New Zealand Films Flashback

While New Zealand’s cinema industry didn’t really break out until the 1980s, it has had quite a lot of success worldwide with many notable directors and actors emerging. Many New Zealand films have gone on to be featured at international film festivals and both been nominated and won many awards, such as The Piano (1993), which won three Oscars. These films are quite diverse and deserve to be among the popular films of Hollywood, with directors Jane Campion and more recently Taika Waititi bringing a fresh perspective to the global film industry. That being said, New Zealand films also showcase the country’s beautiful landscape and rich history of the Maori people.

Check out CulturalPulse’s shortlist of the best New Zealand films over the past 70 years below.


Smash Palace  (1981)

Genre: Drama, Thriller
IMDB Rating: 6.9
Director: Roger Donaldson
Stars: Bruno Lawrence, Anna Maria Monticelli, Greer Robson-Kirk, Keith Aberdein
Synopsis: Al Shaw’s life revolves around motor racing and his back country junkyard, the “Smash Palace”. His French wife, Jacqui, doesn’t appreciate the lack of attention due to Al’s obsession with … See full summary »

Utu (1983)

Genre: Drama, Adventure, History
IMDB Rating: 7.0
Director: Geoff Murphy
Stars: Anzac Wallace, Bruno Lawrence, Tim Elliott, Kelly Johnson
Synopsis: In 1870, a Maori warrior working with the British finds his village massacred, and vows revenge. … See full summary »

Vigil (1984)

Genre: Drama
IMDB Rating: 6.9
Director: Vincent Ward
Stars: Penelope Stewart, Frank Whitten, Bill Kerr, Fiona Kay
Synopsis: A lonely girl living on an isolated, mist-cloaked farm is confronted with the changes wrought by a stranger that arrives … See full summary »

Came a Hot Friday (1985)

Genre: Comedy
IMDB Rating: 7.0
Director: Ian Mune
Stars: Peter Bland, Phillip Gordon, Michael Lawrence, Billy T. James
Synopsis: Set in post-war (1949) rural New Zealand, this film traces the efforts of two con men to run a betting scam in a small town (Tainuea) already rife with illegal gambling corruption, and See full summary »

The Quiet Earth (1985)

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
IMDB Rating: 6.8
Director: Geoff Murphy
Stars: Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge, Pete Smith, Anzac Wallace
Synopsis: A man named Zac Hobson awakens to find himself alone in the world. In a desperate attempt to search for others, he finds only two who have their own agenda See full summary »


An Angel at My Table (1990)

Genre: Drama, Biography
IMDB Rating: 7.5
Director: Jane Campion
Stars: Kerry Fox, Alexia Keogh, Karen Fergusson, Iris Churn
Synopsis: In 1920s and 1930s New Zealand, Janet Frame grows up in a poor family with lots of brothers and sisters. Already at an early age she is different from the other kids. She gets an education …  See full summary »

Once Were Warriors (1994)

Genre: Drama, Crime
IMDB Rating: 7.9
Director: Lee Tamahori
Stars: Rena Owen, Temuera Morrison, Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell, Julian Arahanga
Synopsis: A family descended from Maori warriors is bedeviled by a violent father and the societal problems of being treated as outcasts .See full summary »

Braindead (1992)

Genre: Comedy, Horror
IMDB Rating: 7.5
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin
Synopsis: A young man’s mother is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey. She gets sick and dies, at which time she comes back to life, killing and eating dogs, nurses, friends, and neighbors…  See full summary »

The Piano (1993)

Genre: Drama, Music, Romance
IMDB Rating: 7.6
Director: Jane Campion
Stars: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin
Synopsis: A mute woman is sent to 1850s New Zealand along with her young daughter and prized piano for an arranged marriage to a wealthy landowner, but is soon lusted after by a local worker on the plantation …  See full summary »

Forgotten Silver (1995)

Genre: Comedy
IMDB Rating: 7.5
Director: Costa Botes
Stars: Peter Jackson, Jeffrey Thomas, Costa Botes, Marguerite Hurst
Synopsis: The film deals with the career of a supposedly forgotten pioneer of international cinema, Colin McKenzie, who was allegedly born in rural New Zealand in 1888.…  See full summary »


Fracture (2004)

Genre: Drama, Thriller, Crime
IMDB Rating: 6.9
Director: Larry Parr
Stars: Kate Elliott, Jared Turner, Timothy Lee, Miranda Harcourt
Synopsis: The story of how one man’s crime ruins the lives of two families forever.  See full summary »

Rain (2001)

Genre: Drama, Romance
IMDB Rating: 7
Director: Christine Jeffs
Stars: Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki, Sarah Peirse, Marton Csokas, Alistair Browning
Synopsis: Whilst on a family vacation on the Mahurangi Peninsula in New Zealand, 13-year-old Janey begins to realize that her parents’ marriage is on the rocks.  See full summary »

The Maori Merchant of Venice (2002)

Genre: Drama
IMDB Rating: 7
Director: Don Selwyn
Stars: Waihoroi Shortland, Ngarimu Daniels, Te Rangihau Gilbert, Scott Morrison
Synopsis: A modern day take on the classic bard tale – with Silver as a movie producer. See full summary »

