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Top 10 NZ Feature Films

By NZ On Screen team
2nd December 2013

 Top 10 NZ Feature Films

Top 10 NZ Feature Films

 NZ On Screen team

By NZ On Screen team


The All-time Top 10

Arm yourself with jaffas and get set for debate: NZ On Screen has gone out on a limb and selected an all-time NZ feature film Top 10. Starring the icons of the Kiwi big screen — Blondini, Ada, Beth, Boy. Whet your appetite for our finest features via choice 10-minute excerpts of the movies. Cook the man some eggs, we're taking this Top 10 to Invercargill!


New Zealand's Finest Features

 Goodbye Pork Pie

Hot on the heels of Sleeping Dogs, Geoff Murphy's low-budget smash definitively proved that Kiwis could make blockbusters too. The "Blondini gang" dashed to Invercargill in the yellow Mini and drew Star Wars-sized crowds to local cinemas (in numbers not seen before and rarely matched since).

 Smash Palace

New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called Smash Palace "amazingly accomplished" and Bruno Lawrence’s brilliant, brooding performance as an estranged Dad gone bush with his daughter (Greer Robson), reportedly made Jack Nicholson jealous. The Kiwi cinema classic launched Roger Donaldson's US career.


In 1983 director Geoff Murphy stormed out of the scrub of the nascent Kiwi film industry with a quadruple-barreled shotgun take on the great NZ colonial epic. The ground-breaking tale of a Māori leader (Anzac Wallace) and his bloody path to redress 'imbalance' was "enhanced and restored" in 2013.


If there is a flag-bearer for the 'cinema of unease', it's arguably Toss: an 11-year old girl enduring the vicissitudes of hill country farm life. Vincent Ward's debut feature was the first NZ film selected for competition at Cannes; LA Times' Kevin Thomas lauded it as "a work of awesome beauty".

 The Piano

Jane Campion's breakout Oscar-winning tale of sexual emancipation in the colonial mud and bush is the only New Zealand film to have won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Alongside acclaimed turns from Sam Neill, Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel, 11-year-old Anna Paquin won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

 Heavenly Creatures

The film that saw splatter-king Peter Jackson lauded by a whole new audience was born from partner Fran Walsh's fascination with a matricide in 50s Christchurch. Their kinetic vision of a tragic teen friendship gained art-house acclaim, Oscar nods and praise for newbies Lynskey and Winslet.

 Once Were Warriors

Warriors topped an early 90s trifecta for Kiwi cinema, and the travails of Beth Heke and Jake the ‘Mus opened the eyes of movie goers to an unexamined aspect of modern NZ life. Lee Tamahori's visceral depiction of gang and domestic violence remains NZ’s most popular film (by bums on seats measure).

 Whale Rider

Director Niki Caro adapted Whale Rider from Witi Ihimaera's novel about an East coast Māori girl's coming of age. Pai's journey won hearts worldwide, including audience choice awards at Sundance and Toronto; and Keisha Castle-Hughes became the youngest nominee for a Best Actress Academy Award.

 In My Father's Den

Arguably the Top 10 wild card, this Maurice Gee adaptation quietly won regard for digging up the metaphoric rotting fruit in a Central Otago town. It marked the debut of a formidable fledgling talent; it was tragically also the last feature for director Brad McGann, who died of cancer in 2007.


Taika Waititi's tale of an imaginative 11-year-old East Coast boy trying to make sense of his world and his just-out-of-jail father, mixed poignancy with trademark whimsy and visual inventiveness. The Crazy Horses gang drew local crowds to theatres in numbers only trumped by Once Were Warriors.

Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

NZ On Screen Content Director Irene Gardiner on the Top 10 selection process, and on the arm wrestles over what made the cut. Read more ›

“We are a weird people ...”

“We are a weird people ...”

Film and pop culture writer Barney Mcdonald muses over the merits (or otherwise) of the selection and what the films say about Kiwis. Read more ›

Stuff that!

Stuff that!

Where are the comedies? The horrors? What about Sione's Wedding? Voice your opinion on NZ's Top 10 features in’s online ballot.  

Car pie

Car pie

Thank you very much to the NZ Film Commission for making available 10-min excerpts of the films, and of course to the creators.