Since Peter Jackson had unprecedented success in Hollywood with his New Zealand films (Lord of The Rings & The Hobbit in case you’re from Mars), New Zealand has been placed firmly on the map as the perfect film location, which in turn has done huge things for New Zealand tourism.

You’ll find places where movies were filmed all over New Zealand such as Karekare for The Piano, Cathedral Cove for The Chronicles of Narnia, The Otago Region for Wolverine, Mount Taranaki which stood in for Mt Fuji in The Last Samurai and of course Hobbiton (Matamata). Not forgetting the fantastic Weta Workshop where many props and special effects have been created in Welington, known locally as Wellywood!

Here I’ve compiled a list of the best movies that were filmed in New Zealand, including some lesser known Kiwi films (in no particular order):

1. Wolverine (2009)

Filmed in the Otago region of the South island and starring the beautiful Hugh Jackman. Sadly, Jackman’s incredible body may have been overshadowed by the Otago scenery, however, this gives us the perfect excuse to watch it again.

deer park heights
Image – Jeff Hitchcock [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The remote cabin of James – now living as Logan – was built on the peak of Deer Park Heights, on the peninsula just south of Queenstown, and the mountains overlooking it are the Remarkables at Otago

2. Lord of the Rings – The Trilogy (2001-2003)

Had to be mentioned otherwise I may have had a serious backlash, these films have created a whole sub-industry within New Zealand tourism, with tours focussed on taking you to all the stunning New Zealand film locations.

hobbiton lord of the rings
David Broad [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

3. The Hobbit Trilogy (2012 – 2014)

You can’t mention Lord of The Rings and then not mention The Hobbit. Filming for this movie took place all over New Zealand with many scenes being filmed in The Otago Region.

hobbiton matamata new zealand
The real Hobbiton – Matamata NZ

4. Mauri (1988)

The first feature film from Merata Mita who is well known for her political views and advocate for change, thanks to her traditional Maori upbringing. It was also the second ever feature film to have a female Maori director. The film is a discussion on racism and birthrights within a rural community. It may not be a hollywood blockbuster but it is still an important film about New Zealand and Maori history.

screenshot from Mauri

5. The Last Samurai (2003)

Who’d have thought that you might have bumped into Tom Cruise in Taranaki? Mount Taranaki filled in as Mount Fuji in the movie, seen in the background of the Japanese village which was built on the hills of Uruti Valley. Taranaki may not be on the usual backpacker route but is worth a visit.

mt taranaki - the last samurai
Mt Taranaki (Mount Fuji) – depositphotos

6. Black Sheep (2006)

Awesome and hilarious light relief comedy horror filmed in Wairarapa and Wellington. The film isn’t really made to showcase New Zealand’s beautiful landscape but is still a worthwhile mention.

Movie Tagline “Get ready for the Violence of the Lambs! There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand and they’re pissed off”

7. Vertical Limit (2000)

Ok, so this may not be the best thriller around but it’s certainly watchable. Most of the filming was done in Queenstown and in the Southern Alps.

vertical limit
Vertical Limit

8. The World’s Fastest Indian (2005)

A combination of three killer elements here. A true story about New Zealander Burt Munro from Invercargill, starring my favourite actor Anthony Hopkins, and filmed on the gorgeous black sand shores of Muriwai Beach, 42km from Auckland City.

worlds fastest indian
By Midnight bird (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

9.The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – The Chronicles of Narnia (2005)

The film is nowhere near as good as the book but the cinematography and scenery is stunning, thanks to filming locations including Flock Hill – Canterbury, Purakaunui Bay – Otago and Auckland City.

the lion the witch and the wardrobe
Photo by Bernard Spragg. NZ
Elephant Rocks Otago – used for Aslans Camp

10. Prince Caspian – The Chronicles of Narnia (2008)

If you’ve been to the stunning Coromandel Cove on your travels (and if not, why not?!) then you’ll recognise it from this film. This location was specifically chosen because the arch gave the feeling of the tunnel the kids go into before they’re summoned back to Narnia.

cathedral cove coromandel
Cathedral Cove Coromandel – iStock

11. Rainbow Warrior (2002)

Tells the true story of the bombing and consequent sinking of the Greenpeace ship about to set sail to protest against nuclear testing in France. It’s a film that provokes thought, especially in this day and age, and makes you see Auckland Harbour in a different light.

the rainbow warrior
The Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour

12. Without a Paddle (2004)

Pay attention in this film as it is a walking advertisement for New Zealand’s North Island. Film locations include Taupo, Rotorua, Wanganui, Waikato and Wellington, with a lovely shot of Hunua Falls. It is also a good backpacker hangover comedy.

without a paddle hunua falls
Without a Paddle and Hunua Falls

13. Whale Rider (2002)

Famous outside of New Zealand for being ‘that New Zealand film that won awards’, Whale Rider showcases some of the North Island’s most stunning coastline, most notably Whangara on the Gisborne coastline, east coast of New Zealand.

whangara whale rider
By Avenue (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

14. The Piano (1993)

Many would be surprised to know that this film offers viewers the best that Auckland has to offer, including both KareKare and Piha beach. This was Anna Paquins (True Blood) break out role at the tender age of 11.

karekare the piano
Karekare By Michal Klajban ( (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

15. Once Were Warriors (1994)

An amazing film about an urban Maori family, which doesn’t focus on the stunning scenery of New Zealand because it was filmed in Auckland. It was voted in 2014 as the Best New Zealand Film of all time so it’s well worth a watch. You’ll probably spot a few familiar faces in the film too! You may hear people quote this famous line from the film whilst in New Zealand “Cook the man some f***ing eggs!”

16. Mission Impossible 6 : Fallout

Yep, Tom Cruise was back in New Zealand to do some filming for the latest blockbuster in the Mission Impossible franchise. Tom, Simon Pegg, Henry Cavill and others have all been spotted enjoying some stunning NZ scenery. Part of the set was built in the Nevis Valley, with filming also taking place in Rees Valley and Cromwell. We can’t wait to do some location spotting when the film is released! – source

Honourable Mentions

Many movies use Wellingtons Weta Workshop for props and special effects, some which were filmed in New Zealand, some not, including

  • The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit Movies
  • Avatar
  • King Kong
  • The Adventures of Tintin
  • The Frighteners (Peter Jacksons comedy horror film)

If you’re in Wellington then the Weta Workshop is definitely worth visiting whether you’re a film buff or not.

If you’re currently in New Zealand and fancy some movie star spotting, then there seem to always be film stars somewhere in the country filming something. Also, keep your eyes peeled when travelling around New Zealand as you could well be standing on some of the famous movie locations from your favourite films.

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