10 Movies Filmed in New Zealand and Their Breathtaking Locations

10 Famous Movies Filmed in New Zealand & Their Breathtaking Locations

See how this Oceanian beauty creates cinematic masterpieces!

Movies filmed in New Zealand mostly make use of the islands’ natural beauty to create mesmerising worlds that we can only imagine. These idyllic views inspired Hollywood to adapt several famous fantasy novels and turn them into extraordinary productions for the big screen. Other filmmakers have their own stories to tell and deemed these impressive landscapes crucial to their work. But regardless of the genre, filming locations in New Zealand lend their breathtaking sceneries to ensure the best cinematic endeavours.

Also read: 26 Best Natural Attractions in New Zealand That Will Blow Your Mind!

Famous movies filmed in New Zealand

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

For most movie lovers, The Lord of the Rings equals New Zealand, and those two names are nearly inseparable. With all the success that this fantasy franchise garnered, it isn’t really surprising to make this association. But the creation of Middle-Earth for the movies owes a lot to New Zealand’s natural landscapes.


Sir Peter Jackson and his team’s decision to recreate J.R.R. Tolkien’s world in New Zealand made for some of the most beautiful settings in Hollywood history. Rivendell, the realm of the Elves, for example, is a prominent location in the trilogy. Apart from being a sanctuary for heroes, it is where the Fellowship of the Ring promised to take the One Ring on top of Mount Doom. 

The elven realm took shape on top of Kaitoke Regional Park’s waterfalls, with a little help from CGI to create its enchanting canopies and grottos. Fans of the trilogy can hike a trail to this gorgeous location to witness these enchanting waterfalls firsthand. These also include the natural encroachment of trees that surround the waterfalls, which protects Rivendell from threats or invaders.


lord of the rings new zealand

Image courtesy of Tourism New Zealand

One of the most iconic locations from The Two Towers is Edoras, the capital of Rohan, where pivotal wars took place in an attempt to conquer the said city. A village set was built on a hill called Mount Sunday in Rangitata Valley to create the capital, whereas the surrounding grassland served as the Plains of Rohan. While tourists can’t ride to Edoras on horseback like the Rohirrim, Mount Sunday can still be trekked on by booking SUVs to drive on its rocky terrain.

Mount Doom

lord of the rings new zealand

Mount Ruapehu | Image credit: Scopio via Canva Pro

For something more thrilling (and a tad more ominous), fans of the film can visit Tongariro National Park, where two active volcanoes sit. These are Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu, both of which are the basis for Mount Doom. A very important location in the trilogy, it is where the Dark Lord Sauron forged the One Ring and the very same spot where the Ring met its end. Mount Ngauruhoe served as the model for shots that featured Mount Doom, while Mount Ruapehu’s slopes was where Frodo’s unlikely company scaled the treacherous mountain in the end of The Return of the King.

The Lord of the Rings earned New Zealand the distinction as one of the best locations for creating cinematic worlds. It seems that most films with fantastical realms make movies shot in New Zealand a reference and it’s all thanks to this franchise. 

Also read: Top 10 Stargazing Experiences in New Zealand for the Maori New Year

2. The Hobbit Trilogy

Much like The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit made New Zealand its home. This prequel series details how the adventures of Bilbo Baggins shaped the future of Middle-Earth. Alongside him is the Gandalf the Grey and the 13 Dwarves. Much like the original trilogy, a lot of locations in New Zealand helped shape the terrain Bilbo and his friends would be inhabiting in and going through.


movies filmed in new zealand

Image credit: Sara Orme via Tourism New Zealand

Hobbiton is a prominent location in the original trilogy, especially during the first movie. After all, this is where Bilbo, Frodo, and the rest of the Hobbits of the Fellowship lived. But it is in The Hobbit where we get to know more about this fun-loving village and its equally charming inhabitants. Hobbiton’s shooting location is at a farm in the town of Matamata in Waikato. The verdant rolling hills within the farm evoked a modest charm that was essential in creating the village.

filming locations new zealand

Image credit: Miles Holden via Tourism New Zealand

Today, fans of the films can visit Hobbiton and most of the houses. There are some 44 holes in the area that serve as homes for the fantastical creatures. Some holes are “hobbit-sized” and “dwarf-sized,” but thankfully, there are also homes scaled for humans. There’s even a cafe that serves the iconic Second Breakfast for Hobbits nearby. So, if you’re a truly dedicated fan of Tolkien’s world, it is definitely a must-visit at least once.

Forest River

Image credit: Mattinbgn

Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve appears in the second film, The Desolation of Smaug. It was the Forest River in the films, where Bilbo and the dwarves rode down inside empty wine barrels. Visitors can go through what our heroes went through… but with kayaks instead of barrels. (Can you imagine how uncomfortable that would be?)

