It's been 26 years since Jane Campion's The Piano graced the big screen, arguably the finest film ever made in New Zealand and a masterpiece of the New Zealand Gothic genre, the most revered and influential of New Zealand cinema movements. Its shadow looms large, an almost impossibly beautiful film that is complex, poetic and haunting all at once.
And yet - in the wake of this colossal cinematic achievement from one of the very finest Kiwi artists, New Zealand film has continued to pursue greatness - and often achieved it. We thought it was a great time to consult local critics to come up with our picks for the 25 best films made in New Zealand since The Piano. They are:
25. The Devil Dared Me To
(dir. Chris Stapp)
A DIY stuntman fable that's equally hilarious and thrilling, the film that aspired to be 'the greatest New Zealand film since Goodbye Pork Pie certainly gets pretty close.
24. Human Traces (dir. Nic Gorman)
This atmospheric thriller set on a Sub-Antarctic island was a low-budget wonder when it graced festival audiences in 2017. Since then, it's gone on to be regarded as one of the finest of New Zealand's modern dramas.
23. My Wedding and Other Secrets (dir. Roseanne Liang)
The first action film from ascendant film-maker Roseanne Liang was a far more small-scale, but subtly delightful multicultural dramedy that showcased her great eye for performance and dialogue.
22. Kaikohe Demolition (dir. Florian Harbicht)
Fascinatingly offbeat film-maker Florian Harbicht's documentary of a bunch of oddballs drawn to a local demolition derby showcases the director's good-natured, salt-of-the-earth aesthetic.
21. Deathgasm (dir. Jason Lei Howden)
A gem of New Zealand's much-lauded horror-comedy stable, gorefest Deathgasm also doubles as a celebration of Kiwi heavy metal.
20. Topless Women Talk About Their Lives
(dir. Harry Sinclair)
Developed from a television series of the same name, this tale of a group of 20-something Generation Xers is an excellent example of Kiwi Cool, a low-budget effort that doesn't squander emotional or thematic depth.
19. Cinema of Unease - A Personal Journey by Sam Neill (dir. Sam Neill/Judy Rymer)
This enlightening, controversial exploration of New Zealand's Gothic film genre analyses the history of New Zealand film, culminating in the success of our greatest film-makers - Tamahori, Campion, Jackson, et al.
18. Jack Be Nimble (dir. Garth Maxwell)
Arriving the same year as The Piano, this Gothic horror about a pair of twins pursued by their sadistic step-sisters has a hallucinatory power that has been compared to the work of Hitchcock and De Palma.
17. Fantail (dir. Curtis Vowell)
Another gem of modern Kiwi drama, Fantail stunned audiences when it arrived in 2013 - a dark, complex effort headlined by a truly phenomenal turn by Sophie Henderson.
16. Sione's Wedding
(dir. Chris Graham)
The closest thing New Zealand may ever have to a Judd Apatow film, Sione's is a rip-roaring comedy featuring wonderfully idiosyncratic performances from its stacked cast. As notable as the film is, the piracy scandal around it that ensued, lamentably shadows a warm, heartfelt Samoan comedy.
(dir. Robert Sarkies)
This gloriously twisty-turny, University of Otago-set black comedy is notable for its Dunedin backdrop, low-budget grittiness and a performance by a young Taika Waititi.
14. The Breaker-Upperers
(dir. Madeleine Sami/Jackie Van Beek)
One of the most successful Kiwi comedies of all time, this endearingly light-hearted romance comedy features a glorious star turn from Madeleine Sami, alongside plenty of classic Kiwi cameos.
13. Stray (dir. Dustin Feneley)
A hauntingly sparse, self-funded modern classic, Stray announced the arrival of a thrilling new voice in Kiwi film-maker Dustin Feneley and provided a fascinatingly austere, powerful portrait of isolation and redemption in the process.
(dir. Christine Jeffs)
This poetic, deeply-felt portrait of coming of age, sexuality and tragedy at a New Zealand beach house is one of the strongest teen-focused offerings New Zealand has ever put to screen. Rarely has a New Zealand film pulsed with such intensity of desire and desperation.
