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Whale Rider (2003)



Average Rating: 7.7/10
Reviews Counted: 146
Fresh: 132 | Rotten: 14

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


Average Rating: 7.6/10
Critic Reviews: 39
Fresh: 34 | Rotten: 5

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



liked it
Average Rating: 3.8/5
User Ratings: 49,276

My Rating

Movie Info

Based on the novel of the same name by Maori writer Witi Ihimaera, Whale Rider is a unique family drama directed Niki Caro. On the eastern coast of New Zealand, the Whangara people believe their ancestor Paikea was saved from drowning by riding home on the back of a whale. The tribal group has since granted leadership positions to the first-born males, believing them to be descendants of Paikea. This tradition is challenged when a young mother dies in childbirth along with her newborn male son.


Drama, Romance

Niki Caro

Oct 28, 2003


Palm Pictures - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (149) | Top Critics (39) | Fresh (132) | Rotten (14) | DVD (24)

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

July 22, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Top Critic IconTop 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.

November 1, 2007 Full Review Source: Newsweek
Top Critic IconTop 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.

January 26, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The most effective and moving female empowerment movie in awhile.

July 3, 2003 Full Review Source: Houston Chronicle
Houston Chronicle
Top Critic IconTop Critic

[The story] is so simple that the audience gets ahead of it from the beginning.

June 27, 2003 Full Review Source: San Francisco Chronicle | Comment (1)
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The film is closer to a feminist tract. And, like all propaganda, it wants to do all of your thinking for you.

June 27, 2003 | Comment (1)
Orlando Sentinel
Top Critic IconTop 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.

June 11, 2013 Full Review Source: Daily Info
Daily Info

Excellent to watch and discuss as a family.

December 29, 2010 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

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

April 29, 2009 Full Review Source: Cinema Crazed | Comments (9)
Cinema Crazed

The movie's story is a sometimes clumsy but gradually involving coming-of-age story about courage, sexism, past customs vs. contemporary social values and a community and family at odds within themselves.

August 7, 2008 Full Review Source: Sacramento News & Review
Sacramento News & Review

The third act -- where all our predictions come true -- has a quiet dignity and, although it moves from A to B as expected, how it gets there is surprisingly mysterious.

June 3, 2008 Full Review Source: Paste Magazine
Paste Magazine

"Whale Rider" is a mystical, gentle movie that goes beyond the boundaries of the usual coming-of-age film.

June 3, 2005 Full Review
KWQC-TV (Iowa)

I can honestly say that there is not a single plot point or character arc depicted here that I have not seen a thousand times before.

March 5, 2005 Full Review Source: NYC Film Critic | Comments (3)
NYC Film Critic uncommonly intelligent, well-crafted movie that -- despite the curious PG-13 rating -- parents shouldn't hesitate to see with their kids.

January 29, 2005 Full Review Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The climactic revelation, when it comes, is something so ambitious that I never would have dreamed it would work convincingly. But it does.

December 6, 2004 Full Review Source: Looking Closer
Looking Closer

I was captivated and had intermittent tears in my eyes throughout this touching tale, although I would have ended it differently.

October 7, 2004 Full Review Source:

Encapsulates the grace and beauty of international cinema.

August 13, 2004 Full Review Source: Oregon Herald

No se queda en la mera descripción antropológica; es ante todo una fascinante historia sobre el coraje, la auto confianza, los vínculos familiares, las tradiciones...

March 16, 2004 Full Review Source: Uruguay Total
Uruguay Total

Stirring story of Maori culture

March 2, 2004 Full Review

The key to "Whale Rider's" appeal is that the film doesn't force an opinion upon its viewers

February 24, 2004 Full Review Source:

Young Keisha Castle-Hughes is a Down Under wonder in the lead as Pai, a spunky little Maori girl who could.

February 9, 2004 Full Review Source: Boulder Weekly

'Niki Caro's striking visual images match her elegant, understated prose creating an uplifting story.'

January 30, 2004 Full Review
Atlantic City Weekly

The movie is smart with its storytelling and delivers several powerful scenes.

January 5, 2004 Full Review

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.
February 7, 2013

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.
April 17, 2012
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".
January 7, 2011
Robert C

Super Reviewer

good plot. I like the fact that they put a really whale in this film.
July 25, 2010
erika bruhns

Super Reviewer

There are no approved quotes yet for this movie.

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Foreign Titles

  • Pai, la légende des baleines (FR)
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