16 Best Movies to Watch From New-Zealand

Staff & contributors

Directed by Taika Waititi, who also gave us Boy (2010) and co-produced What We Do in the Shadows (2014), Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the quirky and magical buddy movie you want if you’re in need of an antidote to a bad day or a steady diet of sad movies.

It tells the off-kilter adventure story of misfit, rap-loving city kid Ricky Baker and his crusty and cantankerous foster parent ‘Uncle’ Hec, played by Sam Neill. ‘Very bad egg’ Ricky has been bounced out of more foster families than he cares to remember and is given one last chance of living with a couple out on a farm in rural New Zealand. After tragedy strikes early in the film, the unlikely pair gets lost in the wilderness and becomes subject to a nationwide manhunt.

Full of dead-pan humor and warm-hearted mockery, this audience favorite fuses visual gags delivered by a charming cast with sweeping shots of spectacular scenery!

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Cohen Holloway, Hamish Parkinson, Julian Dennison, Lloyd Scott, Mabelle Dennison, Mike Minogue, Mike Minouge, Oscar Kightley, Rachel House, Rhys Darby, Rima Te Wiata, Sam Neill, Sonia Spyve, Stan Walker, Taika Waititi, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Troy Kingi

Director: Taika Waititi

Rating: PG-13

The tragic irony of war — that, if battling soldiers had been born in any other time or place, they may well have been friends with each other — takes center stage in this brilliant drama set in WWII-era Java. It's a theme best encapsulated by Captain Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto in his film debut), the bushido code-following commandant of a Japanese POW camp: “How wonderful it would have been if we could have invited all of you to a gathering under our cherry trees,” he muses to the titular British Lieutenant Lawrence (Tom Conti), one of his prisoners.

Lawrence is the camp’s mediator, and not just because he’s fluent in Japanese; in the culture clash microcosm that is the camp, he is uniquely understanding of his captors’ way of life. That earns him special privileges of sorts from the camp’s often brutal enforcer (Takeshi Kitano), but this pales in comparison to the instant partiality with which the charismatic Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie) enjoys, courtesy of a smitten yet deeply repressed and tormented Yonoi. This psychosexual undercurrent bubbles furiously throughout Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, deepening its (already poignant) lamentations about war’s humanity-stripping effect and the self-imposed prisons that are honor and shame.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alistair Browning, Arthur Ranford, Colin Francis, Daisuke Iijima, David Bowie, Grant Bridger, Hideo Murota, Hiroshi Mikami, Jack Thompson, Johnny Ohkura, Kan Mikami, Rokkō Toura, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ryūnosuke Kaneda, Takashi Naito, Takeshi Kitano, Tamio Ishikura, Tom Conti, Yūji Honma, Yūya Uchida

Director: Nagisa Ōshima

Rating: R

Deadpan comedy styled as a mockumentary, following four flatmates who happen to be vampires. They range in ages from 183 to 8000, and spend their nights trying to adapt to modern day living, eating,   reminiscing about old times, and solving the problems that come with every shared flat. It is filmed in a fake documentary style similar to The Office, with one-on-one interviews interspersed into the film. From the creators of Flight Of The Conchords and Boy, it is a truly great, hilarious comedy that you will not want to miss!

Genre: Comedy, Horror

Actor: Ben Fransham, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Cohen Holloway, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Elena Stejko, Emma Draper, Ian Harcourt, Isaac Heron, Jackie van Beek, Jason Hoyte, Jemaine Clement, Jennifer Martin, Jonathan Brugh, Jonathon Brugh, Jonny Brugh, Karen O'Leary, Kura Forrester, Luke Bonjers, Madeleine Sami, Mario Gaoa, Mike Minogue, Morag Hills, Natalie Crane, Nathan Meister, Rhys Darby, Rodney Cook, Stan Alley, Stu Rutherford, Stuart Rutherford, Taika Waititi, Yvette Parsons

Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

Rating: R

This documentary from journalist David Farrier, New Zealand’s answer to Louis Theroux, plays more like an out-and-out horror movie. But don’t be fooled by the serial killer connotations of its title — the real Mister Organ’s crimes are (mostly) psychological and have no obvious motive, making him quite a bit scarier than your usual screen villain. Described as a “parasite,” “terrorist,” and a “black hole” by the few traumatized victims of his who agree to talk on record about him, Organ is clearly a master at weaving a sticky web around everyone who comes near him — including, as it turns out, Farrier himself, who soon becomes a casualty of his own investigation.   Though the doc never really punctures the nebulous aura of this deeply creepy — and yet somehow deeply dull — character, that’s what makes it such an arresting watch: Farrier takes us along for the ride as he’s sucked into the disorienting orbit of an energy vampire, largely denying us the relief of a clarifying explanation so that we, too, get a taste of the claustrophobia and psychological torture that come with dealing firsthand with someone like Organ.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: David Farrier, Michael Organ