Whale Rider (2002)

Genre: Drama, Family
IMDB Rating: 7.6
Director: Niki Caro
Stars: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis
Synopsis: A contemporary story of love, rejection and triumph as a young Maori girl fights to fulfill a destiny her grandfather refuses to recognize. See full summary »

Two Cars, One Night (2004)

Genre: Drama, Romance, Short
IMDB Rating: 7.3
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Rangi Ngamoki, Hutini Waikato, Te Ahiwaru Ngamoki-Richards, Riwai Waka
Synopsis: Sometimes first love is found in the most unlikely of places, like in the carpark outside the Te Kaha pub.  See full summary »

In My Father’s Den (2004)

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
IMDB Rating: 7.6
Director: Brad McGann
Stars: Matthew Macfadyen, Miranda Otto, Emily Barclay, Colin Moy
Synopsis: A disillusioned war journalist’s return home is blighted when he becomes implicated in the mysterious disappearance of a teenage girl he has befriended.  See full summary »

The World’s Fastest Indian  (2005)

Genre: Drama, Sport, Biography
IMDB Rating: 7.8
Director: Roger Donaldson
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Diane Ladd, Iain Rea, Tessa Mitchell
Synopsis: The story of New Zealander Burt Munro (Sir Anthony Hopkins), who spent years rebuilding a 1920 Indian motorcycle, which helped him set the land speed world record at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967 See full summary »

Out of the Blue (2006)

Genre: Crime, Drama
IMDB Rating: 7.2
Director: Robert Sarkies
Stars: Karl Urban, Matthew Sunderland, Lois Lawn, Simon Ferry
Synopsis: Based on the Aramoana Massacre that occurred on 13 November and 14 November 1990. Resident David Gray, an unemployed gun collector, went on a rampage in which 13 people were shot dead, before Gray himself was shot by police. See full summary »

Samoan Wedding (2006)

Genre: Comedy, Romance
IMDB Rating: 6.4
Director: Chris Graham
Stars: Oscar Kightley, Iaheto Ah Hi, Shimpal Lelisi, Robbie Magasiva
Synopsis: Four raucous Samoans are banned from their best friend’s wedding. To get in, they have to prove themselves as mature individuals by getting and keeping girlfriends. See full summary »

The Lovely Bones (2009)

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Thriller
IMDB Rating: 6.7
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg, Saoirse Ronan, Susan Sarandon
Synopsis: Centers on a young girl who has been murdered and watches over her family – and her killer – from purgatory. She must weigh her desire for vengeance against her desire for her family to heal. See full summary »


Boy  (2010)

Genre: Comedy, Drama
IMDB Rating: 7.5
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone-Whitu, Taika Waititi, Moerangi Tihore
Synopsis: Set on the east coast of New Zealand in 1984, Boy, an 11-year-old child and devout Michael Jackson fan, gets a chance to know his absentee criminal father, who has returned to find a bag of money he buried years ago. See full summary »

Top of the Lake (2013)

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
IMDB Rating: 7.5
Director: Elisabeth Moss
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, David Wenham, Peter Mullan, Thomas M. Wright
Synopsis: Obsessed with the disappearance of a 12-year-old pregnant girl near a freezing lake in New Zealand, a brave detective will find herself up against small-town secrets and a side of herself that was meticulously kept at bay. See full summary »

The Dark Horse (2014)

Genre: Biography, Drama
IMDB Rating: 7.5
Director: James Napier Robertson
Stars: Cliff Curtis, James Rolleston, Kirk Torrance, James Napier Robertson
Synopsis: A brilliant but troubled New Zealand chess champion finds purpose by teaching underprivileged children about the rules of chess and life. See full summary »

What We Do in the Shadows  (2014)

Genre: Comedy, Horror
IMDB Rating: 7.7
Director: Jemaine Clement
Stars: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Jonny Brugh
Synopsis: Viago, Deacon and Vladislav are vampires who are finding that modern life has them struggling with the mundane – like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs and overcoming flatmate conflicts See full summary »

The Patriarch (2016)

Genre: Drama
IMDB Rating: 7.2
Director: Lee Tamahori
Stars: Temuera Morrison, Akuhata Keefe, Nancy Brunning, Jim Moriarty
Synopsis: From the author of “The Whale Rider”, a tale of family rivalry and reconciliation, set against the stunning backdrop of rural New Zealand in the 1960s. See full summary »

Hunt for the Wilderpeople  (2016)

Genre: Drama, Comedy, Adventure
IMDB Rating: 7.9
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House
Synopsis: A national manhunt is ordered for a rebellious kid and his foster uncle who go missing in the wild New Zealand bush See full summary »

The Rehearsal (2016)

Genre: Drama
IMDB Rating: 5.7
Director: Alison Maclean
Stars: Michelle Ny, James Rolleston, Ella Edward, Erroll Shand
Synopsis: First-year acting student Stanley mines his girlfriend’s family scandal as material for the end-of-year show at drama school. The result is a moral minefield. See full summary »