Movies Filmed in New Zealand: A Cinematic Journey through Aotearoa

Movies Filmed in New Zealand

blog authorBy Johanna Hansen shield verification Verified Expert

    New Zealand, often referred to as Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, is not just a haven for adventurers and nature lovers but also a favorite destination for filmmakers. The country's diverse landscapes, ranging from snow-capped peaks to lush forests, have provided the perfect backdrop for some of the most iconic movies in cinematic history. 

    Let's embark on a journey to explore some of the famous movies filmed in New Zealand that have showcased its breathtaking beauty to the world.

    The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) 

    Directed by Peter Jackson, "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy is an epic fantasy series based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. The films, consisting of "The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers," and "The Return of the King," follow the journey of a young hobbit, Frodo Baggins, as he sets out with a fellowship to destroy the One Ring. 

    The ring holds immense power and is sought after by the dark lord Sauron. Throughout their quest, the fellowship faces numerous challenges, from treacherous landscapes to formidable enemies.

    Without a doubt the locations of the Lord of the Rings in New Zealand are one of the great tourist attractions of the country, being common to make a route through these places.

    The Lord of the Rings

    The Lord of the Rings trilogy Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • Matamata: This location was transformed into the lush Shire, home of the hobbits. The set remains as a tourist attraction known as Hobbiton.
    • Tongariro National Park: The park's stark and dramatic landscapes served as the backdrop for Mordor and Mount Doom.
    • Fiordland National Park: This area, with its dense forests, was used to depict Fangorn Forest.
    • Wellington: Various locations around Wellington, including the Wellington Quarry, were used for scenes such as the Paths of the Dead.
    • Southern Alps: These majestic mountains were used for various aerial shots and to depict the Misty Mountains.
    • Glenorchy: This area near Queenstown was used for various scenes, including those depicting Isengard.
    • Lothlórien: This elven forest was filmed in Paradise near Queenstown.

    Find out more about the filming locations of the Lord of the Rings in New Zealand

    The Hobbit Trilogy (2012-2014)

    Directed by Peter Jackson, "The Hobbit" trilogy consists of three epic high fantasy adventure films: "An Unexpected Journey" (2012), "The Desolation of Smaug" (2013), and "The Battle of the Five Armies" (2014). 

    These films are based on J.R.R. Tolkien's 1937 novel "The Hobbit", with significant portions of the trilogy inspired by the appendices to "The Return of the King". The story acts as a prequel to Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy. 

    The narrative follows the journey of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who is convinced by the wizard Gandalf the Grey to join thirteen Dwarves on a quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug. The films expand on certain elements from the novel and other source materials, introducing new characters and plotlines.

    The Hobbit

    The Hobbit Trilogy Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    The Hobbit trilogy, like The Lord of the Rings, was primarily filmed in New Zealand. One of the most iconic locations is the Hobbiton set near Matamata, which was renovated for the filming of this trilogy. The lush landscapes, rolling hills, and picturesque settings of New Zealand provided the perfect backdrop for the fictional world of Middle-earth.

    Avatar (2009)

    Directed by James Cameron, "Avatar" is a groundbreaking science fiction film that takes place in the mid-22nd century when humans are colonizing Pandora, a lush habitable moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system. 

    The film's title refers to the genetically engineered Na'vi-human hybrid bodies used by a team of researchers to interact with the native Na'vi. The story follows Jake Sully, a paraplegic former Marine, who becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home. 

    The film is known for its advanced visual effects and its portrayal of a unique alien world.


    Avatar Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    While "Avatar" is renowned for its extensive use of CGI to create the world of Pandora, many of the live-action sequences were filmed in New Zealand. The country's diverse landscapes provided a tangible foundation for the digital artists to build upon. Some of the specific locations include:

    • Wellington: Weta Digital, based in Wellington, was the primary visual effects company for "Avatar". Many of the motion-capture sequences were shot at studios in the city.
    • Kauaeranga Valley: Located in the Coromandel Peninsula, this area provided some of the lush forest backdrops that were later transformed into the vibrant jungles of Pandora.

    The Last Samurai (2003)

    Directed by Edward Zwick, "The Last Samurai" is an epic period action drama film that delves into the life of Nathan Algren, an American captain portrayed by Tom Cruise. 

