Big Miracle

Big Miracle is a 2012 British-American drama film directed by Ken Kwapis, and stars Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski. The film is based on Tom Rose's 1989 book Freeing the Whales, which covers Operation Breakthrough, the 1988 international effort to rescue gray whales trapped in ice near Point Barrow, Alaska.

Big Miracle
Big Miracle Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKen Kwapis
Produced bySteve Golin
Michael Sugar
Tim Bevan
Liza Chasin
Eric Fellner
Screenplay byJack Amiel
Michael Begler
Based onFreeing the Whales
by Tom Rose
StarringDrew Barrymore
John Krasinski
Kristen Bell
Dermot Mulroney
Tim Blake Nelson
Vinessa Shaw
Ted Danson
Music byCliff Eidelman
CinematographyJohn Bailey
Edited byCara Silverman
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • February 3, 2012 (2012-02-03) (United States)
  • February 10, 2012 (2012-02-10) (United Kingdom)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$40 million[1]
Box office$24.7 million[2]


Adam Carlson (John Krasinski), a news reporter in Point Barrow, a small town in northern Alaska, can’t wait to land a job in a bigger market in the lower 48 states. Then, in October 1988, the story of a lifetime practically gets dropped into his lap: while recording video with a local Inupiat boy, Nathan (Ahmaogak Sweeney), he spots a family of gray whales near the Arctic Circle trapped by rapidly forming ice. Along with the descending media, including kindred spirit Jill Jerard (Kristen Bell), comes his ex-girlfriend Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore) – a Greenpeace volunteer - and Pat Lafayette (Tim Blake Nelson), an Arctic Wildlife Refuge expert. Adam names the adult whales Fred and Wilma, and the infant Bamm-Bamm, and Rachel agrees to help Adam start a rescue campaign for the trapped whale family.

Having been informed by Pat the whale family is trapped five miles inland, they realize they need icebreaker equipment to perform a successful rescue. Ruth McGraw (Kathy Baker), a secret Greenpeace activist, anonymously tips Rachel off that her husband Alaskan Northern Oil executive J.W. McGraw (Ted Danson) owns a hover barge that can pulverize a path through the ice. Having had a public and televised confrontation over bidding rights to the oil in Bristol Bay, Rachel and McGraw are all but at each other’s throats. But after being slyly informed by his wife how he would look if he became a tree hugger like Rachel, McGraw agrees to let “the witch” borrow his hover barge and even agrees to pay for the fuel.

Rachel has to resort to a potential PR scandal to prompt hard-hearted local Governor Haskell (Stephen Root) to join the good-will effort, but Sarah Palin and the Joint Chiefs Of Staff need no such prompting. Once McGraw meets the whale family, he becomes fully committed as well, whereas before he was simply interested in securing a drilling contract. The National Guard - including Col. Scott Boyer (Dermot Mulroney), SAR Pilot Conrad (Shea Whigham), his copilot (Anthony Fryer) and General Stanton (Gregory Jbara) - are mobilized to begin the process of transporting the hover barge. Meanwhile, White House Representative Kelly Meyers (Vanessa Shaw), realizes what good PR the whale rescue would be for the administration and gets the American president Ronald Regan (Jeff Bergman) involved in the effort. Being his representative, Kelly heads for Alaska, where she and Scott meet.

While the hover barge is beginning its journey, however, the whales are running out of time, not only because their breathing hole is steadily growing smaller, but also because the local Inupiat whale hunting captains are considering harvesting them for food because they haven’t filled their quota, even though they don’t normally eat gray whales and traditionally hunt bowhead whales, which are capable of punching through the ice, whereas Fred, Wilma, and Bamm-Bamm are not. Having been warned through advice by Adam, the Inupiat leader and elder, Malik (John Pingayak) - who is Nathan’s grandfather - persuades them to instead volunteer keeping the breathing hole open by using chainsaws.

Malik, a spiritual man in tune with nature, becomes aware that something is wrong with baby Bamm-Bamm, and Pat agrees with his assessment, diagnosing the calf as having come down with pneumonia because of the severe cold (negative 50 degrees Fahrenheit). Without hesitation, Rachel dons a special diving suit and goes into the water to examine Bamm-Bamm up close. It’s implied by Adam while he’s trying to stop her that her always-driving-forward attitude was why they broke up. Under the icy water, she finds a gill net wrapped around Bamm-Bamm’s fluke, and immediately cuts it off him, and he seems to perk up quite a bit after being freed. But he’s still sick, and needs his mother and father to help him get to the surface to breathe.

Meanwhile, disaster strikes as the hover barge runs into an Arctic pothole even larger than the barge, and becomes no longer viable as an option to rescue the whale family. Scott is refusing to give up, however, and asks Kelly if the White House has a backup plan, to which she replies she was hoping he had one for them. Not only that, the ice is spreading faster than the volunteers can keep it back. But just as time is about to run out, two entrepreneurs from Minnesota, Dean Glowacki (Rob Riggle) and Karl Hootkin (James LeGros), provide de-icing machines that help keep the hole open and buy the three whales much-needed time. However, not only does the initial problem of cutting a five-mile path through half a foot of ice remain, at the place where the whales are supposed to go, scouts discover an additional problem of huge proportions: a thick wall of ice known as a pressure ridge that goes all the way to the sea floor and grows thicker with each passing hour.

