In conjunction with the film's setting, shooting took place at several locations in the Cascade Range of Washington state near I-90 and the town of Index near US 2 as well as Seattle's Wallingford, Ballard and Beacon Hill neighborhoods and other locations in or around Seattle's I-5 corridor. While the film received mixed reviews, it was a box office success, with a combined domestic and international return of just under $50 million against a production budget of $16 million.
George Henderson (John Lithgow) is returning to his suburban Seattle home with his family from a camping trip in the nearby Cascade mountains when they hit something with the family Ford Country Squire. George investigates, and discovers to his horror and awe, that they have hit a Sasquatch. Thinking they have killed it, they decide to take the creature home, strapping it to the roof of their car. Meanwhile, a mysterious hunter has been tracking the creature and discovers the Hendersons' license plate, which fell off when they hit the creature.
Later that night, George goes out to the garage to examine the creature and discovers that it is not dead, and has escaped. He hears noises from his kitchen and sees the creature, which has knocked over the fridge looking for food. The family realizes that the creature is friendly and kind. George has a change of heart; at first he wished to make money from the creature, but now decides to take him back to the wild. Naming the creature "Harry," George tries to lure him into the station wagon, but Harry believes that the Hendersons mean him harm and instead he disappears.
Saddened, the family resume their normal lives, but sightings of Harry become more frequent and the media fervor heightens. George tries to find Harry in order to keep him safe. George visits the "North American Museum of Anthropology" to speak with Dr. Wallace Wrightwood, an expert on Bigfoot, but is disheartened when he realizes its ramshackle state. Giving his number to the clerk (Don Ameche) inside the Museum, George resumes his search for Harry. The hunter from the woods is Jacques LaFleur (David Suchet), a legendary hunter who became obsessed with Bigfoot and has hunted for one ever since becoming a laughingstock. LaFleur tracks down the Hendersons and is closer to finding Harry.
After a Harry sighting, George goes into the city to search for him. Meanwhile, the police are dealing with the "Bigfoot Mania" by apprehending several local enthusiasts that are hunting Bigfoot, in case the Bigfoot in question is someone dressed in a costume. Following a car chase, George is able to save Harry from LaFleur, and LaFleur is arrested by police officers. When George brings Harry home, he and the Hendersons bury the hunting trophies and pay their respects to the dead animals that were converted into hunting trophies.
The next morning, the neighbors notice hair in the Hendersons pool, and Harry is seen being dried off while watching The Addams Family. In jail, LaFleur calls someone and tells him to secure his immediate release because he has a lead on Bigfoot. George calls Dr. Wrightwood from the museum and invites him to dinner to speak about Bigfoot. At dinner, the museum clerk is revealed to be Dr. Wrightwood, having also become a laughingstock. Dr. Wrightwood tells George and the family to give up on Bigfoot, as it has destroyed his life and will destroy theirs, but then he meets Harry, and instantly agrees to take him to safety, away from the city. By this time, LaFleur has been bailed of jail and heads to the Henderson house. George and Harry escape the house with Dr. Wrightwood in his old truck. LaFleur gives chase and eventually catches up with the Henderson family.
Fleeing back to the mountains, George tries to make Harry leave, going so far as to hit Harry. Confused and upset, Harry does not leave. LaFleur catches up to them and attacks the Hendersons dog. Harry attacks LaFleur, but George intervenes. Through George's faith and Harry's kindness, LaFleur changes his mind and decides that Harry deserves to live peacefully. As the family says goodbye, George thanks Harry for all he has done for the family and tells him to take care of himself. to which Harry replies "Okay" (his first spoken word). As Harry leaves, several other Sasquatches appear from their hiding places and also disappear into the wilderness with him, to the amazement of the Hendersons. When Dr. Wrightwood asks LaFleur what he's going to do next, LaFleur replies, "I don't know. There's always Loch Ness." As the two of them laugh at that comment, the Hendersons keep waving goodbye to Harry.
During the credits, there is rotoscoping of different scenes of the movie.John Lithgow as George Henderson
Melinda Dillon as Nancy Henderson
Margaret Langrick as Sarah Henderson
Joshua Rudoy as Ernie Henderson
Kevin Peter Hall as Harry (in-suit performer)
Rick Baker as Harry (puppeteer)
Tom Hester as Harry (puppeteer)
Tim Lawrence as Harry (puppeteer)
Fred Newman as Harry (voice)
Lainie Kazan as Irene Moffat
Don Ameche as Dr. Wallace Wrightwood
David Suchet as Jacques LaFleur
M. Emmet Walsh as George Henderson Sr.
William Dear as Sighting Man
Harry and the Hendersons opened third behind Beverly Hills Cop II and The Untouchables. It went on to gross $29.7 million at the North American domestic box office and $20.2 million internationally for a total of $49.9 million worldwide.
The response from critics was mixed. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 44% based on reviews from 18 critics. Academy AwardsBest Makeup (Won)
Bruce Broughton composed the film's original score, and co-wrote "Love Lives On" with Barry Mann (music), Cynthia Weil (lyrics) and Will Jennings (lyrics), performed by Joe Cocker over the end credits (in place of Broughton's planned end title cue), the soundtrack version of "Love Lives On" which has a saxophone solo on a single and later released as a single. MCA Records released a soundtrack album on record and cassette; in 2007 Intrada Records issued an expanded album, marking the music's premiere CD release.
- Love Lives On - Joe Cocker [3:49]
- Main Title [3:05]
- Some Dumb Thing [2:28]
- Irene! [1:26]
- Harry In The House [4:20]
- Harry Takes Off [3:20]
- Your Feet's Too Big - Jimmy Walker; arr. Chris Boardman [3:15]
- Drawing Harry [1:49]
- Taking Harry Home [2:57]
- Foot Prints [4:19]
- Goodbyes [4:07]
- "Harry And The Hendersons" [3:28]
The album begins with the film version of "Love Lives On," which has a flute solo rather than the guitar heard on the single and on the 1987 soundtrack album.
- Love Lives On - Joe Cocker [3:51]
- Main Title [5:41]
- Taking Harry Home [4:33]
- Harry in the House [6:22]
- Night Prowler [1:01]
- Some Dumb Thing [3:16]
- Irene! [1:26]
- Eye To Eye [0:54]
- Our Little Pet [1:36]
- Tracking Harry [1:37]
- Harry Takes Off [3:19]
- Big Freeway [1:39]
- Sasquatch [1:01]
- The Great Outdoors [1:55]
- Bigfoot Museum [0:59]
- Planning the Hunt [2:03]
- Drawing Harry [1:48]
- Night Pursuit [9:52]
- First Things First [1:41]
- Wrightwood Meets Harry [1:29]
- Bed Pals [0:43]
- Traffic Jam! [7:14]
- Footprints [4:19]
- Goodbyes [4:06]
- Harry and the Hendersons [3:27]
The film was released in January 2011 on DVD entitled Harry and The Hendersons Special Edition. A single-disc Blu-ray of the film was released on March 4, 2014.
The film had a TV series spin-off, also called Harry and the Hendersons. Kevin Peter Hall reprised Harry until his death in 1991. After that, Harry was performed by Dawan Scott in 1991-1992 and by Brian Steele in 1992-1993. Harry's vocal effects were provided by Patrick Pinney.