    Algren, haunted by his past actions during the American Indian Wars, finds himself in Japan during the Meiji Restoration. He is captured by the samurai and, over time, becomes deeply immersed in their culture, eventually siding with them against the Westernizing forces of the new Japanese government. 

    The film's narrative is inspired by the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion and the broader Westernization of Japan during the 19th century.

    The Last Samurai

    The Last Samurai Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • Taranaki Region: This location was primarily chosen because of its resemblance to Mount Fuji, thanks to the presence of Egmont/Mount Taranaki. The region's vast forests and farmlands provided a perfect backdrop for many of the film's scenes, contrasting the urbanized areas of Japan.

    The film was largely shot in New Zealand, especially in the Taranaki region, due to its scenic landscapes that closely resemble certain parts of Japan. The majestic Egmont/Mount Taranaki was a significant location, chosen for its striking similarity to Mount Fuji. The surrounding forest and farmland areas of the Taranaki region also served as ideal settings for various scenes in the movie

    King Kong (2005)

    Directed by Peter Jackson, "King Kong" is an epic monster adventure film that serves as a modern reimagining of the 1933 classic. The story follows a film crew led by director Carl Denham, played by Jack Black, as they venture to the mysterious Skull Island. 

    There, they encounter the colossal ape, King Kong, and various other prehistoric creatures. The film delves into the bond formed between Kong and the film's leading lady, Ann Darrow, portrayed by Naomi Watts, and the subsequent chaos that ensues when Kong is brought to New York City.

    King Kong

    King Kong Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • Wellington: The capital city's surrounding areas, including the Miramar Peninsula, were extensively used for various parts of Skull Island. The dense forests and rugged terrains provided the perfect setting for the mysterious and dangerous island.
    • Lyall Bay: This coastal suburb of Wellington was transformed into the New York City streets for the scenes where King Kong rampages through the city.
    • Southern Alps: These majestic mountain ranges were used for the dramatic backdrops of Skull Island, especially for the scenes involving vast valleys and steep cliffs.
    • Seaview: A suburb in Lower Hutt, Seaview was the location for the Venture, the ship that takes the crew to Skull Island.

    Peter Jackson's familiarity with New Zealand's diverse landscapes played a significant role in choosing the country as the primary filming location. The varied terrains, from dense forests to towering mountain ranges, made it an ideal choice for the diverse settings required in the film.

    The World's Fastest Indian (2005)

    Directed by Roger Donaldson, "The World's Fastest Indian" is a biographical sports drama film that tells the story of Burt Munro, a speed bike racer from Invercargill, New Zealand. Munro, played by Anthony Hopkins, is known for his modified 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle. 

    With this bike, he set numerous land speed records for motorcycles with engines less than 1,000 cc at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah during the late 1950s and into the 1960s. The film delves into Munro's passion, determination, and challenges as he dreams of and eventually achieves record-breaking speeds on his beloved motorcycle.

    The World's Fastest Indian Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • Invercargill: The hometown of Burt Munro, many scenes depicting his life and workshop were filmed here. The location used for Munro's home and workshop took place on Lithgow Street in Invercargill.
    • Taranaki Region: Some scenes were shot in this region, showcasing New Zealand's picturesque landscapes.

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    Vertical Limit (2000)

    Directed by Martin Campbell, "Vertical Limit" is an American survival thriller film that revolves around the perilous journey of a young climber, Peter Garrett, who embarks on a rescue mission to save his sister Annie and her team trapped near the summit of K2. 

    The film delves into the challenges faced by the rescue team, including avalanches, treacherous terrains, and life-threatening decisions, as they race against time to bring the trapped climbers back to safety.

    Vertical Limit Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • Queenstown

    Whale Rider (2002)

    Directed by Niki Caro, "Whale Rider" is a New Zealand drama film based on the 1987 novel "The Whale Rider" by Witi Ihimaera. The story centers around Kahu Paikea Apirana, a twelve-year-old Māori girl who aspires to become the chief of her tribe. 

    However, her grandfather, Koro Apirana, believes that this leadership role is reserved for males only. The film delves into Pai's determination to prove herself and the cultural challenges she faces in her quest for leadership. The film was shot on location in Whangara, the setting of the novel, and received critical acclaim upon its release.

