Once Were Warriors has been voted the best New Zealand film of all time in the first survey of Kiwi national cinema.
The brutal and violent family melodrama that introduced Jake the Muss to the world and made a star of Temuera Morrison in 1994 was voted the best film in Fairfax Media’s national poll.
The survey attracted more than 500 votes, including about 100 from people in the New Zealand film industry and about 15 film critics. The voters named about 170 films in the poll, ranging from 1927 to the present day and including everything from fantasy to horror, social realism to comedy, and documentary to animation.
Visit movies.interactives.co.nz for the 50 best New Zealand films of all time, interactive graphics, videos, analysis and director interviews.
Once Were Warriors director Lee Tamahori said he was humbled by the public vote.
“I’m really proud that people think that of the film,” he said.
“I’m very hard on my own films, but I’m very proud of Once Were Warriors and like it a lot. I look at it and think it is a pretty damn good film and it stands up. If people like it, then I’m very humbled and proud of that.”
He said he had been surprised by the film’s huge box office success when it was released 20 years ago.
“It was a genuine word-of-mouth phenomenon. It was the first film in New Zealand to have that sort of momentum. I remember it quite clearly. It was a New Zealand film that created such a buzz that people had to go and see it.”
The top 10 list includes early 1980s films Goodbye Pork Pie , Utu , Smash Palace and The Quiet Earth; mid-1990s classics like Once Were Warriors, Heavenly Creatures and The Piano; along with modern hits like Boy, In My Father’s Den and Whale Rider . Boy is the only film in the top 10 made in the last 10 years.
Geoff Murphy is the only director with more than one film in the top 10. His 1980s hits Goodbye Pork Pie, The Quiet Earth and Utu all received many votes.
Murphy said he didn’t know why his films had endured so well, but felt his films were “pretty good”.
“They did turn out pretty well. I don’t really know. You go out there and you do what you do. It’s hard to know what makes a film work,” he said.
Peter Jackson had 11 films in the top 50, but Heavenly Creatures was the only movie to break the top 10.
Tamahori’s return to NZ movies.
Once Were Warriors director Lee Tamahori plans to make his first film in New Zealand for 20 years.
Tamahori has not made a film in his home country since Once Were Warriors in 1994, but he plans to shoot an adaptation of Witi Ihimaera story Bulibasha this year.
“It took me a long time, probably too long according to some people, but I was waiting for the right project,” Tamahori said.
“It is a late 1950s/early 60s coming-of-age story. It’s very evocative. A beautiful piece set on the east coast of the North Island.”
Tamahori made a string of US feature films after the success of Once Were Warriors, but has been living in New Zealand since 2003.
“It’s not always easy to finance a film here, but I will always go where the good stories are.”
The 10 best Kiwi films of all time:
1. Once Were Warriors
3. Whale Rider
4. Goodbye Pork Pie
5. Heavenly Creatures
6. The Piano
7. In My Father’s Den
9. Smash Palace
10. The Quiet Earth
The top 10 films were made between 1981 and 2010.