The Australian New Wave was a movement in Australian cinema that began in the 1970s and lasted through the 1980s.

It occurred at a time when the Australian film industry was struggling with a recession and aimed to bring new life to the industry by focusing on stories of Australian characters and settings.

Many of these films were critical and commercial successes at the time, then became cult classics, most notably Picnic at Hanging Rock, which has gained renewed attention after being remade as a recent TV show.

Australian New Wave Cinema

What Is Australian New Wave Cinema?

The term “Australian New Wave” describes a movement in the country’s film industry that occurred in the 1960s and ’70s.

Characterized by its distinctive, realistic style, this movement was created as a response to the traditional Australian film industry of the era.

The movement began as a result of filmmakers gaining access to international markets, which allowed them to create new movies with new themes and stories.

Without these international markets, Australian filmmakers were unable to reach an audience outside of their own country.

One notable example is Peter Weir’s 1975 movie “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” which was co-produced by American director Francis Ford Coppola.

This collaboration helped introduce Australian New Wave Cinema to American audiences, who embraced it enthusiastically.



What Is Australian New Wave Cinema?

Trying to define an “Australian New Wave” can be a little tricky. The name itself is a bit ambiguous. This is because it’s not really an entirely new wave; rather, it’s a collection of films that are very similar to one another.

The movement was created by a group of Australian filmmakers who were influenced by the French New Wave movement of the 1960s.

The French “New Wave” refers to films made in France around the same time (the late 1950s through the late 1960s), which marked a significant shift away from traditional filmmaking techniques.

What makes Australian New Wave films unique from regular films is that they are typically made with medium-to-low budgets and focus on everyday people who live in Australia.

They also tend to be more character-driven than plot-driven, meaning that they are more about the characters and their relationships with one another than about some external force trying to keep them apart.

Described as “a cinematic movement,” Australian New Wave refers to an era of Australian cinema that began in the early 1970s and peaked in the mid-1980s.

During this time, many new filmmakers emerged, drawing on First Wave cinema (silent films from the 1920s) and European art films from directors like Jean-Luc Godard and Michelangelo Antonioni.

The emergence of the Australian New Wave coincided with the revival of filmmaking in France, Italy, Japan, and West Germany.

New Wave films were often characterized by their experimental narratives, minimalist style, documentary feel, and interest in youth culture.


They also incorporated social issues into their storylines, including a focus on marginalized characters such as women, indigenous people, and people living on the fringes of society.

For example, Caddie (1976), directed by Bruce Beresford, tells the story of a young woman who works as a caddy at a golf course while trying to overcome her father’s death.

Since this movement began in the 1960s, it is also often called “Australian cinema of the ’60s.” This decade saw a large increase in movie production, which led to greater diversity amongst those movies.

Many of these films focused on social issues or historical events that had previously been left out of Australian cinema.

As Australian New Wave filmmakers gained more experience and expertise, they started to collaborate with American directors.

Movie Movements That Defined Cinema: The Australian New Wave

The Australian New Wave was a new movement in world cinema during the 1970s and 1980s. The beginning of this movement dates back to 1971, when Richard Tulloch’s My Brilliant Career, the first feature film to be produced by an Australian woman and directed by an Australian woman (Gillian Armstrong), was released.

Importantly, the movement is characterized by a thematic and stylistic diversity that ‘new wave’ does not adequately convey. The most important themes represented in the films are colonial and post-colonial issues, shifting gender roles, the environment, sexuality, and identity relevant to young people.

The common stylistic approach is minimalist: long takes, hand-held cameras, natural lighting, acting close to the camera with little or no make-up, and minimal soundtracks. The films were made in new or emerging forms of independent filmmaking: fringe or ‘outside’ cinema (e.g. experimental films) and direct cinema – documentary features that were shot on location with lightweight portable equipment.

This contrasted with the dominant mode of commercial feature production at the time in Australia which was aimed at international markets through distribution via mainstream cinemas controlled by Hollywood studios (e.g. American multinational corporations). 

Australian New Wave Cinema Was Sometimes Called “Ozploitation”

Australian New Wave cinema was born out of a backlash against the increasing domination of Hollywood films in Australia during the 1970s. 

This led to a new generation of filmmakers, who would reject the classical Hollywood style and pursue an energetic style of filmmaking with low budgets and a focus on subjectivity.

Tarantino famously called director George Miller’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) one of the greatest action movies ever made, as it set the tone for much of his filmmaking career. Indeed, Mad Max 2 is cited as a major influence to many other filmmakers, including James Cameron and Jonathan Demme.

It is mostly from the Australian New Wave that contemporary Australian cinema emerged from. Films like The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994), Babe (1995), Lantana (2001), Kiss or Kill (2001) and The Babadook (2014) were all influenced by the Australian New Wave.

Australian New Wave Cinema was sometimes called “Ozploitation.” Films associated with this movement include Breaker Morant (1980), The Year of Living Dangerously (1983), and The Quiet Earth (1985).

History Of Australian New Wave Cinema

The phrase “Australian New Wave” was coined by film critic and historian, Raymond Longford, in the early 1960s. The phrase came into wide usage after it was used in the title of a four-page supplement in the Sydney Morning Herald, on 24–27 February 1964.

