New Zealand has produced a diverse range of films that have gained recognition both locally and internationally.

The film industry in New Zealand has grown significantly over the years, with a mix of independent films and big-budget blockbusters.

Some of the best New Zealand movies have achieved critical acclaim and won awards at major film festivals around the world.

These films have showcased the unique landscapes, culture, and characters of New Zealand, while also exploring universal themes that resonate with audiences everywhere.

Best New Zealand Movies

From the iconic “Lord of the Rings” trilogy to the intimate drama “Whale Rider,” New Zealand cinema has something to offer for every movie lover.

1. Once Were Warriors (1994)

“Once Were Warriors” is a New Zealand drama film directed by Lee Tamahori and released in 1994. It is based on the novel of the same name by Alan Duff and tells the story of a Māori family living in Auckland, New Zealand.

The film follows the struggles of the Heke family, particularly the patriarch, Jake, who is a violent and abusive alcoholic. His wife, Beth, tries to keep the family together but is also dealing with her own issues.

The film depicts the effects of poverty, domestic violence, and cultural displacement on the family and the wider Māori community.

The film received critical acclaim for its powerful portrayal of the challenges facing Māori communities in New Zealand and its honest depiction of domestic violence.

It has since become a cult classic and is considered one of the most important New Zealand films of all time.

Once Were Warriors
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Rena Owen, Temuera Morrison, Cliff Curtis (Actors)
  • Lee Tamahori (Director) - Riwia Duff (Writer) - Robin Scholes (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

2. Bad Taste (1987)

“Bad Taste” is a New Zealand horror-comedy film written and directed by Peter Jackson, who later went on to direct “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

The film follows a group of alien invaders who plan to harvest humans for their intergalactic fast food chain, and a group of government agents who attempt to stop them.

The film was shot on a very low budget over the course of four years, with much of the work being done by Jackson and his friends.


Despite the low budget and crude special effects, the film has gained a cult following for its absurd humor and over-the-top violence.

Some notable scenes from the film include a character’s head being blown off with a shotgun, an alien exploding after being hit by a rocket launcher, and a character using a chainsaw to fight off the aliens.

“Bad Taste” was released to mixed reviews but has since become a cult classic. It is notable for being the first feature film directed by Peter Jackson and for showcasing his early talent for horror and special effects.

Bad Taste [DVD]
  • Botes, Costa, Butcher, Graham, Gooch, Michael (Actors)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

3. Meet the Feebles (1989)

“Meet the Feebles” is a New Zealand black comedy film directed by Peter Jackson, who later gained fame for directing “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The movie features puppets as its main characters and follows their lives as they prepare for a live television show.

The story revolves around a group of anthropomorphic animals, who are members of a theater troupe called “The Feebles.” The cast includes such characters as a cocaine-addicted rabbit, a sex-crazed hippo, a knife-throwing frog, a junkie cat, and a war veteran walrus.

The movie follows their various misadventures leading up to their performance, including drug abuse, infidelity, and murder.

The film is known for its grotesque and often vulgar humor, which includes scenes of drug use, explicit sexual content, and violence.

Despite its controversial content, “Meet the Feebles” has gained a cult following over the years, and is considered a classic of the New Zealand film industry.

Meet the Feebles
  • Peter Jackson's (Lord of the Rings) twisted take on a "Muppets" like puppet show. MEET THE FEEBLES,...
  • Donna Akersten, Stuart Devenie, Mark Hadlow (Actors)
  • Peter Jackson (Director) - Danny Mulheron (Writer)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

4. Dead Alive (1992)

“Dead Alive” is a horror-comedy movie directed by Peter Jackson and released in 1992. The film follows the story of Lionel Cosgrove, a young man living with his overbearing mother in 1950s New Zealand.

After his mother is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey and turns into a zombie, Lionel tries to keep her hidden in the basement while trying to maintain a normal life.

However, the zombie infection spreads, and Lionel must battle hordes of the undead while trying to keep his relationship with a local shopkeeper, Paquita, alive.

The film is known for its over-the-top gore and dark humor, and has gained a cult following over the years.

