From Jojo Rabbit (2019) to Boy (2010), here’s our ranking of all Taika Waititi movies.
New Zealand actor and filmmaker Taika Waititi is known for his eccentric works that walk the fine line between comedy and tragedy. He began his directorial career with off-beat indie comedies. But in the following decade, Mr. Waititi made a superhero blockbuster as well as directed an Oscar-nominated satire. In fact, he is just getting into the best phase of his career and his versatility is already astounding to behold.
Taika David Cohen was born on August 16, 1975, to a Jewish mother and a Maori father (Maoris are New Zealand’s indigenous people). His mother is a teacher and father an artist. Taika Cohen’s mother introduced him to books at a young age. His father’s interest in art pushed him to take up drawing. Taika Cohen graduated from the Victoria University of College in 1997. He majored in theatre. During college, Taika befriended Jemaine Clement, a fellow comedian and filmmaker. Later, Mr. Clement played the central character in Taika’s feature-film directorial debut Eagle vs Shark. The duo also collaborated for the comedy series Flight of the Conchords.
Taika’s painting and photography works carried the signature ‘Waititi’. However, he used the name ‘Cohen’ while debuting as an actor in 1999 (in Scarfies). In the subsequent phase of his career, he was simply called Taika Waititi. His 2003 short film Two Cars, One Night was nominated for an Oscar. From making fabulous music videos like 40 Years to composing songs in Hunt for Wilderpeople and Thor: Love and Thunder, Waititi proves to be a man of many talents.
With that said, here’s my ranking of all Taika Waititi movies written and directed by him:
7. Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
Waititi’s plans to direct his second Thor movie pleased MCU fans. The filmmaker also teased us with the return of Natalie Portman, who seems to be playing a substantial role than what she did in the first two Thor movies. However, Thor: Love and Thunder, suffers from a messy and imbalanced screenplay. Even Waititi’s comedic elements couldn’t save the film from its frustrating, meandering story-line.
The film picks up where Avengers: Endgame left off. Thor still suffers from an existential crisis who remains detached from everyone and his only friend is rock warrior Korg (Waititi). However, the villainous Gorr the God Butcher gives the demigod a sense of purpose and to embark on an adventure. There was much hype behind Christian Bale playing a Marvel villain. But it was one of the most poorly written villain characters in the MCU. There isn’t a sense of threat or tension throughout the narrative. What’s even more annoying was the film’s treatment of the female characters.
6. Eagle Vs Shark (2007)
New Zealand actor/writer Loren Horsley co-wrote Eagle Vs Shark with her then-partner Taika Waititi. It tells the story of a shy young woman named Lily (played by Loren herself). Lily meets Jarrod (Clement), a social misfit like her. They understand each other’s loneliness and insecurities. Lily works at a fast food store, and Jarrod as a clerk in a video game store. After getting together at a quirky costume party, Jarrod invites Lily to his home-town. The dorkish guy goes there to get his revenge on a former high-school bully.
Eagle Vs Shark is an idiosyncratic, warm-hearted drama on love, youth, and familial dysfunction. Waititi’s approach to humour is clearly off-beat, but he never opts for cheap laughs at the expense of his characters. He endearingly and intimately captures the inner lives of Jarrod and Lily. It’s also to Waititi and Loren’s credit that the narrative’s light-hearted tone doesn’t underplay the darker themes like depression, loneliness, etc.
5. Jojo Rabbit (2019)
It’s hard to pull off a satire that pokes fun at Hitler and Nazis. Taika Waititi not only makes an effective satire, but also nudges us to relate the Third Reich’s blunders with contemporary extremist politics. The film revolves around 10-year old Johannes aka Jojo, who lives in a small-town with his mother during the final days of WWII. Jojo is so excited about joining the Hitler Youth. However, thanks to his level-headed mother, Jojo gradually sees through the stupidities of Nazism. The mother, meanwhile, hides a young Jewish girl named Elsa in their attic.
Waititi’s quirky humour, anachronistic pop songs, vibrant use of colours and his supreme ability to direct children works wonders in Jojo Rabbit. The narrative does suffer a bit from sentimentality and unsubtle messaging. Yet it’s the kind of heartfelt anti-fascist movie which is essential for our times. Taika Waititi displays how comedy and compassion can be the strongest forms of resistance against fascism.
