Whale Rider (2003) - Rotten Tomatoes

Whale Rider (2003)



Critic Consensus: An empowering and uplifting movie, with a wonderful performance by Castle-Hughes.

Movie Info

On the east coast of New Zealand, the Whangara people believe their presence there dates back a thousand years or more to a single ancestor, Paikea, who escaped death when his canoe capsized by riding to shore on the back of a whale. From then on, Whangara chiefs have always been the first-born and male. Many generations later, the contemporary tale revolves around a young mother whose male newborn twin dies in childbirth. Her young husband flees New Zealand in grief, leaving grandparents Koro and Nanny Flowers to raise the sole survivor, a feisty little girl named Pai, who radiates with life and energy. It's no wonder that her grandmother and the entire community love her, but alas, the grandfather she worships is too busy mourning the loss of the baby boy he expected would lead the tribe to better days.more
Rating: PG-13 (for brief language and a momentary drug reference)
Genre: Drama, Romance
Directed By:
Written By: Niki Caro
In Theaters:
On DVD: Oct 28, 2003
Box Office: $20.7M
Palm Pictures - Official Site


Keisha Castle-Hughes
as Paikea `Pai' Apirana
Vicky Haughton
as Nanny Flowers
Cliff Curtis
as Porourangi
Grant Roa
as Uncle Rawiri
Tahei Simpson
as Miss Parata
John Sumner
as Obstetrician
Sam Woods
as Young Rawiri
Heemi Taumaunu
as Fisherman
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Whale Rider

Critic Reviews for Whale Rider

All Critics (149) | Top Critics (39)

Newcomer Castle-Hughes' unaffected, confident turn makes it credible our heroine might retain her determination and self-worth despite serial setbacks.

Full Review… | July 22, 2008
Top Critic

The filmmaker knows how to seduce an audience without making it feel had. When a movie's this likable, it would take a very tough crowd not to be pleased.

Full Review… | November 1, 2007
Top Critic

Niki Caro roots her characters in a landscape equal parts mundane and boundless, incorporates tantalising sea photography and Lisa's Gerrard's ambient soundtrack, and lifts off into a sublime, Elysian ending.

Full Review… | January 26, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

both an effective snapshot of the challenges which modernity brings to indigenous cultures, and a neat illustration of the power of myths to adapt.

Full Review… | June 11, 2013
Daily Info

Excellent to watch and discuss as a family.

Full Review… | December 29, 2010
Common Sense Media

This is what a children's film should be like.

Full Review… | April 29, 2009
Cinema Crazed

Audience Reviews for Whale Rider


A poetic look into a different culture that really isn't too different, simply remembering that it was at one time and wanting to hold that memory. A small coastal community of Maoris deal daily with being New Zealanders while not being entirely so, particularly hard for a young pubescent lass ostracized because of her sex, despite that she offers hope of continuing traditions. Good performances by all the leads though the story worries around a barn door being open long, long after the horse has already gone.

Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

A young girl might fulfill a prophecy in an indigenous New Zealand community.
Though the film brims with authenticity, it is almost too authentic. There are voice overs explaining the culture in which the film is set, but I spent some of the film lost about the relationship between the protagonist and the legend she's supposed to fulfill. The patriarchal structure of the family provides grounding to the story, and the interactions between the characters are interesting, but the grand metaphysical puzzle that dominates this film isn't clear to one who is unfamiliar with the film's cultural backdrop.
Overall, I liked Whale Rider, but I don't think I fully got it.

Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

It is not very often that I'm impressed with a child actor. I'm usually just greatful when they don't totally annoy me and/or cheapen the film.

But every once and awhile, I am blown away (Victoire Thivisol - Ponette / Anna Paquin - The Piano / Christian Bale - Empire Of The Sun) and Keisha Castle-Hughes performance here, is one of those rare ocassions.

This film is not overly complex, but it is deeply moving and beautifully shot and told. The cast in general is exceptional, but also worth noting is Vicky Haughton as "Nanny Flowers".

I didn't expect to be as moved by this film as I was, but it really touched me and that has everything to do with the performance of Castle-Hughes. She is completely engaging and totally bealievable in her role. A true "natural".

Robert C

Super Reviewer

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