Director: David Farrier

There’s more than a touch of Louis Theroux to this engrossing documentary — fronted by New Zealander pop-culture journalist David Farrier — about an innocuous-seeming Internet phenomenon: the actually-sinister subculture of “competitive endurance tickling”, in which young men undergo “tickle torture” for money on camera. When Farrier unassumingly requests an interview with an American producer of tickle content, it kickstarts a bizarre campaign of harassment and opens up a rabbit hole of unbelievable twists and turns. The wild places this documentary goes are best left as unspoiled as possible, but it’s no spoiler to say this emerges from its seemingly lighthearted premise as a deeply unnerving story about money, power, sex, and shame in the Internet age.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: David Farrier

Director: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve

Although it opens on Janet Frame’s first steps as a baby, this Jane Campion-directed biopic of the celebrated New Zealand writer doesn’t take an exhaustive approach to its subject’s life. We frequently only learn of milestones — the many awards she won, the death of her mother — later on and in passing. In a beautiful gesture that feels like a tiny righting of the many wrongs done to Janet, it’s her perspective that guides the film. 

That embedded approach also makes the emotions that come with her heartbreaking yet uplifting story more profound. And there is much heartbreak here: alongside the several tragic losses Janet experienced as a child, she was misdiagnosed as schizophrenic as a young woman and spent eight harrowing years in psychiatric hospitals. Throughout all of this, she wrote fiction and poetry, work that saved her life in more ways than one: as well as being a rare constant source of joy, it won her a literary prize just days before she was scheduled for a lobotomy, prompting her doctors to reconsider. Neither Campion nor Janet allowed this experience to define her, however, and the film empathetically grants her real moments of joy and choice throughout — making for a deeply sensitive and uplifting watch.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alexia Keogh, Alison Bruce, Alistair Douglas, Andrew Robertt, Brenda Kendall, Brian Flegg, Celia Nicholson, Collette Cooper, David Letch, David Stott, Edith Campion, Elizabeth McRae, Faye Flegg, Fiona Kay, Francesca Collins, Gerald Bryan, Iris Churn, Jessie Mune, Jim Rawdon, Julia Calvo, Karen Fergusson, Katherine Murray-Cowper, Kerry Fox, Kevin J. Wilson, Lilian Enting, Mark Clare, Mark Morrison, Martyn Sanderson, Melina Bernecker, Natasha Gray, Paul Norell, Peter Needham, Robert Jayne, Ruth Dudding, Sarah Smuts-Kennedy, Sheryl Stewart, Tiffany de Castro, Timothy Bartlett, Willa O'Neill

Director: Jane Campion

Rating: R

The story that Whale Rider tells is a familiar one: that of a young girl challenging the expectations of a patriarchal community in order to claim her rightful place in a position of authority. But this isn't a superficial girl-power movie; writer/director Niki Caro maintains the utmost reverence for this Māori community, even if its customs might not appear fair to an outsider's point of view. It's a film full of realistically flawed people, whose struggles are all borne from a common love for their culture in their little corner of the world. What could have been generic and simplistic is made beautiful—especially thanks to a truly moving performance from Keisha Castle-Hughes, who at the time became the youngest nominee for the Best Actress Oscar.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Cliff Curtis, Grant Roa, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Mana Taumaunu, Rachel House, Rawiri Paratene, Tahei Simpson, Tammy Davis, Taungaroa Emile, Vicky Haughton

Director: Niki Caro

, 2012

Boy is the highest-grossing New Zealand film of all time, and a masterpiece of compassion and good humor. Set in New Zealand's rural East Coast in 1984, the film's protagonist, Boy, imagines a world outside, dreaming of meeting Michael Jackson and having adventures. These fantasies serve to distract him from the sad circumstances of his life, living with his grandmother while his father serves out a prison sentence. However, adventure comes to Boy suddenly when his ex-convict father returns to find a long hidden bag of money. Written, directed, and starring Taika Waitit and featuring the new comer James Rolleston as Boy, it's a hilarious and heartwarming tale.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Cherilee Martin, Chris Graham, Cohen Holloway, Craig Hall, Darcy Ray Flavell-Hudson, Haze Rewiti, Hoanihuhi Takotohiwi, James Rolleston, Jarod Rawiri, Maakariini Butler, Madeleine Sami, Manaia Callaghan, Mavis Paenga, Moerangi Tihore, Ngapaki Emery, Pana Hema-Taylor, Rachel House, Rajvinder Eria, RickyLee Waipuka-Russell, Stu Rutherford, Stuart Rutherford, Taika Waititi, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, Te Aho Eketone-Whitu, Tuhoro Ranihera Christie, Waimihi Hotere

Director: Taika Waititi, Topaz Adizes

Rating: Not Rated

Peter Jackson made the transition from splattery gross-out movies like Braindead to more respectable fare with Heavenly Creatures, the true story of an intense relationship between two teenage girls that culminates in the murder of one of their mothers.

