Taika Waititi is known for his idiosyncratic, absurdist and deadpan comedic style. The work of the Māori actor, writer, producer and director spans several genres, period-settings and ranges from low-budget indie productions to $180 million superhero blockbusters. With his latest – Thor: Love and Thunder – in cinemas, we thought it was time to take a look at the wonderful world of Taika Waititi.
Eagle vs. Shark (2007)
An indie rom-com, Eagle vs. Shark is full of a kind of quaintness, awkwardness and deadpan delivery reminiscent of the 2000s, Napoleon Dynamite and Michael Cera. In his first feature film, Waititi was still finding his feet as a filmmaker. Despite glimpses of his now trademark comedic style, it seems the writer-director hadn’t quite found his niche.
Most Memorable Line: ‘You’re a bitch and you’re going to die of diabetes.’
Set in 1984 in New Zealand, Boy follows its titular character, a Michael Jackson-obsessed 11-year-old, as he finds that the imagined and idealised version of his absent father could not be further from the truth. Indeed, when Boy’s father re-appears, he explains the reason for his absence (a prison sentence) and for his return (a bundle of cash that he buried somewhere nearby), shattering his son’s illusions.
The heart of the film is Boy’s sincere coming-of-age story, as he deals with sobering reality and grows up in a world where he must take care of himself.
Most Memorable Lines:
‘People call me a dumb honky all the time. I don’t go round punching them.’
‘Because they’re usually children.’
What We Do in The Shadows (2015)
Probably Waititi’s funniest and most ridiculous film to date, this mockumentary style study of Wellington’s paranormal underworld follows a trio of vampire housemates (played by Waititi, Jemaine Clement and Jonathon Brugh) in present-day Wellington.
The film asks a lot of questions about the survival of vampires in the modern world, such as:
- How do you choose an outfit when you can’t see your own reflection?
- What if your new friend won’t stop telling people he’s the ‘Twilight guy’?
With cameos from werewolves, witches, zombies and even Stu the software analyst, What We Do in The Shadows is a hilarious take on the modern lives of the supernatural.
Most Memorable line: ‘We’re werewolves, not swear-wolves’ – a mantra led by the mild-mannered alpha werewolf (Rhys Darby).
Hunt for The Wilderpeople (2016)
This wholeheartedly Kiwi adventure-comedy stars Julian Dennison as a mildly delinquent 13-year-old foster-child, and Sam Neill as his gruff and grouchy father-figure, and follows the pair as they disappear into the overgrown New Zealand bush and become targets of a nation-wide manhunt.
Heartfelt yet humorous, Hunt for The Wilderpeople thrives on the chemistry between the film’s two leads and is New Zealand’s highest grossing film of all time.
Most Memorable Line: ‘Faulkner is cauc-asian – well, they got that wrong because you’re obviously white.’
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Waititi’s first venture in the Marvel Universe, and many people’s introduction to the director, Thor: Ragnarok shows us just how big Waititi can go – all the while maintaining his signature style and featuring plenty of silliness and wit.
With a star-studded cast led by Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffallo in their established roles (Thor, Loki and The Hulk), Waititi welcomes Cate Blanchett as Goddess of Death ‘Hela’, Jeff Goldblum as the glamorous space-dictator ‘The Grandmaster’, Tessa Thompson as the jaded former warrior ‘Valkyrie’. He even manages to make an appearance himself as ‘Korg’, a Kiwi-accented failed revolutionary made of rocks.
Most Memorable Line: ‘I tried to start a revolution, but didn’t print enough pamphlets so hardly anyone turned up. Except for my mum and her boyfriend, who I hate.’
Wellington Paranormal (2018)
A spin-off from the original What We Do in The Shadows film, Wellington Paranormal is another mockumentary style exploration of Wellington’s supernatural underbelly. The series follows a paranormal police taskforce as they investigate demon possessions, haunted houses and blood-bank robberies. The series replicates the original film’s dry humour excellently and greatly expands its scope.
Most Memorable Line: ‘To put it in layman’s terms, we’re kind of like Mulder and Scully. Um, she’s like Scully because she’s analytical, she’s got the brains. And, uh, and I’m a man with brown hair.’
What We Do in The Shadows: The Series (2019)
A television adaptation of the film, What We Do in The Shadows (The Series) documents the lives of four vampire roommates in Staten Island, New York. Like the film, the show focuses on the vampires’ interactions with modern life, as well as the other local supernatural beings. Now entering its fourth season, What We Do in The Shadows delivers the same laughs as the original, with a few more dollars spent on the production budget.
Most Memorable Line: ‘It seems that government workers are immune to hypnotism. It’s like their souls are dead or something.’
Jojo Rabbit (2019)
The film that won Waititi an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, Jojo Rabbit tells the story of Hitler Youth cadet, and total Hitler fanatic Jojo, as he finds out his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic.
While Nazi-era Germany doesn’t sound like a funny setting, Waititi does extraordinarily well to find humour in tragedy, and finds plenty of opportunity to ridicule the Nazi regime, (Waititi himself plays Jojo’s imaginary-friend version of Hitler). A powerful and heartfelt comedy-drama, Jojo Rabbit packs a punch, and will make you laugh, then cry, and then laugh again.
Most Memorable Line: ‘Fuck off Hitler’.
Reservation Dogs (2021)
A teen-comedy series set on a reservation in rural Oklahoma, Reservation Dogs follows a group of four Native American teenagers as they mourn the loss of their friend and plan to move to the idyllic faraway land of California.
Featuring an all-Indigenous writing and directing team, along with an almost entirely Indigenous cast and crew, Reservation Dogs revels in the youthful spirit of its protagonists, and provides meaningful representation made for and by Indigenous communities, welcoming audiences into a distinct and charming world.
Most Memorable Line: ‘The Spirit world is cold … my nipples are always hard.’
Our Flag Means Death (2022)
Inspired by true events, the pirate-adventure-comedy Our Flag Means Death tells the story of aristocrat turned pirate Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and the notorious swash-buckler Blackbeard, played by Taika Waititi, as they meet, teach one another about their very different worlds and eventually fall in love.
The series is full of amusing moments and perfect for comedic escapism, but cleverly anchored by the tender relationship between Bonnet and Blackbeard, a demonstration of the great chemistry between long-term friends Waititi and Darby. Waititi also directs the show’s first episode, and is credited as an executive producer on four episodes.
Most Memorable Line: ‘Yeah, cats are terrifying. Everyone knows that. ‘Cause they’re witches. And they’ve got knives in their feet.’
Waititi’s Other Projects
Taika Waititi is a very busy man, and his credits list is very, very … very long. We don’t have the space to discuss everything the man has ever done, though it includes writing and directing an Academy-Award nominated short film Two Cars, One Night and several episodes of the Kiwi cult-classic Flight of The Conchords, as well as directing an episode of the Star Wars series The Mandalorian.
He is also involved in many upcoming projects, including a What We Do In The Shadows sequel titled We’re Wolves, and adaptations of Next Goal Wins, Akira, The Incal and Flash Gordon. Like we said, Waititi is booked and busy, so there’s plenty more for fans to look forward to!
Taika Waititi’s newest film, Thor: Love and Thunder, is in cinemas from 6 July.