    Whale Rider

    Whale Rider Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • Whangara

    The Piano (1993)

    Directed by Jane Campion, "The Piano" is a period drama film set during the mid-19th century in a rainy, muddy frontier backwater town on the west coast of New Zealand. The story revolves around a mute piano player and her daughter, and the lengths she is willing to go to regain her beloved piano after it is sold. 

    The film is known for its powerful performances, especially by Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin, and its haunting score. It won numerous awards, including the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and three Academy Awards.

    The Piano Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • Karekare Beach, Waitakere Ranges (beach scenes)
    • Auckland (various locations)

    Once Were Warriors (1994)

    Directed by Lee Tamahori, "Once Were Warriors" is a poignant New Zealand tragic drama film based on the bestselling 1990 novel by New Zealand author Alan Duff. The narrative delves deep into the lives of the Heke family, an urban Māori family residing in South Auckland. 

    The family grapples with issues of poverty, alcoholism, and domestic violence, predominantly instigated by the patriarch, Jake. The film sheds light on the adverse effects of New Zealand's colonization on the Māori community and the enduring spirit of Māori culture amidst adversity. 

    The film's portrayal of the Heke family's struggles is both heart-wrenching and thought-provoking, with standout performances by Rena Owen, Temuera Morrison, and Cliff Curtis.

    Once Were Warriors Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • Otara, Auckland (state house scenes)

    Heavenly Creatures (1994)

    Directed by Peter Jackson, "Heavenly Creatures" is a gripping New Zealand biographical psychological drama film. The screenplay, co-written by Jackson and Fran Walsh, stars Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey in their feature film debuts. 

    The story is based on the infamous 1954 Parker–Hulme murder case in Christchurch. The film delves into the intense relationship between two teenage girls, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme. Their bond grows so strong that it culminates in the murder of Parker's mother. The narrative spans from their first meeting in 1952 to the tragic event in 1954. 

    The film sheds light on the intricate world of fantasy and reality the two girls weave, leading to the eventual crime. The movie was well-received, earning accolades and praise for its direction and the performances of the then-unknown Winslet and Lynskey.

    Heavenly Creatures Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • Christchurch (primary location of the real-life events)

    Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

    Directed by Taika Waititi, "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" is a New Zealand adventure comedy-drama film. The screenplay, based on the book "Wild Pork and Watercress" by Barry Crump, follows the story of "Uncle" Hector and Ricky Baker, played by Sam Neill and Julian Dennison respectively. 

    The duo becomes the target of a nationwide manhunt after they flee into the New Zealand bush. The film beautifully captures the essence of survival, bonding, and the challenges faced by a young foster child and his reluctant guardian as they navigate through the wilderness. 

    The movie was met with critical acclaim, particularly for its humor, heart, and the chemistry between Neill and Dennison.

    Hunt for the Wilderpeople

    Hunt for the Wilderpeople Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • Central Plateau
    • Waitākere Ranges

    What We Do in the Shadows (2014) 

    Directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, this comedic horror film delves into the lives of three vampires, Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav, as they grapple with the mundane challenges of modern life. 

    From paying rent and managing household chores to gaining entry into nightclubs, the film offers a humorous take on the everyday struggles of the undead.

    What We Do in the Shadows Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • Wellington, New Zealand
    • Te Aro, Wellington, New Zealand
    • Glassons, 80 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington, New Zealand (Example of Deacon's rebellious side)
    • The Big Kumara, 60 Dixon St, Te Aro, Wellington, New Zealand ("Night spot for vampires")

    The Power of the Dog (2021) 

    Directed by Jane Campion, "The Power of the Dog" is a revisionist Western psychological drama based on Thomas Savage's 1967 novel of the same name. The film is set in Montana and primarily shot in rural Otago, New Zealand. 

    It stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. The story revolves around wealthy ranch-owning brothers, Phil and George Burbank, who encounter widow and inn owner Rose Gordon. While George is smitten with Rose, Phil harbors a deep resentment towards her and her teenage son, Peter. 

    As tensions rise, the film delves into themes of masculinity, love, and betrayal.

    The Power of the Dog

    The Power of the Dog Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • Maniototo in Central Otago
    • Dunedin, Otago
    • Oamaru, Otago

    The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

    Directed by Steven Spielberg, "The Adventures of Tintin" is a 2011 computer-animated action-adventure film based on Hergé's iconic comic book series. 

