Hollywood Flashback: Bo Derek Was Chomped by a Killer Whale in 1977's 'Orca'

Orca Still ONE TIME USE - Getty - H 2018
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Ahead of 'The Meg' swimming into theaters Friday, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look back at the marine predator film, which was the actress' first feature film role.

During the mid-1970s, legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis ?went through a large-dangerous-mammal phase. In 1976, he had ?a huge hit with King Kong ("When the monkey die, people gonna cry," was his oft-repeated quote about the film). A year later, with Orca — in the tradition of 1975's Jaws and the Aug. 10 release The Meg — he took a more watery path of destruction.

"Find a fish tougher and more terrible than the Great White," De Laurentiis told screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni. But his killer whale tale sank at the box office amid scathing reviews. The Los Angeles Times said, "A lousier movie may get made one of these days or years, but it will have to wrest the trophy from the dead and icy grasp of Orca." The Hollywood Reporter focused more on the financial side and said the Paramount release was unlikely "to capitalize on the huge commercial success of Jaws."

The $12 million production ($50 million today) might have broken even, but it certainly wasn't a hit. The plot centers on a fisherman (Richard Harris) who plans to ?capture an orca, then sell it for $10,000 per foot to a marine park. (Charlotte Rampling also stars, playing a marine biologist in arguably the least arty movie ?of her career.) Harris then kills the mate of the world's most grudge-holding killer whale.

In ?a way, Orca is like Moby-Dick ?in reverse: The whale is obsessed with getting the fisherman. This passion for revenge leads to smashed boats, destroyed piers and Bo Derek, then 20, appearing ?in her first movie. "Since I ?was a little girl watching Jacques Cousteau, I'd loved killer whales," says Derek, now 61. "I thought we'd be around killer whales, but the film was shot in a tank in Malta and we had a rubber whale and Styrofoam icebergs. It was quite a disappointment."

But one enduring effect of her involvement is an occasionally seen crossword puzzle clue for a four-letter word: "In what 1977 movie was Bo Derek's leg bitten off?"

This story first appeared in the Aug. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.