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Best of Netflix: NZ Films and TV shows

My wife is from there, I lived there with her for 4 years, and our daughter was born there – New Zealand is a big part of our lives.

This month we head back for our first trip to Wellington, NZ since we left in 2013.

Netflix have some great NZ films and TV shows on offer, and I thought now was as good a time as any to share some of our favourites.

Best New Zealand movies and TV shows on Netflix

  1. What We Do In The Shadows

This is top of the list. I probably can’t convey enough just how much I love this movie. The latest in the long comedic line of the mockcumentary (also see Spinal Tap), this stars Jermaine Clement (of Flight of the Concords) and his lesser known collaborator (outside New Zealand at least) Taika Waititi.

The premise is fairly simple – European vampires of varying ages (from decades to centuries) share a house in NZ’s capital of Wellington. Also in the mix are a recently turned Kiwi vampire, a suburban mother who want’s to be turned, and a rival group of supernatural beings – a gang of Werewolves, led by Rhys Darby (another Concords alumni – he played their manager Murray).

What did I love about this movie? Firstly, the setting. Having lived in Wellington for 4 years, while I’m glad to be settled back home in the UK it is a terrific city that I will always have fond memories of. This movie captures a little of what makes it such a fun and distinctive place – from the immense talents of the creative community to the perils of a night out on the main drag of Courtney Place.

But it’s also very funny in its own right, with a wonderfully judged tone of comedy and horror that is so difficult to get right.

Wellington is such a small city (about 200,000) it is practically impossible to avoid anyone for long. This captures that scenario (Vampires and Werewolves have trouble avoiding each other), and in reality I certainly saw all the main cast members of this on the streets of the city a number of times while I lived there.

And true to NZ form, my Wellingtonian wife recognised many people from her days at school and university (including Jermaine Clement).

If you only watch one film from this list, make it this one. And if you don’t like it then we clearly have nothing in common.

2. Short Poppies

In little ol’ NZ fashion, this features a lot connections with What We Do In The Shadows – not least its star Rhys Darby, who created this as a vehicle for himself.

It is also made in the mockcumentary style, but more overtly about New Zealand than ‘Shadows’. Each episode sees Rhys as one (or more) Kiwi character who lives in the fictional ‘bay’, in a series presented by real life journalist David Farrier.

As well as Darby, Conchord Jermaine Clement is one of the directors, and a number of other well-known guest stars appear, including Karl Urban, Sam Neill, and Stephen Merchant.

While I was unsure about it after the first episode, it quickly became binge watch material and we finished the show in a few days. The title of this show is a reference to New Zealand’s Tall Poppy syndrome, whereby anyone who becomes too successful is soon cut down to size by the media and/or public opinion. While we are largely invited to mock the characters Rhys portrays here, there is also a clearly a great love for them too.

3. Top of the Lake

While categorised on Netflix as a British TV show, this is a New Zealand made and set show, from Kiwi filmmaker Jane Campion, famed for The Piano among others.

Originally set to reunite Campion with Anna Paquin – the now adult star of The Piano (who pulled out due to her pregnancy), this instead features another US TV star, Elizabeth Moss – famous for playing Peggy Olsen in Mad Men.

Set in New Zealand’s sparsely populated South Island, this (a little unbelievably) sees Moss as an Aussie police officer who returns to her small NZ town from overseas, and is immersed in a dark tale involving local gangsters, child suicide, and a women’s refuge commune.

The show also stars another actor from The Piano, Holly Hunter, who here plays the enigmatic (in look as well as manner) leader of Paradise, the commune at the heart of the mystery.

This is Campion’s first work for TV since her breakthrough drama Angel at my Table (which many don’t even realise began life as an NZ TV drama).

There is a sequel to this coming later this year, that is being shot entirely in Australia. That seems a real shame as the starkness of the New Zealand location is one of the big drawing points for this engaging drama.

4. Beyond the Edge

Hands up who thought that Edmund Hillary – who along with Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit of Everest – was British? Hopefully not just me…

Like many UK children, I was taught (correctly) that it was a British expedition that finally conquered the summit of Everest in 1953. What was less – if at all – covered at my school was the nationality of the climbers. While the fact that ‘Sherpa Tenzing’ was from Nepal was fairly well stated, I had no idea that Edmund Hillary was in fact a New Zealander until I met my Kiwi wife.

Hillary is in fact a national hero in New Zealand, and the lack of knowledge about his nationality in the wider UK populace would likely horrify their rather easily offended national character on these matters.

Anyway, this film puts that ignorance to bed once and for all. A docudrama of sorts, this lays out the narrative of the expedition, and the way that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay earned their place in history ahead of the British mountaineers who were also part of the group.

The film does a great job of conveying the pioneering nature of the expedition, and the other worldly quality of humans walking atop the highest point on Earth. Highly recommended – especially if you’re as ignorant as me about this piece of history.

And finally…

5. Spartacus

I have not seen this infamous TV series, but I am including it as it is an example of the international TV productions created in New Zealand by the US producer Robert Tapert. A childhood friend of Evil Dead and Spider-Man director Sam Raimi, they first made series such as Hercules and Xena in New Zealand in the nineties. Tapert fell in love with the country – as well as the Kiwi who played Xena, Lucy Lawless – and has endeavoured to make TV shows in New Zealand ever since. Spartacus is one of the most recent examples.

The Roman era show is renowned for the explicit depiction of sex and violence, rather than the quality of the drama.

The first series starred Andy Whitfield in the title role, who died in 2011 of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. After he was diagnosed, a prequel series, sans the character of Spartacus was made, and then following Andy Whitfield’s passing, the role of Spartacus was taken over by Liam McIntyre.

Not in the UK or Ireland? Check what Netflix NZ movies are available in your territory here.


Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.


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One thought on “Best of Netflix: NZ Films and TV shows”

  1. I want to add my favorite Kiwi show (until I read this list, the only one I knew). My best friend put me on to The Almighty Johnsons, a really fun show about four grown brothers who are actually reincarnations of Norse gods. The youngest discovers that he is Odin reborn and embarks on a quest to find his queen Frigg. It’s lots of fun and has a compelling cast of characters. I’m in Canada; not sure where else it’s available.

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