American cinema
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Taika Waititi attends the Los Angeles premiere of Thor: Love And Thunder. The multi-talented New Zealander is riding high, with a Star Wars project in the offing. Photo: AFP

Taika Waititi, Thor: Love and Thunder director also known for Jojo Rabbit and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, is a Hollywood powerhouse

  • He’s played a pirate and a caricatured Adolf Hitler, voiced a droid in The Mandalorian, delivered some quirky and wildly inventive films and won a writing Oscar
  • Five years after directing flamboyant space Viking caper Thor: Ragnarok, the multi-talented New Zealander is back with another star-studded Thor instalment

New Zealand-born filmmaker Taika Waititi has become a creative powerhouse in Hollywood, accruing credits as an actor, writer, producer and director in a string of projects for both film and television.

Still best known perhaps for his controversial 2019 hit Jojo Rabbit, for which he won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay, Waititi, who is half Maori and half Jewish, describes himself as a “Polynesian Jew”, and was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2022.

While at university in Wellington, he was part of a comedy troupe with Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, who went on to star in TV series Flight of the Conchords. In 2005, his short film Two Cars, One Night was nominated for an Academy Award.

Waititi’s 2010 film Boy set a box office record for the most successful domestic film in New Zealand which stood for six years until it was broken by his 2016 film Hunt for the Wilderpeople, starring Sam Neill.

Natalie Portman (left) as Mighty Thor and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in a still from Thor: Love and Thunder. Photo: Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios

For the small screen, Waititi has written and directed episodes of Flight of the Conchords, Reservation Dogs, and The Mandalorian, in which he also voices droid IG-11, as well as the HBO series Our Flag Means Death, in which he appears as the notorious pirate Blackbeard.

Waititi regularly casts himself in his films, and has also appeared on the big screen in The Suicide Squad and Free Guy, both from 2021, while lending his distinctive voice to the character of Mo in this summer’s Pixar adventure Lightyear.
Waititi’s penchant for lo-fi visuals and deadpan humour has drawn comparisons to filmmaking contemporaries like Wes Anderson, Michel Gondry and Edgar Wright. Somewhat implausibly, he has also succeeded in parlaying his unique authorial signature into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Taika Waititi poses for a photo with his daughters Matewa Kiritapu and Te Hinekahu during a red carpet event for the movie premiere of Thor: Love and Thunder in Sydney, Australia. Photo: AP
Thor: Ragnarok sparkled with the same loose, improvisational sensibility as his earlier work, albeit on the vast canvas of a fantasy sci-fi blockbuster.
With the release this week of Waititi’s even more ambitious follow-up, Thor: Love and Thunder, we look back at the cinematic career of New Zealand’s hottest filmmaking export since Peter Jackson.

Eagle vs Shark (2007)

For his feature debut, Waititi collaborated with actress Loren Horsley to craft the story of two awkward twenty-something misfits in modern-day Wellington.

Horsley stars as Lily, a cashier at a burger bar who lives with her brother and secretly pines for bad-boy regular Jarrod (Jermaine Clement). After hooking up at his animal-themed house party, Lily accompanies Jarrod to his hometown, where he plots a ridiculous revenge mission on a childhood bully.

By turns wholly relatable and excruciatingly uncomfortable, Eagle vs Shark is a big-hearted romantic comedy with surprisingly sharp teeth.

Boy (2010)

Premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah before becoming setting a New Zealand box office record for a domestic film, Boy is an unconventional coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old Maori boy (James Rolleston) who lives on a farm with his grandma, little brother and several young cousins.

His world is turned upside down by the return of his father (Waititi), a reckless and immature ex-convict whom he idolises but comes to doubt as a caregiver or potential role model.

A milestone for Maori representation on screen, Boy also served as a calling card for Waititi’s undeniable talents.

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Waititi reteamed with Clement to co-write, co-direct and star in this riotously entertaining mockumentary that follows a coven of vampires sharing a house in the New Zealand capital.

Navigating the daily tribulations that come with modern-day life, as well as the clashing personalities of four immortal bloodsuckers from different eras, the film is wildly inventive and endlessly quotable.

To date it has spawned two successful spin-off television series, What We Do in the Shadows and Wellington Paranormal, with another, We’re Wolves, focusing on the vampires’ lycanthrope adversaries, currently in development.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Waititi broke his own domestic box office record with this delightful story of a precocious foster child (Julian Dennison) and his reluctant guardian and ageing farmer (Sam Neill) who get lost in the wilds of New Zealand, triggering a nationwide manhunt.

Continuing his knack for casting incredible child performers, Waititi helped launch Dennison’s international career; the young actor, who turns 20 later this year, has since appeared in Hollywood blockbusters Deadpool 2 and Godzilla vs Kong.

Not to be outdone, Neill is in equally impressive form, delivering one of his best performances in years.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Waititi graduated to the big leagues in fine fashion with this flamboyantly extravagant space adventure that channels the Technicolor camp of Flash Gordon while invigorating the character of Thor with a killer new haircut and a welcome dose of playful self-doubt.

A loose adaptation of the fan-favourite plotline of the Planet Hulk comics paired with a fantastical quest to save Asgard from Cate Blanchett’s vengeful sibling, Waititi’s energetic first entry in the MCU is a ridiculously entertaining science-fiction Viking extravaganza.

He also took on the role of Kronan gladiator Korg, securing himself a spot in Avengers: Endgame.

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Inspired by Christine Leunens’ 2008 novel Caging Skies, Waititi attracted controversy, but also commercial and critical acclaim, with his satirical take on Nazi Germany.

Appearing as a caricature of Adolf Hitler, the imaginary best friend of 10-year-old Hitler Youth trainee Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), Waititi lampoons the propaganda, indoctrination and anti-Semitism of the time in a touching and frequently hilarious coming-of-age tale.

Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Thomasin McKenzie, as the young Jewish girl Jojo finds hiding in his attic, also star in this multi-Oscar-nominated hit.

Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

Waititi returns to Asgard riding a jubilant rainbow wave to the rapturous guitar riffs of Guns n’ Roses in this fourth instalment of the space Viking’s fantastical adventures.

This time out, the God of Thunder must face down Gorr the God Butcher, played by Christian Bale, who appears to be channelling Count Orlok from Nosferatu.

The big-ticket draw, however, is the return of a jacked Natalie Portman, whose Jane Foster now wields the hammer Mjölnir as The Mighty Thor and is every bit the superhero equal of her former flame Avenger.

New films to come:

The future is already looking bright, and incredibly busy, for the prolific 46-year-old New Zealander. His next feature, Next Goal Wins, about the American Samoa football team’s historic 31-0 defeat to Australia in 2001, is already complete and scheduled for release this year.

Waititi is also attached to direct an as-yet unspecified Star Wars film, and is in pre-production on The Incal, another epic space adventure based on the graphic novel by Moebius and surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook