Taika Waititi’s hit movie Hunt for the Wilderpeople has jumped over the director’s earlier film Boy to top the list of highest grossing local features at the New Zealand box office. NZ On Screen Content Director Irene Gardiner takes a look at what else is on the list.

The feature films that make up our Top Five grossing New Zealand movies of all time range from 1994 to 2016, four out of the five have strong Māori themes, and all of them have directors who are now working internationally.

5. Whale Rider

The number five film is Niki Caro's Whale Rider, released in 2003, and with box of-fice takings of $6,400,000.

Set in the East Coast town of Whāngārā, Whale Rider tells the story of a young Māori girl, Pai (played by Keisha Castle-Hughes) who challenges tradition and embraces the past in order to find the strength to lead her people forward.

The film was based on Witi Ihimaera's novel The Whale Rider. As well as its NZ box office success, Whale Rider also met with significant international attention, winning audience choice awards at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals.


4. Once Were Warriors

Number four on the best at the box office list is the oldest film in the Top Five - Once Were Warriors, from 1994, with a $6,795,000 box office take.

Director Lee Tamahori's hard-hitting depiction of domestic and gang violence amongst an urban Māori whānau was adapted from the best-selling Alan Duff novel.

The film provided career-defining roles for Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen as Jake the Muss and Beth Heke, and was both a local and international success.

3. The World's Fastest Indian

At number three in the countdown is Roger Donaldson's The World's Fastest Indian, released in 2005, and with a $7,047,000 box office total.

The movie told the incredible true story of how Burt Munro, an ageing eccentric from Invercargill, took his home-engineered motorbike to America and won a land speed record. Donaldson's passion project was his first locally made film in two decades.

Variety described it as "like a geriatric Rocky on wheels," while noted film critic Roger Ebert praised Anthony Hopkins' performance as one of the most endearing of his career.

The film sold to 126 countries, spent five weeks in the Australian top six, and became New Zealand's highest grossing local film - staying in that position for the next five years.

2. Boy

The film that knocked The World's Fastest Indian off the top spot back in 2010 was, of course, Taika Waititi's Boy, which is now in second place with $9,322,000.


Waititi's second feature film revolves around an imaginative 11-year-old East Coast boy (James Rolleston) trying to make sense of his world - and the return of his just-out-of-jail father (Waititi).

Intended as a "painful comedy of growing up," Boy mixes poignancy with Waititi's trademark whimsy and visual inventiveness.

A winner in its section at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival, Boy soon become the most successful local release on its home soil, and stayed that way for six years.

1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Now, after six years as our top grossing film, Boy has been overtaken by its director's new movie, Hunt for the Wilderpeople - at $11,053,182 and still counting.

Taika Waititi also has a third film that makes it into the Top 10 grossing films - his vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows comes in at number eight.

With thanks to the NZ Film Commission, for the trailers featured above and for these box office stats, here is the Top 20:
1) Hunt For the Wilderpeople - 2016
2) Boy - 2010
3) The World's Fastest Indian - 2005
4) Once We Were Warriors - 1994
5) Whale Rider - 2002
6) Sione's Wedding - 2006
7) What Becomes of the Broken Hearted - 1999
8) What We Do in the Shadows - 2014
9) Footrot Flats - 1986
10) The Dark Horse - 2014
11) Second Hand Wedding - 2008
12) Sione's 2: Unfinished Business - 2012
13) The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls - 2009
14) Goodbye Pork Pie -1981
15) In My Father's Den - 2004
16) Mt Zion - 2013
17) Scarfies - 1999
18) Mahana - 2016
19) Home by Christmas - 2010
20) The Dead Lands - 2014