The Piano (1993, Jane Campion)
The first film to put New Zealand cinema on the global map and the most acclaimed Kiwi film of all time – at least until the release of Return of the King. This ethereal romantic drama is at once overwhelmingly intimate and deeply unsettling.
Once Were Warriors (1994, Lee Tamahori)
A captivating but highly disturbing tale of domestic abuse within the Maori community. A fascinating and powerfully-acted piece of Maori cinema that will shake you with its heartbreaking brutality.
The Fellowship of the Ring (2001, Peter Jackson)
The first of Jackson’s six Middle Earth epics remains the best. Before the series floundered in over-the-top CGI action, Fellowship wowed with its characters, pathos and stunningly immersive world-building.
In My Father’s Den (2004, Brad McGann)
This slow-burning, carefully-crafted family drama may lack the naturalism of many of New Zealand’s best films, but it remains supremely engaging. The mysteries that define the narrative build to a haunting and satisfying conclusion.
The World’s Fastest Indian (2005, Roger Donaldson)
Based on the true story of Burt Munro, whose love of motorcycles led him to travel to the USA to break the world land speed record. A simple tale that’s as sincere, charming and unpretentious as Burt himself.
Boy (2010, Taika Waititi)
By turns hilarious and immensely moving, Boy tells a straight-forward story in a beguiling, understated way. Brilliantly acted and beautifully scripted, it finds poignant truth in almost every scene.
What We Do in the Shadows (2014, Taika Waititi)
Waititi’s second entry on this list is as deserved as his first. This bonkers comedy about vampires living in Wellington is the perfect blend of witty, clever and enormously silly. Its humour is very Kiwi and very, very funny.
The Dark Horse (2014, James Napier Robertson)
Another true story, this time based on Genesis Potini, a Maori chess prodigy with debilitating mental illness who started a chess club for disadvantaged youth. As emotional and inspiring as it sounds.
And though this has very little to do with anything, here’s a random fact that I only discovered today. Russell Crowe, that icon of Australia, is actually a New Zealander. He was born in Wellington and remains a New Zealand citizen to this day.