“Dead Alive” was initially released as “Braindead” in some countries, and it remains one of Peter Jackson’s early films before he went on to direct big-budget movies such as “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Dead Alive [DVD]
  • Timothy Balme, Jed Brophy, Stuart Devenie (Actors)
  • Peter Jackson (Director)
  • English, Spanish, French (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

5. Vigil (1984)

“Vigil” is a New Zealand drama film directed by Vincent Ward, released in 1984. The film tells the story of a young girl named Toss (Fiona Kay), who lives on a remote farm in New Zealand with her father, Ethan (Gordon Shields), and her grandfather, Angus (Bill Kerr).

After her grandfather dies, Toss becomes fascinated with death and starts to have strange dreams and visions.

As she grapples with her own mortality and the secrets of her family’s past, Toss forms a bond with a young farmhand named Willie (Frank Whitten), who helps her to confront her fears and discover the truth about her family.

“Vigil” was well-received by critics and won several awards, including the Grand Prix at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.

It is considered a landmark film in New Zealand cinema, and is notable for its haunting, dreamlike atmosphere and stunning cinematography of the New Zealand landscape.


Vigil (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
  • Penelope Stewart;Frank Whitten;Bill Kerr;Fiona Kay (Actor)
  • Vincent Ward (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)

6. Tongan Ninja (2002)

“Tongan Ninja” is a New Zealand comedy film released in 2002, directed by Jason Stutter. The film is a parody of martial arts movies and follows the story of a young Tongan boy named Sione, who is trained in the ways of the ninja by his grandfather.

Sione grows up to become a skilled warrior, known as the Tongan Ninja, and is tasked with protecting his community from a powerful villain named The Octagon.

The film features a cast of mostly unknown actors, with Sam Manu in the lead role of Sione. The humor in the film is often slapstick and absurd, with exaggerated fight scenes and over-the-top performances.

The film was not a commercial success but has gained a cult following over the years for its unique style of comedy and offbeat humor.

While “Tongan Ninja” may not be a critically acclaimed film, it is a lighthearted and entertaining comedy that showcases the creativity and humor of New Zealand filmmakers.

It is a testament to the diversity of films produced in New Zealand, from the epic adventures of “The Lord of the Rings” to the silly antics of “Tongan Ninja.”

Tongan Ninja [DVD]
  • Sam Manu, Jemaine Clement, Linda Tseng (Actors)
  • Jason Stutter (Director)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

7. What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? (1999)

“What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?” is a 1999 New Zealand drama film directed by Ian Mune. It is a sequel to the 1994 film “Once Were Warriors” and is also based on the novel by Alan Duff.

The film continues the story of the Heke family, focusing on the character of Jake’s second son, Sonny (played by Cliff Curtis).

Sonny is now an adult and struggling with his own demons, including alcoholism and a difficult relationship with his girlfriend. He is also haunted by the memory of his mother, who was killed by Jake in the first film.

The film explores themes of identity, family, and the impact of trauma. It received critical acclaim for its powerful performances and honest depiction of the struggles facing Māori communities in New Zealand.

Like its predecessor, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?” has become a cult classic and is considered an important work of New Zealand cinema.

What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? (1999) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.4 Import - Australia ]
  • What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? (1999)
  • What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? (1999)
  • Temuera Morrison, Pete Smith, Rudolph Alford (Actors)
  • Ian Mune (Director) - What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? (1999) (Producer)
  • English (Subtitle)

8. River Queen (2005)

“River Queen” is a New Zealand historical drama film directed by Vincent Ward.

The film is set in the 1860s during the New Zealand Wars and follows the story of Sarah O’Brien, an Irish woman who travels to New Zealand to find her son, who has been taken captive by Maori warriors.

The film stars Samantha Morton as Sarah O’Brien, Kiefer Sutherland as Doyle, and Cliff Curtis as Wiremu, a Maori warrior who helps Sarah in her quest. The film explores themes of colonialism, cultural conflict, and identity.

The film was shot on location in New Zealand and features stunning landscapes and beautiful cinematography. The film received mixed reviews upon release but was praised for its strong performances and unique portrayal of the New Zealand Wars.