The Lonely Mountain

hobbit new zealand

Image credit: Christian Mueringer Fine Art Photograpy via Canva Pro

We can’t forget about The Lonely Mountain, where most events during the entire trilogy happened. It was where Erebor was hidden, along with a hoard of wealth amassed by the Dwarves and eventually discovered by the ancient dragon, Smaug. This is also where the Battle of the Five Armies took place, where the alliance of men, elves, and dwarves defeated the combined forces of Orcs from Dol Guldur and Mount Gundabad. Visitors can take a tour of Mount Ruapehu to see this magnificent place with their very own eyes.

The effort that the filmmakers did to adapt The Hobbit in New Zealand is nothing short of impressive. It certainly helped that Jackson had the painstaking help of another visionary: his co-writer, Guillermo Del Toro. These movies filmed in New Zealand immortalised and elevated these places to more than just grassland, boulders, cliffs, and seas.

3. The Chronicles of Narnia Trilogy

C.S. Lewis is a name that almost always follows J.R.R. Tolkien when being discussed — and for good reason. Lewis is responsible for penning The Chronicles of Narnia. Similar to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, this series made fantasy novels popular. Its film adaptations also use New Zealand’s vivid colours and picturesque terrain.

Cair Paravel

movies shot in new zealand

Image credit: molloykeith via Canva Pro

Cair Paravel was the capital of the Kingdom of Narnia and an abode to royalty. The plateau where the capital’s citadel rested on is Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel Peninsula, giving the setting an undeniable prestige as it overlooked the ocean. Fans of the films can visit this beautiful location, as well as enjoy a few activities like water sports. Better yet, why not feast on delicious freshly caught seafood while you’re at it?

Woodhill Forest

Meanwhile, Woodhill Forest appeared in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as the lair of the White Witch of Narnia. These seemingly dark woods just northwest of Auckland made for perfect cover while hatching her evil schemes. Fortunately, the forest is not as ominous in real life. In fact, there is a network of mountain bike trails which is great for both beginners and veterans.

movies filmed in new zealand

Elephant Rocks | Image credit: Mike Dickson

On the opposite end, The Great Lion Aslan had a camp ready for the inevitable conflict against the White Witch. Elephant Rocks in Waitaki Valley are ancient formations that had the evident fortitude and mystique that Aslan’s army exuded. The two armies met and fought during The Great Battle in the first film, which was shot atop Flock Hill. Both these locations can be visited by tourists and are a great sight for big fans of the films.

4. The Last Samurai

movies filmed in new zealand

Image credit: Davis McCardle via Canva Pro

One of the most famous films in the early 2000s was The Last Samurai. It was directed by Edward Zwick, who is mostly known for creating sweeping historical epics. In this film, conflict ensues when the ways and traditions of the samurai were under threat against the rapid modernisation of the Japanese military. Zwick and his writers used a lot of artistic licence, so expect a few historical inaccuracies. Nevertheless, it is an insightful work that respects Japanese culture and doubles as a glimpse of the issues leading up to the Meiji Restoration.

But would you believe that despite being set in Japan, this is one of the prominent movies shot in New Zealand? While the traditional Japanese villages seen in the film were shot in Kyoto, Himeji, and studio lots in California, most of the plains and forests are from the Taranaki Region. Mount Taranaki, in particular, served as a stand-in for Mount Fuji due to their resemblance. The natural forests around the region were also utilised in the film as backdrops for the villages.

Also read: 10 Best Samurai Movies of All Time & Their Notable Filming Locations

5. Braindead

Karori Cemetery | Image credit: sandwich

Before Sir Peter Jackson made the Tolkien worlds, he made his name in splatter cinema. One of his early cinematic works, Braindead (alternatively titled Dead Alive) is a cult classic among both horror and comedy fans. When a Sumatran rat-monkey spreads a virus, it turns most residents of Wellington into zombies. It might be a simple plot, but Jackson turns it into one of the most creative pieces of cinema to ever exist. 

Fair warning: If you don’t have the stomach for some of the goriest scenarios in film history, you might want to sit this one out. But if you’re fine with those, then prepare to bust a gut out of laughter!

movies filmed in new zealand

Putangirua Pinnacles | Image credit: Martin Vlnas via Canva Pro

As opposed to scenic natural views found in most films on this list, Jackson opted to film Braindead in more suburban locations. Some of the most iconic scenes were shot in residential areas of Hataitai, while some of the more catastrophic infections took place at Wellington Zoo. An especially outlandish and hilarious scene also takes place at Karori Cemetery, no less. 

Meanwhile, the imposing rock formations of Putangirua Pinnacles are the only natural backdrops that the film used. This natural attraction served as Skull Island, where the Sumatran rat-monkey was found!

