other (for Enzo).
Much like one of the fabled Greek tragedies, the story doesn’t have a happy ending. Enzo loses his life trying to outshine his friend and saving Enzo ultimately also seals Jacques’s fate.
The Big Blue Locations
The Big Blue production stands as the most commercially successful French drama released in the ‘80s. Its popularity saw the film extend its run in the theaters for more than a year.
Described as a visual marvel, the filming locations of The Big Blue contributed to the overall interest the movie sparked. Despite some criticism for their drawn-out nature, the extensive underwater scenes, serene sceneries, and captivating landscapes still added to the overall cinematic boost.
This may be why the American version went through a recut to include a happy ending. Bill Conti’s music also replaced Éric Serra’s languid score, and the version is available only on VHS.
During production, the producers pulled all stops in terms of on-location filming. The production team shot several scenes across different countries, but the bulk of the filming took place on Amorgos. Several iconic Greek attractions, including the Panagia Hozoviotissa monastery and Agia Anna, had screen cameos.
The crew also filmed in Maisons-Laffitte, Alpes-Maritimes, Antibes, Chattanooga, St. Croix, Taormina, Sicily, Messina, Rhône-Alpes, Savoie, Tignes, and Cádiz.
The film’s ending leaves events on somewhat of a cliffhanger. However, an alternate ending, included in the American version, ties up loose ends. After descending for his final dive, Jacques swam up to the surface with the dolphin.
Jacques’s father drowns scene in The Big Blue
Manganari Beach, Greece
In their childhood years growing up on Amorgos, Enzo dares Jacques to retrieve a coin from the sea floor but he refuses. The first instance of tragedy strikes when Jacques’s dad (Claude Besson) dives into the sea on a shellfish harvesting run, and his breathing apparatus fails.
He uses a pump-supplied air hose on his diving mission but on that occasion, the apparatus fails. His rope also gets caught and the reef rocks puncture it. The two friends watch helplessly as the water weighs him down, and sadly, Jacques’s father dies.
It brings up Jacques’s sentiments about the sea. “You go down to the bottom of the sea, where the water isn’t even blue anymore, where the sky is only a memory, and you float there, in the silence.”
The Big Blue scenes where a young Jacques and Enzo started their rivalry were filmed in Manganari. Located on Los’s east coast, it is one of the Greek Cyclades islands juxtaposed between Santorini and Naxos. Besson reportedly spent time on Manganari in his childhood, and its pristine beauty stuck with him hence, inspiring one of the film shoot locations.
The Manganari Beach is undoubtedly the main highlight, and the perfect spot to spend the day enjoying the peaceful environment. Daily buses departing from Mylopotas Beach Chora, or the Port can get you to Manganari Beach.
Enzo rescues a diver scene in The Big Blue
Shipwreck of Olympia, Liveros Bay, Amorgos
When Enzo settles in Sicily as an adult, he earns even more adoration after rescuing a diver trapped in a shipwreck. His actions earn him a $10,000 cash prize.
When Roberto (Marc Duret) asks how he intends to spend the money, Enzo responds that he will repaint his car. Roberto points out that Giuseppe will do it for 25 dollars. Enzo shoots back, “then tell him to wax it too.”
The Liveros Bay, located on the southwest corner of Amorgos, transformed into The Big Blue film set for the shipwreck scene. It is the Cyclades' easternmost island, and the Olympia wreckage which still rests on the bay is one of the area’s highlights.
The legendary vessel sank in 1980, after running into stormy weather. From Santorini, Amorgos is accessible by boat and at Kalotaritissa beach, the shipwreck is located on a 15-minute descent.
Enzo dies scene in The Big Blue
Panagia Hozoviotissa Monastery, Amorgos 840 08, Greece
Enzo doesn’t take it lightly when Jacques has broken his record. He sets out to top it off. The diving doctor warns against it, arguing that based on Jacques’s response, the pressure at depths beyond 400 ft. turns lethal.
Enzo dismisses the doctor’s warning and goes ahead with the dive. He has difficulty making it back to the surface and Jacques dives down to his rescue.
Enzo admits that Jacques was right all along, “it’s much better down there… it’s a better place…” Grief-stricken, Jacques refuses, and Enzo breathes his last in Jacques's arms.
Finally honoring his friend’s wishes, Jacques takes Enzo’s body 400 feet below the water’s surface. The dive also takes a toll on Jacques who suffers a cardiac arrest.
Panagia Hozoviotissa provided the backdrop for The Big Blue scene where the two friends return to Amorgos for the completion. Constructed in 1017 as a sanctuary for the Virgin Mary (Grace of Panagia), the monastery literally hangs on the cliffside. It went through renovations in 1088.
