With many of us sticking close to home (whether by choice or by decree), we can take comfort in the seemingly endless stream of movies at our fingertips. But it can be hard to narrow down the offerings, and let’s face it, some of the best-made shows out there aren’t necessarily positive relief from our current mood.


While we admit that New Zealand films aren’t always an escape from reality, what they excel in is finding the lighter side of the human condition—letting us know that it’s OK to laugh when laughter is needed. So, we’ve put together a list of 8 New Zealand films bound to put a smile on your face while we ride this out together in our armchairs.



1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople


Ricky Baker, a defiant yet endearing city kid, is completely out of his element when placed in rural foster care with cantankerous Uncle Hec (played by veteran actor Sam Neill). Through a series of misadventures, the unlikely pair find themselves on the run, hiding in the rugged New Zealand bush as a national manhunt ensues, led by a comically evil child welfare officer. This poignant yet hilarious, offbeat adventure is beautifully shot around the country’s North Island wilderness.



2. The World’s Fastest Indian


This feel-good movie starring Anthony Hopkins tells the true story of New Zealander Burt Munro who spent decades tinkering in his Invercargill garage, modifying a classic 1920 Indian motorcycle on the cheap before heading to Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967 to attempt to break the world land speed record. While many obstacles lie in Burt’s path to Bonneville, the blunt but affable charm of this speed-loving old Kiwi helps him conquer each hurdle on his quest to become the world’s fastest motorcyclist. New Zealand scenes remain true to the origins of Burt’s story, which will have you saving up wire and brandy corks for your own DIY dream.




3. What We Do in the Shadows


If you think vampire movies have been done to…umm..death, think again. In this mockumentary, a group of Wellington-based vampire housemates are followed by a film crew with contractual immunity from being sucked dry. With none of the sexy-cool of Hollywood vampires, these unhipsters are dealing with the usual tensions of flatmates that don’t always get along, squabbling over household chores as they struggle to keep up with modern technology, fashion trends, and fitting into a society that doesn’t easily warm to the undead. Typical of spoofs, there is an absurd amount of bloodletting that won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you like dark (and silly) comedies, this is rib-tickling gold.




4. Whale Rider


One of New Zealand’s biggest international successes, this Oscar-nominated film shot on the country’s remote East Cape brought Maori culture to the global mainstream. Whale Rider tells the tale of young Maori girl, Pai, who challenges tradition, believing that she’s destined to lead her people forward. Highlighting both the love and conflict that can exist within families, this is a touching and inspiring coming-of-age story that combines real-life themes with the mystical. Keisha Castle Hughes, an unknown schoolgirl plucked from her classroom to play Pai, gives one of New Zealand’s most memorable and moving onscreen performances. A heartwarming movie for tweens and beyond.



5. The Breaker Upperers


This female buddy comedy is about two best friends that provide a ‘break-up’ service for people too cowardly to do the deed themselves. The film is a steady stream of hilarious gags as they employ their often-ruthless methods to deliver the bad news. Directed and acted by Kiwis Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami, their delivery works so well because of their onscreen comedic chemistry and their treatment of real relationship issues around love and friendship. Both absurd and touching (and with numerous memorable dance sequences), it’s a great watch with your bestie.




6. Boy


Taika Waititi’s blockbuster breakout film, Boy, is another charming coming-of-age story with Waititi’s trademark pairing of humour and poignancy. The film is set in the Bay of Plenty in the 1980’s, Waititi’s own childhood stomping ground, when Michael Jackson was king. The title character, Boy, an immensely likable and imaginative 11-year-old, is left alone to care for his younger brother and cousins. He idolizes his absentee father, whom he hasn’t seen in 7 years, and creates a fantastical world to explain his absence. When his no-hoper dad returns from jail, Boy is forced to confront the mismatch between fantasy and reality and become the hero of his own story.




7. Eagle vs. Shark


This loveable, wry comedy was the first feature-length film by Taika Waititi and is a bit of a cult classic here. It follows the budding relationship between awkward misfits, Lily and Jarrod (played by Flight of the Conchord’s Jemaine Clement). Jarrod is wholly unlikeable, and yet to adorably earnest Lily, he’s her dreamboat, proving love is blind and compelling you to look for his redeeming qualities. As with all Waititi films, there’s a sadness to the characters, for whom social distancing has been an uninvited way of life. But it’s also imbued with humour and quirkiness, conveying the comical complexities of life and love. A great choice if you’re wondering whether your match is out there somewhere (or relieved you’ve already found it).




8. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy


No New Zealand movie list feels complete without the inclusion of this epic trilogy which redefined fantasy filmmaking. Peter Jackson and his crew took eight years to complete the three movies based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s book series (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King), picking filming locations all over New Zealand which showcase the country’s spectacular scenery. With time on our hands, this is the perfect chance to join the Fellowship and (re)embark on this journey through Middle Earth—and through New Zealand. And if you haven’t had enough, there’s always The Hobbit trilogy after that. Hopefully when you reemerge, you can come join our merry band and embark on your own New Zealand adventure.




Most films are available on Google Play, Amazon Prime Videos, and/or other streaming services. Check movie ratings for suitability within your bubble.