Forget about cows, sheep, and I don’t know, Anchor Milk. With the surprising amount of Hollywood films being shot in New Zealand, the movie industry may as well be the country’s breadwinner.
And no, I’m not just talking about the Lord of the Rings franchise (although the proceeds from that production alone probably equated to a robust GDP for an entire year).
Thanks to its breathtaking natural scenery, roster of talented directors, and the presence a top production company (the Weta Workshop, which steadily rose up to be a world-leading design and effects facility from the back room of a Wellington flat), New Zealand is a movie buff’s dream location.
1. “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” (2005).
Much of the first two Narnia films were shot in New Zealand (yep, Narnia = New Zealand, never mind that Middle Earth = New Zealand too). Filming locations like Flock Hill in Canterbury, Purakaunui Bay in Otago, Auckland City, and of course, Cathedral Cove in Coromandel were key to bringing C.S. Lewis’ magical world to life.
2. “The Frighteners” (1996).
Before Peter Jackson became famous for the LotR movies, he directed a horror-comedy that would go on to become a cult favorite (you can watch the trailer here). Apart from being shot in New Zealand, “The Frighteners” also happened to be the first film collaboration between Jackson and Weta, and we all know how that turned out.
3. “The Last Samurai” (2003).
What??? You mean to say Tom Cruise’s samurai flick wasn’t shot in Japan???
‘Fraid not. It was shot in the Taranaki region, which is home to the snow-capped peak of Mt. Taranaki, a complete dead-ringer for Japan’s Mt. Fuji.
4. “Vertical Limit” (2000).
Since the typical image of New Zealand involves calm, rollicking hills and wide, green fields, excitement isn’t really an emotion that you would associate with this country. This 2000 film about climbing and falling from mountains changed that, however, and placed the spotlight on the country’s highest mountain: Aoraki Mt. Cook.
5. “Whale Rider” (2002).
Based on a novel of the same name, this award-winning New Zealand film was filmed in Whangara, which was actually the setting in the book. Apart from treating viewers to a stunning visual of the New Zealand coast, the movie also brings Maori culture to the forefront, what with the protagonist being a young Maori girl.
6. “Avatar” (2009).
Clearly, this film wasn’t shot in New Zealand per se, but its special effects, props, and conceptual design were produced by, you guessed it, Weta Workshop and Weta Digital. They’re reportedly producing the sequels now, but you can visit a workshop in Miramar, Wellington and go on a behind-the-scenes guided tour.
7. “The Adventures of Tintin” (2011).
As with “Avatar,” the New Zealand-based Weta Digital team was responsible for breathing cinematic life into the classic French comic book.
8. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009).
Okay, so the scenery isn’t what you would remember from this critically-panned film (well, it’s hard to pay attention to the background when there’s a shot of Hugh Jackman jumping off a waterfall buck naked), but many of the farm scenes where James/Logan/Wolverine finds sanctuary post-transformation were filmed in Dunedin.
9. “The Piano” (1993).
Set in 1850’s New Zealand, this movie about a mute woman sent off to wed a wealthy plantation owner featured the country’s West Coast as one of the film’s stars and even led to the then 9 year-old Anna Paquin (Rogue from “X-Men” and Sookie Stackhouse from “True Blood”) attaining the world record for being the youngest Academy Award winner.
10. A slew of Disney Channel Original movies.
The Disney Channel seems to enjoy sending their stars halfway across the world to film mostly unmemorable movies like “Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior” and “Avalon High.”
Perhaps it’s much cheaper to launch up-and-coming stars in Wellywood rather than in Hollywood, eh?