6. King Kong

movies filmed in new zealand

Shelly Bay | Image credit: NataliaCatalina via Canva Pro

The success of The Lord of the Rings franchise eventually set Peter Jackson to make his dream possible: his own adaptation of the 1930s classic, King Kong. In the 2005 film, a production crew heads to an uncharted island in hopes of creating their next big hit by discovering what secrets lie beyond its shores. What greets them are hostile inhabitants, but the biggest of them all was the giant primate ruling the island. When King Kong falls for the actress Ann Darrow, filmmaker Carl Denham sees an opportunity to capture the extraordinary creature and takes it to New York to make it a money-making attraction.

Auckland Civic Theatre| Image credit: DianesPhotographicDesigns via Canva Pro

Shooting Skull Island, where more than half of the film is set, took place in two bays. Lyall Bay was the backdrop for scenes on the island, while Shelly Bay acted as King Kong’s nest. Jackson also shot seafaring scenes going to Skull Island on Kapiti Island and over Cook Strait

Finally, Denham held the primate captive inside a Broadway theatre, doubling as a stage. The interiors shot for these scenes belonged to the Auckland Civic Theatre, outfitted as a stage that would fit the year 1929. Meanwhile, the Wellington Opera House acted as the theatre’s exterior.

7. X-Men Origins: Wolverine

filming locations new zealand

Image credit: DianesPhotographicDesigns via Canva Pro

In this prequel of the X-Men Cinematic Universe, half-brothers James Howlett and Victor Creed discover their mutations. They then serve as operatives of Team X, a group of deadly mutants carrying out operations for the American government. After a disagreement, Howlett leaves the group and adopts the name Logan. When his past comes back to haunt him, he swears to make things right once and for all.

When Logan lived secluded in the woods, he resided in a cabin. While this location wasn’t a part of a bombastic action sequence, it was certainly pivotal to the movie. His abode sits atop Deer Park Heights, located in the Otago Region. He might be alone but he certainly had a breathtaking view of the Remarkables mountain range.

Also read: Here’s What to Expect When You Book a Self-Drive Tour of New Zealand

8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Image credit: James Moore via Canva Pro

Movies filmed in New Zealand tend to bring out the best cinematic projects. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one such film, which elevated Kiwi director Taika Waititi’s career to new heights. In this film adaptation of the book Wild Pork and Watercress, juvenile delinquent Ricky is sent to a farm owned by the couple, Bella and Hector. However, Bella’s sudden death has Ricky fleeing to the wilderness to evade Child Services. He eventually hides with Hector, who is later accused of a crime.

Waititi shot the film in the wilderness of Waitakere Ranges, where most of the film takes place. This is where Hector teaches Ricky his survival techniques as they take cover from the authorities. The hunt for the pair eventually reaches Tongariro National Park, with its rugged paths evoking even more intensity for the scene.

9. The Piano

Karekare Beach | Image credit: denizunlusu via Canva Pro

Jane Campion’s The Piano is an award-winning Hollywood film that showcased several filming locations in New Zealand. It tells the tale of a mute Scottish woman and her daughter, who gets shipped to New Zealand for an arranged marriage. The mother is dearly attached to her piano which falls in the hands of a young Māori man. Through a disturbing arrangement, the man lets the mute woman play her piano again.

The film can be disturbing and the chosen filming locations in New Zealand, while certainly gorgeous, create an eerie atmosphere to the tale. Scenes shot at Karekare Beach, where the woman plays the piano in solitude, can appear poetic but would also evoke tragedy and despair. This piano eventually ends up underwater, which took place in the Bay of Islands.

10. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Milford Sound | Image credit: kris1138 via Canva Pro

Another blockbuster franchise opted for filming locations in New Zealand for one of their instalments. In Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Ethan Hunt and his team must stop terrorists from acquiring deadly payloads of plutonium. As usual for these films, expect many outlandish and jaw-dropping stunts at every minute.

One such mountain featured in the film is the majestic South Alps. Another location is Nevis Valley, where production built a prison-like structure to replicate Iraq. Production crews also shot several important scenes in Milford Sound.

Also read: 10 Fantastic Reasons Why You Should Visit New Zealand

The list of movies filmed in New Zealand just keeps on growing. Whether it’s a major blockbuster or a humble indie film, you can count on the evocative terrains and diverse atmosphere that these islands possess. Visit New Zealand soon and you might just get to have your own cinematic treasures through its glamorous, natural views.

About Author

Aldous Vince Cabildo
Aldous Vince Cabildo

Ever since growing up, Aldous learned how to look at things from an historical perspective. So whenever the opportunity to travel arises, he makes sure to go to places that contain local stories and memories. From there, he takes in the lessons from the past and picks out what to learn, or should it interest him, what to unlearn. At any chance he gets, he also makes sure to try out local cuisine. When not charting his next destination, Aldous likes to explore worlds found in video games, hip-hop, film, and professional wrestling. He is a proud resident of Tondo.