You’re A Major Egg! The Ten Greatest Films of New Zealand

New Zealand may be a small, almost unnoticeable country on a world map, but it has a rich cultural heritage and is also one of the most scenically beautiful countries worldwide. Also, the New Zealand film industry has provided us with some hilarious, thought-provoking films which examine our unique cultural traits in fascinating, enjoyable stories. Just because I live in New Zealand doesn’t mean I like to go easy on Kiwi films, however, and I’ve given them a tough, strict rating. But you’d be surprised how entertaining and successful some of our films have been.

So, without further ado, these are the ten greatest films of New Zealand cinema, in chronological order:

Goodbye Pork Pie (1981)

This was a film that immediately sparked interest and began a rapid growth of the Kiwi movie industry. It has a distinctly Kiwi flavour, but then again, so does every Kiwi film, but there is a special comedy here that continuously makes me chuckle. It is considered by many to be the New Zealand equivalent of Easy Rider, and while that may be a bit of an arrogant exaggeration, it’s not far from the truth. 7/10

Utu (1983)

Shown out of competition at the Cannes film festival, this tale of betrayal and revenge was surprisingly well-recevied, garnering great critical praise. A historical “epic,” it tells of a local Maori soldier who seeks utu (vengeance) on the Brits who betrayed him and his tribe. Well done and very entertaining. 8/10

The Quiet Earth (1985)

A love triangle in a post-apocalyptic world, Geoff Murphy’s romantic drama was also well-received, and proved to be an intriguing and provocative, if not entirely original film. A scientific experiment goes awry and three people are left alone on the Earth. While the story’s unlikelihood and unoriginality is a partial undoing, the way it is portrayed, with excellent skill and cinematic affection, more than makes up for it. 7/10

The Piano (1993)

With a hauntingly beautiful theme and some stunning acting performances, Jane Campion’s romantic drama which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and has since been celebrated worldwide as one of the greatest romantic comedies is undoubtedly going to make this list. Terrific. 8/10

Once Were Warriors (1994)

One of the most violent and provocative Kiwi films and probably one of the most brutally truthful about domestic abuse, Lee Tamahori’s film about a fragile family man who snaps and beats his wife regularly to demonstrate leadership and a sick world view will no doubt shock those unfamilar with the genre. Tamahori goes where few have dared to go, and the result is a painfully powerful film. 8/10

Whale Rider (2003)

One of the best films to truly examine the Maori culture, Niki Caro’s Whale Rider is a celebrated Kiwi film about a young girl who strives to live up to the legend of her tribe, despite the fact that the hero they are seeking is destined to be male. Her defiance is heartwarming and the film itself has some remarkable moments that make it a classic. 8/10

Two Cars, One Night (2004 short film)

This short film from amateur filmmaker Taika Waititi was nominated for an Oscar and received extreme popularity. It is around twelve minutes long, and tells of three children who meet while their respective parents are in the pub. A strange kinship forms, as well as some immature yet funny humour. Also, the cinematography is very well done. 8/10. Watch it yourself:

The World’s Fastest Indian (2005)

Though the majority of this was shot in America, I fondly remember the few days of shooting that occured in my home city. It is probably the best film based on a true story that New Zealand has produced, and has a more encouraging and heartwarming tale than anything in Kiwi movie history. Sir Anthony Hopkins is excellent as elderly record-breaker Burt Munro. He masters the Kiwi attitude and accent, and manages to win over all of the “yanks” he meets as he attempts to set a land-speed record. Fantastic. 8/10

Out of the Blue (2006)

In a southern part of the major Kiwi city Dunedin, during a two-day period in November 1990, local resident David Gray grabbed his rifle and shot dead thirteen locals during a long and hellbent reign of terror. Director Robert Sarkies, more well-known for comedies, keeps the pace scary and effective as we follow the infamous story. 8/10

Boy (2010)

The most recent and by far the funniest film on this list is possibly the most distinctly Kiwi of all. It tells of a young Maori boy, the titular character, who is pleasantly surprised when his long-lost father arrives home from prison, to collect some money which he buried years ago. The film manages to be both downright hilarious and emotionally provocative at the same time as it examines the issues of life and family for some Kiwi people in the eighties, when this movie is set. Even if you don’t understand most of the homegrown Kiwi phrases and slang, it is still tremendously enjoyable. 7/10

Honourable Mentions:

Smash Palace (1981), Bad Taste (1987), Braindead (1992), Scarfies (1999), Eagle vs. Shark (2006)

Thanks for reading.

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About Tyler

Patient observer of all things film and music, from Béla Tarr to Boards of Canada. Foul mouthed and clinging to the edge of sanity.

Posted on March 31, 2011, in Lists, Movie Reviews, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I feel kind of ashamed that I haven’t seen a single film on this list. I’ve seen two of the honorable mentions- Peter Jackson’s fun little gross-out films.

  2. I’ve got “Once Were Warriors” arriving at home via Netflix tonight. I’ll get my introduction to New Zealand cinema at some point in the next 4 or 5 days.

    • Great. Be sure to let me know what you think of it.

      • I definitely liked it. I wound up at 4/5 on Netflix, and it’s the kind of movie where I never really considered 3 stars. It’s such a tough topic to tackle and they did a really good job of showing the brutality without completely repulsing the audience in the way that they’d turn it off.

        It took me about two scenes to say, “Wait a second! That’s Jango Fett!”

        One other thing I have to say is that I realized just how little I know about New Zealand culture. I have no idea if that would’ve added more to my enjoyment of it, but it’s definitely a thought that entered my mind.

    • It’s a very cultural film, but of all the Kiwi films which deal with NZ culture, it’s certainly the most accessible. I recommend the book by Alan Duff, if you can find a copy. They’re both brilliant.

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