The monastery is a religious retreat that welcomes visitors, and it’s worth noting that a modest dress code is required. Traveling from Chora, Panagia Hozoviotissa is about a kilometer away. Alternatively, it will take you half an hour to get to the monastery on foot.
Some of the other Greek locales seen in the film include the Amorgos Island capital, Chora, Agia Anna, the rocky beach, and the Kalotaritissa Bay.
Jacques and Johanna fall in love scenes in The Big Blue
Abra La Raya, Peru
While working at the diving research center, Jacques brushes shoulders with Johana Baker (Rosanna Arquette). She is an insurance investigator sent on an assignment.
Having heard his faltering heartbeat at the Taormina World Diving Championships, she concocts an insurance problem to investigate the issue. However, her mission is to meet up with Jacques again, and the pair falls in love.
Jacques describes the intriguing tale about mermaids appearing and leading deep-sea enthusiasts into enchanted places. He says, “they come, and they greet you, and they judge the love you have for them. If it’s sincere, if it’s pure, they’ll be with you, and take you away forever.”
Both don’t realize just how much Jacques is drawn to the murky depths of the waters. Facing off with Enzo, he beats him by 1 meter. His friend is a great sport and presents him with a crystal dolphin and a tape measure outlining the margin between their records.
Abra La Raya provided the backdrop for The Big Blue scenes at the research center, and Johanna arrives at the La Raya Pass railway station. Lying 14,000 feet above sea level, the La Raya Mountain range provides spectacular views of the Andean plateau.
Johanna is fired scene in The Big Blue
One Liberty Plaza, 1 Liberty St, New York, NY
Johanna is based in New York, and after visiting the research center, she struggles to settle back into the hustle and bustle of the city. Her thoughts are on Jacques, despite Enzo describing his friend in a rather hilarious way.
“Don’t think of Jacques as a human being, he’s from another world.” A blessing in disguise is when she gets the boot after her deception is uncovered. She leaves the Big Apple and embarks on the next chapter of her life with Jacques.
While in the Big Apple, we see Johanna crossing the Manhattan Bridge in a cab. The insurance company she works at is housed within the foreboding One Liberty Plaza high rise, located on 165 Broadway.
Once known as the U.S. Steel Building, the Lower Manhattan building rests on a block bounded by several popular locations. Broadway, Cortlandt Street, and Church Street are blocks away from One Liberty Plaza.
Hop onto bus QM11, BM2, Mzo, or M55 to get to The Big Blue filming location.
Jacques’s final dive scene in The Big Blue
Hurricane Hole, Virgin Islands National Park
Jacques is rescued by supervising divers and brought to the surface. After getting resuscitated, he is transported to a medical facility. His condition improves but he starts experiencing hallucinatory dreams.
In one such instance, he dreams that the ceiling collapses and water fills the room. Another hallucination depicts him stuck in the middle of the ocean with dolphins surrounding him. Johanna checks up on him, he is lying awake but unresponsive. Jacques also has a bloody nose and bloody ears.
She attempts to help him, but he veers towards a boat for one last dive. Johnna begs him not to go saying that whatever rests at the depths isn’t alive. She also tells him that they are expecting but eventually understands that he has to go. Before letting go, Johanna asks him, “promise you won’t forget me.”
The filming crew recorded most of the diving scenes at the Hurricane Hole. Located within the Virgin Islands National Park, Hurricane Hole is the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
A series of shallow bays fringing the island’s shore create the Hurricane Hole. Red mangrove trees protect the shore, and it’s a wonderful place to go snorkeling.
To get to The Big Blue location, take a ferry or barge from Red Hook. Three barge companies operate rides throughout the day taking visitors to Cruz Bay on St. John.
Other notable locations include the Carlton Hotel, now known as the InterContinental Carlton, where they filmed Johanna and Jacques’s reunion. The divers stayed at the luxurious San Domenico Palace Hotel at Piazza San Domenico 5 during competitions.
The scenes where Jacques swims with dolphins were recorded at the Marineland in 306 Avenue Mozart, Antibes. It is also where Enzo invited him to participate in the Sicily World Diving Championships.
The story took several creative liberties, starting with depicting both as setting 400-feet deep diving records. Their friendship and interest in the same sports match up with their real-life relationship but the pair weren’t direct competitors.
Jacques enjoyed a happy life several years after the film’s release, but sadly, he took his life in 2001 following a bout of depression. In real life, he did indeed dive into scientific research focusing on the aquatic potential of human beings. While diving, his heartbeat reportedly also slowed down from 60 to 27 beats per minute.
Enzo joined politics after involuntarily retiring from the sport following an outburst on the small screen. A competition ban forced him to shift his career, but it paid off because he ended up becoming a member of the Italian Senate.