4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
By the time Waititi made Hunt for Wilderpeople, it was evident that the filmmaker loved to tell stories of outsiders and the marginalised. It was also clear that he was adept at blending comedy with pathos. Hunt for Wilderpeople is an adventure-packed comedy which unfolds in the vast, picturesque outback of New Zealand. The movie is based on the 1986 novel Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Groom. Ricky (Dennison), a cherubic Maori boy tired of being moved from one foster care home to another, is placed under the care of an elderly couple – Bella and Hec (Sam Neill), situated in the middle of New Zealand bush.
However, a tragedy strikes the makeshift family unit. Subsequently, Hec and Ricky end up going on an adventure through the dangerous forests. Waititi is more refined as a storyteller here. He perfectly balances the laugh-out-loud and heart-warming moments. While there are a few shortcomings, it’s mostly an entertaining and visually appealing feel-good film.
3. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Marvel movies are made with lavish budgets, but somewhat under a tight creative leash. Hence it was exciting to see the studio offer the directorial reins for the third Thor film to an independent filmmaker from New Zealand. And Taika Waititi gloriously proved how comedy and a unique directorial vision can freshen up a run-of-the-mill superhero flick. In fact, the previous two Thor movies were so mediocre that I didn’t expect much from a story that revolves around a golden-haired demigod waving a giant hammer.
The narrative opens with Thor being banished to a distant planet, where he is forced to become a gladiator. In the arena, Thor comes across his former ally, Hulk. They join together to stop the destructive plans of Hela, the firstborn child of Asgard’s king, Odin. Ragnarok has a brilliant ensemble cast including Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum, and Rachel House. Ragnarok being the best in the MCU is debatable. But I’m certain it’s the funniest and most entertaining Marvel flick.
2. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
What We Do in the Shadows is an incredibly funny vampire mockumentary. Writers/directors Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement highlight the mundanity and boredom of post-millennial life, while also satirising the European vampires’ efforts to fit into a multicultural New Zealand. An all-human documentary or reality TV crew follows the everyday lives of three vampires living in an old mansion. Each vampire hails from different time periods, and possesses contrasting personalities.
Both Waititi and Clement have a good understanding of vampire story tropes and clichés. In fact, they use vampire stereotypes to create hilarious comedic scenarios. Moreover, the fourth-wall-breaking interviews come across as a satire on reality TV shows. What We Do in the Shadows was largely made with improvised acting (Waititi and Clement play two of the central vampire roles) and much of its sharp, witty dialogues were delivered with a wonderful sense of spontaneity. The 89-minute film left us wanting for more. Fans eventually got a super-hit TV series of the same name.
1. Boy (2010)
Taika Waititi’s second directorial venture is an expansion of the ideas he developed for his Oscar-nominated short Two Cars, One Night (2003). Boy could also be deemed ‘semi-autobiographical’ as Waititi drew a lot from his own childhood experiences. The narrative is set in the year 1984. The 11-year old unnamed ‘Boy’ (James Rolleston) lives in Waihau bay, situated on the East Coast of New Zealand. He lives with his gran and brother Rocky. The boy’s father is in prison, whereas his mother died during childbirth.
The dad’s absence makes the boy idolise him. However, when father Alamein (Waititi) is released from prison and appears before the boy, the reality gradually sinks in. Boy is a quirky yet unsentimental look at the confounding adult world. It’s a coming-of-age comedy that never loses its poignancy. Similar to movies like Once Were Warriors and Whale Rider, Waititi offers his own unique sociological take on the marginalised Maori community. A huge box-office hit, Boy became one of the top grossing films in New Zealand.
There you go! That’s my ranking of all Taika Waititi movies. Waititi — the director, writer, producer, and actor — is now busy with multiple projects underway simultaneously.
His sports drama Next Goal Wins releases early next year. A horror thriller project titled Tower of Terror and a space opera comedy, The Incal are some of his other upcoming projects. His most exciting upcoming project is Akira, a live-action adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo’s acclaimed manga series. Warner Bros. bought the rights for Akira in 2002, but the project was on hold for years. And finally, it’s confirmed that Waititi will direct a Star Wars film that’s currently slated for 2025 release.
Over to you, now! What are your favourite Taika Waititi movies? Do you agree with our ranking of his films? Let’s talk in the comments below.
An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’