The several normally hostile factions - Inupiat, Greenpeace, the National Guard, the White House, and Alaskan Northern Oil - eventually learn respect and understanding from each other as they try to save the gray whales. So when it’s suggested to approach the Soviet Union - the only other ones who have an icebreaker barge nearby - for help, the initial response is an almost unanimous “NO WAY!” But much as they don’t want to admit it, they acknowledge they do need the Soviet Union’s help. So Captain Yuri Nikolvich (Stefan Kapičić) and his First Mate Dimitri (Mark Ivanir) are dispatched by Mikhail Gorbachev to aid in the rescue, officially making this an international effort. In anticipation of their arrival, breathing holes are cut every sixty feet all the way to the pressure ridge (425 total holes, 30 holes an hour cut in one day). Before the icebreaker ship arrives, however, little Bamm-Bamm succumbs to his illness and dies. Only then do Fred and Wilma swim to the pressure ridge. And everyone on both sides of the ocean are genuinely saddened by Bamm-Bamm’s death, and become determined to save Fred and Wilma, no matter what it takes.

The enormous Soviet ice-breaker ship arrives to remove the last barrier before the whales die. The ship's first attempt doesn't work and leaves only a dent. The second attempt frightens the whales and they start swimming back the way they came, but the other breathing holes have frozen over and they’re running out of air. Risking their lives and their ship, the Soviets charge full-speed at the pressure ridge and succeed in punching a hole in it. The ice is finally broken and the adult whales Fred and Wilma escape the ice.

The epilogue, narrated by Nathan, reveals that McGraw used his new reputation to uphold a contract to clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Karl and Dean's de-icers made them local celebrities, Scott and Kelly got married, Jill worked her way up to a national news network, Greenpeace membership became more prominent, Adam confesses his love for Rachel and she returns his affections and they share a kiss, Adam decides to stay being a local news anchor, and both Nathan and Malik became closer to one another, and Nathan recalls about the hole in which the whales were first found and quotes "It kept getting bigger and bigger, until it let the whole world in."

In a post-credits scene, Fred and Wilma swim away free in the ocean.



Warner Bros. bought the screenplay by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler in April 2009, and in the following June, Kwapis was attached to direct.[9] In September 2010, with Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski cast in the starring roles, filming began in Seward. It had a production budget of $30 or 40 million. The crew constructed sets in Anchorage to resemble places in Utqiagvik during the whale rescue. Filming lasted for 10 weeks.[10] The film's working title was Everybody Loves Whales, which is a line still heard in the film. Visual effects on Big Miracle were created by Rhythm and Hues Studios and Modus FX. Burger King promoted the movie with toys. The MPAA has rated this film PG for language.

The red-and-black Soviet icebreaker in the movie is modeled after real world Arktika-class nuclear-powered icebreaker which is considerably larger than the diesel-electric icebreaker used in the actual rescue effort, the 1975-built Admiral Makarov. In shots which include live footage of the 2007-built 50 Let Pobedy, the blue-and-white polar bear logo of the former operator of the Russian nuclear icebreaker fleet, Murmansk Shipping Company, is clearly visible but the atom symbol on the hull as well as the name of the vessel has been airbrushed out.


On the aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a "Certified Fresh" rating of 75% positive reviews from 104 critics. The site's consensus was: "Big Miracle uses real-life events as the basis for a surprisingly satisfying family drama."[11] Metacritic currently holds a score of 61 based on 28 reviews.[12] The film opened with $2,267,385 on its opening day, ranking at No. 4 behind Chronicle, The Woman in Black, and The Grey at the box office.[13] The film grossed $7,760,205 on its opening weekend and remained at the same spot.[14] On its second weekend the film dropped to #8, with $3,946,050.[15] The film closed its run on April 5, 2012, with $24,719,215 worldwide.


  1. ^ Dorothy Pomerantz (November 14, 2014). "The Biggest Box Office Flops Of 2012". Forbes. Retrieved December 27, 2014.
  2. ^ Big Miracle at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ Anderton, Ethan (April 30, 2010). "John Krasinski Joins Drew Barrymore in Family Flick 'Whales'". Retrieved 2010-11-08.
  4. ^ "Drew Barrymore To Star In ‘Everybody Loves Whales’" Archived September 21, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  5. ^ (February 10, 2012). "Big Miracle: The real-life whale rescue which inspired new Hollywood blockbuster".
  6. ^ Liam (June 25, 2010). "Kristen Bell Joining 'Everybody Loves Whales'" Archived August 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Empire Movies. Retrieved 2010-11-08.
  7. ^ "Ted Danson and Vinessa Shaw Join 'Everybody Loves Whales'". HeyUGuys. Retrieved 2010-11-08.
  8. ^ McCloskey, Megan (January 26, 2012). "'Big Miracle' tells love story of TAPS founder". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  9. ^ McNary, Dave (June 4, 2009). "Ken Kwapis circles 'Whales' drama". Variety.
  10. ^ Hopkins, Kyle (September 17, 2010). "'Everybody Loves Whales' crew begins filming in Anchorage". Anchorage Daily News. Archived from the original on February 6, 2012.
  11. ^ "Big Miracle Movie Reviews, Pictures – Rotten Tomatoes". Flixster. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
  12. ^ "Big Miracle Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic". CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
  13. ^ "Daily Box Office for Friday, February 3, 2012 - Box Office Mojo".
  14. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for February 3-5, 2012 - Box Office Mojo".
  15. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for February 10-12, 2012 - Box Office Mojo".

Further readingEdit

  • Rose, Tom (1989). Freeing the Whales: How the Media Created the World's Greatest Non-Event. Carol Publishing Corporation. ISBN 978-1-55972-011-3.

External linksEdit