Overall, “River Queen” is a powerful and thought-provoking film that offers a unique perspective on the history of New Zealand and the impact of colonialism on indigenous cultures.

River Queen
  • Anton Lesser, Temuera Morrison, Stephen Rea (Actors)
  • Vincent Ward (Director)
  • English, Spanish (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

9. Crooked Earth (2001)

“Crooked Earth” is a New Zealand drama film released in 2001. The movie is directed by Sam Pillsbury and stars Temuera Morrison, a well-known New Zealand actor, as the lead character.

The story follows a family of Maori farmers in New Zealand who are struggling to keep their farm afloat. The father, Hone (played by Temuera Morrison), is an ex-convict who is trying to turn his life around and make a better life for his family.

However, Hone’s past comes back to haunt him when his old gang leader, Wiremu (played by Lawrence Makoare), shows up and demands that Hone help him with a drug deal.

Hone refuses, and as a result, Wiremu kidnaps Hone’s teenage daughter and holds her for ransom.

Hone and his son, Shane (played by Quinton Hita), must then embark on a dangerous journey to rescue their daughter and confront Wiremu once and for all.

Along the way, they face numerous challenges and obstacles, including dangerous terrain, hostile locals, and their own personal demons.

“Crooked Earth” deals with themes of family, redemption, and the struggle to overcome one’s past. The movie received positive reviews from critics, who praised its strong performances and gritty realism.

Crooked Earth
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Sam Pillsbury (Director) - Greg McGee (Writer) - Peter Beilby (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

3 Characteristics of New Zealand Movies

Unique cultural perspective: Many New Zealand movies showcase the country’s unique cultural identity and explore the experiences of its people. These films often delve into themes of colonialism, identity, and the relationships between different cultural groups.

Use of natural landscapes: New Zealand is known for its stunning natural landscapes, and many New Zealand movies take advantage of this by showcasing the country’s beauty on screen.

Films like “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Piano” have become famous for their use of New Zealand’s mountains, forests, and beaches as backdrops.

Quirky sense of humor: New Zealand movies are often known for their quirky sense of humor, which can range from dry and understated to broad and slapstick. Movies like “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” and “What We Do in the Shadows” have gained international acclaim for their offbeat humor and unique style.

3 Reasons To Watch New Zealand Movies

Unique Stories: New Zealand movies often tell unique and original stories that showcase the country’s culture, history, and natural beauty.

From the enchanting fairy tale of “The Piano” to the heartwarming drama of “The Dark Horse”, New Zealand films offer a diverse range of narratives that are both thought-provoking and entertaining.

Talented Filmmakers: New Zealand has a rich tradition of talented filmmakers, including Jane Campion, Peter Jackson, and Taika Waititi, who have made their mark on the international film scene.

These filmmakers bring a fresh and innovative approach to storytelling, often incorporating elements of fantasy, humor, and social commentary in their work.

Stunning Cinematography: New Zealand’s breathtaking landscapes and natural beauty make it a popular filming location for many international productions, including the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit”.

New Zealand films often feature stunning cinematography that captures the country’s unique scenery and adds an extra dimension to the storytelling.

Overall, watching New Zealand movies is a great way to experience the country’s culture, creativity, and cinematic talent.

Best New Zealand Movies – Wrap Up

New Zealand has a rich history of producing outstanding movies that have gained recognition both locally and internationally.

From the epic adventures of “The Lord of the Rings” to the offbeat humor of “Tongan Ninja” and the gritty realism of “Once Were Warriors,” New Zealand movies showcase the creativity, talent, and diversity of Kiwi filmmakers.

Other notable films from New Zealand include the critically acclaimed drama “Whale Rider,” the offbeat romance “Eagle vs Shark,” the charming coming-of-age story “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” and the thought-provoking sci-fi thriller “District 9.”

These films, along with many others, highlight the unique perspectives and cultural influences that make New Zealand movies stand out in the global film industry.

Overall, New Zealand movies have made a significant contribution to the art of filmmaking and have helped to establish the country as a major player in the world of cinema.

With a wealth of talent and creativity, it’s clear that New Zealand filmmakers will continue to produce outstanding movies for years to come.