Over two decades, much thanks to the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, New Zealand has become a buzzing hive of filmmaking activity. This relatively small and out of the way film industry might boast only a few internationally known A-list directors, but these have made a massive impact on film culture far beyond their island chain. Jane Campion, Peter Jackson, Andrew Niccol and of course Taika Waititi immediately spring to mind as the most influential and iconic filmmakers of the bunch, and it is the latter’s films that will be ranked in this list.
After making his start in comedy and theatre as a performer, Waititi first stepped behind the camera directing short films (including the Oscar-nominated Two Cars, One Night and a trial run of What We Do in the Shadows) before HBO musical sitcom ‘Flight of the Conchords’ came along, friend and co-lead Jemaine Clement enlisting him to direct 4 episodes. As a writer-director he quickly became known for his distinctive, deadpan Kiwi comic chops, wacky characters and making a feature of the absurdity found in mundane situations, particularly those found in strained family settings.
With seven features to his name and many more varied films and TV series in his immediate future, not to mention acting in most of his own films and memorably appearing in the projects of his closest collaborators, Waititi has been one of busiest men and hardest workers in film anywhere in the world for over a decade now. In this edition of Ranked, we here at The Film Magazine are judging each of Taika Waititi’s feature directorial efforts from worst to best, based on critical consensus, connection with audiences, and uniqueness of voice.
Follow us on Twitter.
7. Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
Waititi’s least successful feature film by quite some distance is his second film for Marvel.
Thor: Love and Thunder brings the jokes and some pleasing rom-com elements but doesn’t quite strike the difficult tonal balance that Ragnarok did overall, and is far more inconsistent with its thrills.
Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is called back from his carefree adventuring to put a stop to Gorr the God-Butcher (Christian Bale) doing what his name says he will, with the unexpected help of ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) now battling cancer and empowered as the Mighty Thor.
Love and Thunder does right by some characters and criminally eclipses others. The film unfairly splits its time between the previous instalment’s standouts, with comic relief Korg (Waititit) given unnecessary prominence and Tessa Thompson’s far more interesting Valkyrie largely pushed to the background. Thankfully Portman and Bale’s striking performances, Russell Crowe chewing scenery as Zeus, and a few standout set pieces (notably the black-and-white Shadow Realm battle), still make this worth a look.
Recommended for you: Marvel Cinematic Universe Villains Ranked
6. Boy (2010)
Taika Waititi’s award-winning, Maori community-based breakthrough second feature sees the titular kid (James Rollerston) lost in a world of imagination and a love of Michael Jackson music (“Hey, Chardonnay! Wanna see some Michael Jackson dance moves?”) until one day his deadbeat dad (Waititi), who has been absent since Boy was small, comes back under the pretence of reconnecting with his son, hanging around just long enough for him to become attached again.
Last-minute cast lead James Rollerston astonishes, anchoring the film around Boy’s perspective, earnestly and energetically talking to camera about his world and really selling the more heartbreaking scenes as it becomes clear he has buried much deep inside, chiefly the grief he is still processing for his mum. Waititi takes a very matter-of-fact, bittersweet angle on tough subjects throughout his filmography, and here is a story with grief at its core, but cheer and irreverence usually disguising it.
That Boy is near the bottom of this list is not a slight against the film, which won multiple awards around the world and is often funny and always heartfelt, if a little leisurely, but it is more an indication of the sheer quality of the rest of Taika Waititi’s feature films.