As the girls’ friendship becomes unhealthier, they invent a secret world for themselves, amusingly including a heart-throb Orson Welles. This gives Jackson the opportunity to indulge in his love of fantasy, creating some dazzling hallucinatory sequences.

The fantasy element contrasts beautifully with the humdrum setting of ‘50s New Zealand, and the final tragedy is heart-breaking. The film also provided an auspicious debut for Kate Winslet, who is terrific as one of the misguided fantasists.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Barry Thomson, Ben Fransham, Clive Merrison, Darien Takle, Diana Kent, Elizabeth Moody, Geoffrey Heath, Gilbert Goldie, Glen Drake, Glenys Lloyd-Smith, Jed Brophy, Jesse Griffin, Kate Winslet, Liz Mullane, Lou Dobson, Melanie Lynskey, Moreen Eason, Peter Elliott, Peter Jackson, Ray Henwood, Sarah Peirse

Director: Peter Jackson

This excellent new drama is about three indigenous Māori women and their upbringing in colonial New Zealand.

The story is split into two timelines: the present, where two of them are trying to protect their ancestral land from a government project, while the third, Makareta, is wandering aimlessly through a big city. And the past, the story of how they got separated and how Makareta got taken away by a residential-school-like orphanage.

It's a heartbreaking tale, one of how a people can be ravaged by colonialism and decades of discrimination. But being focused on the personal lives of the three women, it’s also heartwarming and deeply humane.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ana Scotney, Briar Grace Smith, Calvin Tuteao, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Cian Elyse White, Cohen Holloway, Erroll Anderson, Freya Milner, Jim Moriarty, Jonathon Hendry, Kirk Torrance, Miriama Smith, Rachel House, Richard Falkner, Sylvia Rands, Tanea Heke, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne

Director: Ainsley Gardiner, Briar Grace Smith

You know Anthony Hopkins as the evil Hannibal Lecter, but in this film he gives a warm and heartfelt performance portraying real life New Zealand motorcycle legend Burt Munro who set a land speed record in 1967 on a hand-built 1920 Indian. It's a story of never giving up on your dream even in the face of ridicule and opposition. Hopkins' performance turns what could have been just another schmaltzy formulaic story line into true gold. You'll be cheering for Burt/Anthony by the end!

Genre: Adventure, Drama, History

Actor: Aaron Murphy, Alison Bruce, Annie Whittle, Anthony Hopkins, Antony Starr, Bruce Greenwood, Campbell Cooley, Charles Halford, Charles Pierard, Chris Bruno, Chris Williams, Christopher Lawford, Craig Hall, Daniel Sing, Diane Ladd, Eric Pierpoint, Gavin Grazer, Greg Johnson, Iain Rea, James Gaylyn, Jessica Cauffiel, Joe Howard, Juliana Bellinger, Latham Gaines, Mark Ruka, Michael Mantell, Mick Rose, Morgan Lund, Patrick John Flueger, Paul Rodríguez, Saginaw Grant, Tessa Mitchell, Tim Shadbolt, Todd Emerson, Walton Goggins, Wesley Dowdell, William Lucking

Director: Roger Donaldson

Rating: PG-13

Slow West is a modern western about a young Scotsman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) trekking across America in search of Rose, the young woman he loves, while accompanied by a wayward outlaw named Silas (Michael Fassbender). Jay soon realizes that he is unwittingly leading a pack of nefarious bounty hunters toward Rose and her father as well, as a sizable reward rests on their heads for the accidental killing of a nobleman. It’s a melancholy yet clever and enjoyable film with a distinct Coen Brothers-esque sense of dark humor and quirky violence. In his debut feature, John Maclean gives the western a fresh spin and a nice creative twist, marking his territory as a promising new name in the film world.

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller, Western

Actor: Aaron McGregor, Alex MacQueen, Andrew Robertt, Andy McPhee, Aorere Paki, Ben Mendelsohn, Brian Sergent, Brooke Williams, Caren Pistorius, David T. Lim, Eddie Campbell, Edwin Wright, Hayden Frost, Jeffrey Thomas, Kalani Queypo, Karl Willetts, Ken Blackburn, Kieran Charnock, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Madeleine Sami, Michael Fassbender, Michael Whalley, Rory McCann, Stuart Bowman, Stuart Martin, Tawanda Manyimo

Director: John Maclean

Rating: R