The film received good reviews.
Co-creator Ricou Browning said that he originally conceived the story after seeing his children intently watching the TV series Lassie, which inspired Browning to create a similar story with a dolphin in place of the dog. After he sent the story to his friend, producer Ivan Tors, Tors expressed interest in making it into a movie.
Browning notably portrayed the original Creature from the Black Lagoon in the film of the same name, as well as two sequels. In Browning's second portrayal, Revenge of the Creature, a scene showcases one of the film's shooting locations, Marineland of Florida (depicted with a fictionalized name), presenting several stunts performed by "Flippy, the Educated Porpoise", in a form of product placement.
Sandy Ricks (Luke Halpin) is a young boy living in the Florida Keys who rescues and befriends a dolphin injured by a harpoon. His father, fisherman Porter Ricks (Chuck Connors) disapproves, as dolphins compete for fish, which jeopardizes the family income. He is also upset that, after befriending the dolphin, Sandy neglects his chores - especially those assigned by his Dad, repairing various items damaged by a dangerous hurricane, from which Sandy and Porter escape at the beginning of the movie.
After "Flipper" (as Sandy names his new friend) recovers from the wound, the dolphin puts on a show to entertain the neighborhood children. Porter, seeing Flipper as both a threat to his nets and fish and a distraction to Sandy's assigned post-hurricane clean-up chores, lets the recovered Flipper swim out of the pen to the open sea, despite Sandy's tearful pleadings to keep the pet he has come to love.
However, later, Flipper returns to the Ricks' pen, much to Sandy's delight, but devours Porter's entire catch of pompano, which were caught only thanks to Flipper guiding Sandy to the fish. The loss is keenly felt due to a red plague killing local fish in large numbers. Porter harshly berates Sandy for allowing Flipper to jump into the holding pen of valuable fish waiting to go to market, "What's wrong with you boy? How old are you, 12, almost in your teens? Or are you a child who doesn't have the sense to know what his next meal depends on?" Reduced to tears, Sandy retreats to his bedroom as Porter's wife Martha (Kathleen Maguire) remonstrates that "he's only a boy".
Determined to make up for the loss, Sandy sets off to find more fish, and is led by Flipper to a large school of fish near a reef. Later, Sandy is rescued from a threatening shark by Flipper, and the grateful father draws closer to his son. Porter Ricks is finally convinced that Flipper did indeed help Sandy find fish and that there are enough fish for both the local residents of the area and the dolphins.Chuck Connors as Porter Ricks
Luke Halpin as Sandy Ricks
Kathleen Maguire as Martha Ricks
Connie Scott as Kim Parker
Jane Rose as Hettie White
Joe Higgins as Mr. L.C. Parett
Robertson White as Mr. Abrams
George Applewhite as Sheriff Rogers
Filmed in color in 1962 and released in 1963, Flipper has several underwater sequences, along with scenes of the trained dolphin performing stunts. Flipper the dolphin was played by "Mitzie" (1958–1972), a female trained at the Santini Porpoise School (later the Dolphin Research Center), by Milton and Virginia Santini, who are credited in the film. Mitzi died in 1972 at age fourteen. She is buried at the Dolphin Research Center, where her grave is the first stop on the center's public tours.
In addition to Mitzie, four other dolphins were filmed for the production of the movie. Two of the dolphins, Little Bit, a female, and Mr. Gipper, a male, reproduced at the Dolphin Research Center. The calf was named Tursi, and she still lives at Dolphin Research Center as of 2011. Tursi has four offspring also living at Dolphin Research Center: Talon, Pax, Gypsi and Gambit.
In his 1974 book Friendly Porpoises William B. Grey, Animal Collection Manager for the Miami Seaquarium, has a photograph of dolphin trainer Jim Kline training a dolphin for a hurdle jump stunt for the film in the Seaquarium's main dolphin tank.
A film sequel, Flipper's New Adventure, was filmed in late 1963 and released in June 1964. That same year, a television series inspired by the movie, Flipper, began and ran until 1967. A 1990s television revival featured Jessica Alba. In 1996, a movie remake was released, Flipper, starring Paul Hogan and Elijah Wood.