Once Were Warriors


Once Were Warriors

Critics Consensus

Once Were Warriors isn't an easy watch, but the raw power of its story -- and the performances of an excellent cast -- reward viewers who rise to the challenge.



Reviews Counted: 44

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User Ratings: 29,656


All Critics | Top Critics
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Reviews Count: 0
Fresh: 0
Rotten: 0


Average Rating: 4.1/5

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Movie Info

This powerful drama was a major hit in its native New Zealand, outgrossing Jurassic Park in Kiwi cinemas. Jake and Beth Heke (Temurea Morrison and Rena Owen) are a couple of Maori descent who are living in a slum in Aukland. While it's obvious that they still love each other, Jake's alcoholism has driven a wedge into their relationship and has left their children emotionally scarred. Jake is charming while sober, but when drunk, he's a violent psychopath given to blink-of-an-eye mood changes and terrible cruelty against his loved ones. Liquor has also made it difficult for Jake to hold onto a job, leaving him dependent on the dole to feed his family. Nig (Julian Arahanga), Jake's oldest son, has turned his back on his father and joined a gang of Maori youths whose initiation rituals include tattooing and torture. Jake's 13-year-old daughter Grace (Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell) prefers to spend her time with her drug-addicted boyfriend -- rather than stay home and fight off the advances of her father's friends. And Boogie (Taungaroa Emile) ends up in juvenile hall when Jake's drinking prevents him from going to court to speak on Boogie's behalf. Once Were Warriors was based on an acclaimed novel by Alan Duff.

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Rena Owen
as Beth Heke
Taungaroa Emile
as Boogie Heke
Joseph Kairau
as Huata Heke
Pete Smith
as Dooley
Ray Bishop
as King Hitter
Ian Mune
as Judge
Richard Mehana
as Taunter in Court
Rangi Motu
as Matawai
Robert Pollock
as Policeman
Jessica Wilcox
as Policewoman
Stephen Hall
as Prosecuting Officer
Wiki Oman
as Youth Advocate
Richard Meihana
as Taunter in Court
Spike Kem
as Old Drunk
Arona Rissetto
as Nig's Friend
Fran Viveaere
as Nig's Girlfriend
Brian Kairau
as Joking Man Outside Club/Jake's Mate
Charlie Tumahai
as Karaoke Singer
Tama Renata
as Party Guitarist
Guy Moana
as Evicted Partygoer/Pub Customer
Maree Moschonas
as Gang Rape Victim
Riwia Brown
as Bully's Girlfriend
Mac Hona
as Core Gang Member
Percy Robinson
as Core Gang Member
Jason Kerapa
as Core Gang Member
Robbie Ngauma
as Core Gang Member
James Dean Wilson
as Core Gang Member
Chris Mason Johnson
as Core Gang Member
Marshall Kairau
as Jake's Mate
Joseph Te Whiu
as Jake's Mate
Jim Ngaata
as Jake's Mate
David Te Rare
as Jake's Mate
Donald V. Allen
as Jake's Mate
Charles Marsh
as Jake's Mate
Winstone Bedgood
as Jake's Mate
Piki Mark
as Jake's Mate
Royal Waa
as Jake's Mate
Jack Grace
as Jake's Mate
Manuel Apiata
as Jake's Mate
George Tiopira
as Jake's Mate
Maru Nihoniho
as Jake's Mate
Jaye Cassidy
as Jake's Mate
Vivienne Wilson
as Jake's Mate
Hiraina Kume
as Jake's Mate
Thomasina Perana
as Jake's Mate
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News & Interviews for Once Were Warriors

Critic Reviews for Once Were Warriors

All Critics (44) | Top Critics (16)

Once Were Warriors has more to say than the traditional TV-movie about spousal abuse. But some viewers will have to pay a price: This is a movie that requires strength and fortitude to sit through.

Feb 21, 2017 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell, who plays Grace, had never acted before, and neither have a couple of the other key players. But under the careful direction of television veteran Lee Tamahori, they all do credible and forceful work.

Feb 21, 2017 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

A gritty, powerful first feature by Lee Tamahori.

Feb 21, 2017 | Full Review…

The howling raging energy of the prize-winning New Zealand film Once Were Warriors rushes at you, hits you like a smack in the face.

Feb 21, 2017 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

The violence in Once Were Warriors (Fine Line, R), a tumultuous domestic drama from New Zealand, erupts with terrifying suddenness.

Sep 7, 2011 | Rating: B+ | Full Review…

The barren lives of members of an urban Maori family are rigorously exposed in this rugged and painful picture, based on Alan Duff's novel.

Jul 22, 2008
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Once Were Warriors

A melodrama of sorts, but one so vigorous and full of rage and despair, that it will inevitably linger in you.

Pierluigi Puccini
Pierluigi Puccini

Super Reviewer


Directors Cat
Directors Cat

Super Reviewer

A powerful story of love, loss, violence and cultural awakenings. Not for the faint hearted, this film contains some of the most extreme scenes of domestic abuse I've witnessed. Compelling stuff!!!

Graham Willis
Graham Willis

Super Reviewer

I went for this one presuming it's a war movie. Little did I know that it was instead a social story of a family headed by a violent person. Anyway, as the credits started rolling in somewhat unusual way, I thought that this is gonna be some offbeat movie beyond my grasping abilities (somewhat is still left, honestly). Fortunately, it wasn't so. It was a simple story of a beautiful woman marrying a lower class, violent man and the disastrous consequences of her decision. It was a simple story of a woman's struggle to survive against all odds and who learns a lifetime lesson only after a dreadful tragedy. There was too much violence in the movie, but I can't say it was unnecessary. Hell, it was difficult to even merely look at the face of the lead actress after her husband beats her badly. I'm glad that I was able to sit through those painful scenes and it was well worth my time. All in all, it's a brutally realistic tale told in an incredible way, thanks to the best efforts put in by those involved in the making of the film. Rena Owen was second to none in the role of tolerant wife, and Temuera Morrison was so natural as a violent asshole that you start hating his guts in no time.

familiar stranger
familiar stranger

Super Reviewer

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