It is characterized by its exploitation style, use of improvisation, inclusion non-professional actors, location filming, and an inclination toward dark themes such as death and the macabre. Charles Chauvel’s Jedda (1955), is seen as an early example of the genre.

Three films released in 1958 were at the forefront of the movement. They are: A Weird Mob by Michael Kenny, Walkabout by Nicolas Roeg, and Storm Over Tibet by William Sterling. The films attracted widespread public interest but were not always well received by critics.

Many Australian critics were uncomfortable with their new nationalistic focus; they felt it represented a break with their traditional British heritage.

Essential Filmmakers Of Australian New Wave Cinema

The Australian New Wave is also known as the Australian Film Revival.

Sharing a fascination with contemporary American filmmakers and new Hollywood, a group of directors made films that became central to this revival. Peter Weir, George Miller, and Martin Scorsese had all worked together on the 1976 film The Cars That Ate Paris (starring Linda Vickers) after which Scorsese went on to direct Taxi Driver (1976).

The cycle of ‘ocker’ films was popular with both domestic and international audiences (notably America), particularly in the wake of the massive success of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975). A number of different factors at play, including a more relaxed censorship regime, meant that sex and violence however could be shown in mainstream cinema at levels unobtainable in other countries.

Australian New Wave films also dealt with themes that American films at the time avoided, such as the Vietnam War (The Odd Angry Shot), Menzies-era politics (The Devil’s Playground) and nuclear issues (Newsfront).In addition, they were notable for their extremely diverse accents, dialects, and colloquialisms.

The Australian New Wave was a period of renaissance in worldwide cinema. 

Essential Films Of Australian New Wave Cinema

The Australian New Wave of the 1970s and 80s produced a number of notable films. The period was dominated by the work of filmmaker Peter Weir, who was responsible for a number of iconic movies including Gallipoli. 

Many of the other directors involved in the movement are still active today. Here’s a look at some of the more essential Australian New Wave films:

The Cars That Ate Paris, 1974. This is a black comedy about a small town that has grown up around an abandoned auto-wrecking yard.

When one of the townsfolk discovers he’s dying, he vows to create chaos — and he gets his wish when the cars begin attacking people. The director, Philip Noyce, went on to have a prolific career in Hollywood, directing such movies as Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and Salt.

Australia (2008) is an epic film that tells the story of an English aristocrat who finds himself in trouble with his creditors in London and decides to flee to Australia aboard an immigrant ship carrying convicts.

However, he never makes it to his destination; instead, he’s thrown overboard and washed up on the shores of what will eventually become Sydney. Directed by Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet).

Importance Of Australian New Wave Cinema

The beginning of the New Wave is usually attributed to 1971 when Don Wallace released his short film Sleeping Dogs. It told a story set in contemporary Sydney and was one of the first examples of “Australianness” in mainstream cinema.

The coming-of-age drama that told the story of a young man’s loss of innocence was a critical success, winning many awards on the festival circuit including prizes at Cannes and Edinburgh. The film also launched the careers of notable directors such as Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Crimes of the Heart) and Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career).

The end of the movement is traced to 1982 with Phillip Noyce’s Heatwave, which introduced a new generation of Australian filmmakers who were more interested in personal filmmaking than exploring.

The End Of Australian New Wave Cinema

When it comes to Australian cinema, most people immediately think of the likes of The Castle. There’s a common misconception that this was the height of Australian filmmaking, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The Australian New Wave began in 1975 with Picnic at Hanging Rock, which is a stunning adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s novel of the same name.

It tells the story of the disappearance of three upper-class girls and their governess at Appleyard College on Valentine’s Day 1900. The film was directed by Peter Weir, who was just starting out as a director and would go on to become one of Australia’s most celebrated filmmakers.

He followed up Picnic at Hanging Rock with The Last Wave in 1977 and then Mad Max in 1979. The year after Mad Max came The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, directed by Fred Schepisi, which told a shocking tale about an Aboriginal man who turns to violence after being mistreated by white Australians.

With these three films, the Australian New Wave had begun and would go on to produce plenty more incredible movies over the next few years.

Australian New Wave Cinema – Wrapping Up

One of the major reasons for the development of a new wave cinema in Australia was government intervention, which began with the Commonwealth Film Unit. During the 1960s, this organization funded and produced a number of documentaries and short films.

This gave many young filmmakers their first taste of working outside of Hollywood, as well as providing them with much-needed funding. A number of these filmmakers continued to work within the commercial film industry, but were able to push boundaries in ways that were practically impossible for Hollywood directors given the studio system at that time.

The Commonwealth Film Unit was eventually disbanded in 1973, but not before it had helped to inspire a number of filmmakers who would later become instrumental in the Australian New Wave cinema movement. 

This success encouraged other filmmakers to begin making more experimental and innovative films, leading to a renaissance within Australian cinema during the 1980s. 

The period between 1976 and 1986 saw a large increase in locally produced films, as well as an increase in local talent working behind the camera.

Many directors would find critical and commercial success during this time.