    Produced by Spielberg, Peter Jackson, and Kathleen Kennedy, the film showcases the adventures of the young journalist Tintin, his loyal dog Snowy, and the gruff Captain Haddock. Together, they embark on a quest to find the treasure of the Unicorn, a ship once captained by Haddock's ancestor, Sir Francis Haddock. 

    However, they face perilous challenges from Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine, the descendant of Sir Francis's nemesis, Red Rackham. The film beautifully captures the essence of Hergé's world, blending mystery, action, and humor.

    The Adventures of Tintin Filming Locations:

    • Wellington: Weta Digital

    Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

    Directed by Christopher McQuarrie, "Mission: Impossible – Fallout" is the sixth installment in the iconic "Mission: Impossible" film series. The 2018 American action spy film sees the return of Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, who, along with his Impossible Missions Force (IMF) team, seeks to prevent nuclear weapon technology from falling into the hands of the Apostles, a bioterrorist offshoot of the Syndicate. 

    The film is packed with thrilling action sequences, intricate plots, and a star-studded cast that includes Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, and Alec Baldwin. The narrative revolves around Ethan Hunt's mission to retrieve stolen plutonium cores while facing betrayals, personal dilemmas, and high-octane action sequences.

    Mission Impossible - Fallout

    Mission: Impossible - Fallout Filming Locations:

    • Paris
    • New Zealand
    • London
    • Norway
    • United Arab Emirates

    Alien: Covenant (2017)

    Directed by Ridley Scott, "Alien: Covenant" is a 2017 science fiction horror film that serves as a sequel to "Prometheus" (2012) and the sixth installment in the Alien franchise. 

    The film is a joint American and British production and features Michael Fassbender in a dual role, alongside Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, and Demián Bichir. The story revolves around the crew of a colony ship, the Covenant, who land on an uncharted planet and make a horrifying discovery. The narrative delves into the origins of the xenomorphs and the actions of the android David, a survivor from the Prometheus mission. 

    The film explores themes of creation, destruction, and the consequences of unchecked ambition.

    Alien: Covenant Filming Location in New Zealand:

    • Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

    Ghost in the Shell (2017) 

    Directed by Rupert Sanders, "Ghost in the Shell" is a science fiction action film based on the Japanese manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow. The movie stars Scarlett Johansson as the Major, a cyborg supersoldier who delves into her past. 

    Set in a near-future where the boundary between humans and robots is becoming indistinct, the narrative follows the Major's journey as she unravels the mysteries of her origins.

    Ghost in the Shell Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • Wellington: The capital city of New Zealand, Wellington, provided urban settings that were transformed into the film's futuristic cityscapes.
    • Auckland: Parts of Auckland, including the central business district, were used for several street scenes and city backdrops.

    The Meg (2018) 

    Directed by Jon Turteltaub, "The Meg" is a science fiction action film that revolves around a group of scientists who encounter a 75-foot-long megalodon shark during a rescue mission in the Pacific Ocean. The movie is loosely based on the 1997 novel "Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror" by Steve Alten.

    The Meg Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • West Auckland

    The film's principal photography began in West Auckland, New Zealand, and concluded in Sanya City of Hainan, China. New Zealand's picturesque landscapes and vast oceanic views provided the perfect backdrop for this thrilling shark tale.

    Mortal Engines (2018) 

    Directed by Christian Rivers and produced by Peter Jackson, "Mortal Engines" is a post-apocalyptic action film based on the novel of the same name by Philip Reeve. The story is set in a future world where cities on wheels roam the Earth, preying on smaller towns for resources.

    Mortal Engines Filming Locations in New Zealand:

    • Wellington: Stone Street Studios
    • Various locations throughout the Wellington region

    The film was primarily shot at Stone Street Studios in Wellington, where massive sets were constructed to bring the mobile cities to life. Additionally, the diverse landscapes of the Wellington region were utilized to depict the vast wastelands and terrains of the post-apocalyptic world.

    Conclusion New Zealand's cinematic allure is undeniable. From epic fantasies to heartwarming dramas, the country's landscapes have added depth and beauty to countless films. For travelers and movie buffs alike, a trip to New Zealand offers a chance to walk in the footsteps of their favorite characters. 

    And if you're planning a visit, why not make the journey even more memorable? Rent a campervan from Campervan New Zealand and explore the movie magic of Aotearoa at your own pace. After all, every traveler deserves their own epic adventure in this cinematic paradise.

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