11. Housebound (dir. Gerard Johnstone)
The best horror film made in New Zealand in many years, Housebound is a gleefully cheeky, fitfully creepy film with an ingenious twist – its clever, criminal heroine is unable to leave the haunted house she is trapped in because of house arrest. New Zealand horror comes in many forms, but few are as accomplished or enjoyable as this.
10. Waru (dir. Briar Grace-Smith, Casey Kaa, Ainsley Gardiner, Katie Wolfe, Chelsea Cohen, Renae Maihi, Paula Jones, Awanui Simich-Pene)
An ambitious, profound and intense drama created by a group of talented Māori women directors, Waru approaches the difficult subject of abuse from multiple angles, each taking the point of view of a different Māori woman struggling with the death of the titular Waru, a young Māori boy. Astonishingly well-performed, Waru is a wonder.
9. The Dark Horse
(dir. James Napier Robertson)
Cliff Curtis turns in the performance of a lifetime as real-life chess player Genesis Potini, a man struggling with mental health issues who turns his skills to teaching at risk children in the community. Curtis is transformative as Potini, as director Robertson finds surprising (and deeply Kiwi) angles on the classic stand-up-and-cheer sports movie format.
8. In My Father's Den (dir. Brad McGann)
Based on the novel by Maurice Gee, this sensitive drama follows a photojournalist returning to his hometown following the death of his father and reckoning with his own past. Featuring a sublime performance by a young Emily Barclay, the film is also director Brad McGann's last; he died from cancer a few years later. The film lasts as a document of a formidable, barely explored film-making talent.
7. Out of the Blue (dir. Robert Sarkies)
A harrowing document of the Aramoana massacre, this frighteningly intense, controversial film captured the shooting in almost real time and featured astoundingly naturalistic work from its broad ensemble cast. Taking on the troubling and difficult subject of real-world tragedy, Out of the Blue walks a fine tightrope, capturing both the horror of the situation and using thoughtful restraint, never dipping into the lurid or exploitative.
6. Whale Rider (dir. Niki Caro)
Famed for its wonderful central performance by a young Keisha Castle-Hughes, Whale Rider is also a touching, sensitively directed drama about a small Māori community seen through the eyes of a young girl. Ahead of its time and at times unbearably powerful, Whale Rider is a lasting Kiwi classic.
5. What We Do in the Shadows (dir. Taika Waititi)
The first of three appearances by wunderkind film-maker Taika Waititi on this list, What We Do in the Shadows is a remarkably successful vampire comedy that manages to be both appreciably creepy and extremely funny. Reuniting Waititi with his Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement, Shadows is perhaps the greatest self-funded Kiwi film since Bad Taste.
4. Boy (dir. Taika Waititi)
Waititi here went down a more personal, dramatic route in the feature adaptation of his masterful, Oscar-nominated short Two Cars, One Night. Featuring a star-making turn from a young James Rolleston, Boy is Waititi's most sincere, emotional work, making the experiences of young boy in small-town New Zealand feel universal in the best possible way.
3. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
(dir. Taika Waititi)
A modern action-comedy masterpiece, Wilderpeople succeeds as an international-level crowdpleaser because of its unapologetic Kiwi-ness. The story of young Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and his foster parent/grandpa (Sam Neill) going on the run in the New Zealand bush is a hilarious, warm-hearted and charmingly idiosyncratic comedy, featuring Waititi's trademark directorial style at the height of its powers.
2. Heavenly Creatures
(dir. Peter Jackson)
Lord of the Rings mastermind Peter Jackson has long been renowned for his high fantasies and creature features – but his most lasting New Zealand-based work was this heartbreaking, upsetting coming-of-age drama based on the real-life Parker-Hulme murder case of 1954. Tenderly directed and featuring blistering turns from a young Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey, the film culminates in one of the most difficult-to-watch, horrific murder sequences ever put to screen.
1. Once Were Warriors
(dir. Lee Tamahori)
If there is any film that is going to challenge The Piano for the top spot on any Kiwi films list, it's Lee Tamahori's masterful portrait of a working-class Māori family struggling in the grasp of abuse and poverty. Tamahori directs with fiery intensity, aided by iconic turns from Rena Owen and Temuera Morrison, in the roles that would define their careers. Its drama never strays too far into the excessive or overdone, its violence and pain is unflinching, its raw anger utterly captivating.