Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit is the writer/director's sixth feature film, but ranking it against his previous movies isn't easy. Originally from New Zealand and born of half Māori, half Jewish ancestry, Waititi's distinct storytelling style and quirky humor earned him acclaim first as an indie filmmaker and later with his breakout gig directing Thor: Ragnarok.
Waititi's career started with him making comedy shorts for local festivals, and his short, "Two Cars, One Night" went on to earn a nomination for Best Live Action Short film at the 2005 Academy Awards. Soon there after, Waititi began working with actors and comedians who would go on to become some of his most frequent collaborators, including Jermaine Clement, Rhys Darby, and Rachel House. Following such hits as What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Waititi leveraged that success into working inside the Marvel machine. Next, Waititi joins the Star Wars galaxy with The Mandalorian, and then hits the pitch for his upcoming feature, Next Goal Wins starring Michael Fassbender.
Taika Waititi's filmography includes romantic comedy, mockumentary filmmaking, and more than one coming-of-age adventure - all served up in a package that is uniquely Taika. With humor that often strays into the absurd and a real knack for hitting audiences in the feels, Waititi's movies are all enjoyable for one reason or another. Still, some entries must stand above the others. Here's how we rank Taika Waititi's movies, from the good to the better and best.
6. Eagle vs Shark (2007)
This oddball rom-com is Taika Waititi's very first feature film, and as a starting point for a filmography, Eagle vs Shark is pretty great. Frequently compared to Napoleon Dynamite, the film is brimming with quirky characters and absurdist humor. It also includes several stop-motion vignettes, adding to film's unique flavor. Eagle vs Shark stars Loren Horsley as Lily, a shy songwriter with a crush on Jarrod (Jermaine Clement), a video game store employee who throws an animal costume-themed party during which Lily impresses him with her fighting game skills. Soon, Lily is meeting Jarrod's equally bizarre friends and family as the two embark on a romance that's as cute and awkward as they come.
Eagle vs Shark is less refined and lacks the more touching emotional beats of Waititi's later work, but it still balances its comedy with the dramatic reveals - a soon to become signature of Waititi's. The film is both written and directed by Waititi from a story he developed with then-girlfriend, Horsley. Waititi also appears in film in the very minor role of Jarrod's brother, Gordon (a trend he'll only continue). Eagle vs Shark is a very enjoyable, unique rom-com that frequently surprises, but being that it's from a writer/director who is still finding his own style, it just isn't as compelling a film as those that come later.
5. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Jumping from Taika Waititi's first film to the one which made him in a household name, Thor: Ragnarok is what took Waititi mainstream. In joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he brought his now very well-established filmmaking style to a wider audience. Though Waititi only directed Ragnarok (the script was handled by the team of Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher L. Yost), he still managed to bring his sense of humor to the God of Thunder - something star Chris Hemsworth absolutely relished, eager to finally make Thor funny. Waititi also deftly handled Ragnarok's deeper themes of family and home, finding a way to work the drama in amid the film's striking action sequences. Ragnarok was not only a critical and financial hit, it completely reinvigorated the Thor brand and landed Waititi the writing and directing job for its highly anticipated sequel, Thor: Love and Thunder.
Still, for as great of an MCU film as Thor: Ragnarok is, it doesn't quite measure up with the rest of Waititi's movies. For all the bold additions Waititi was able to make to the MCU - the best being without a doubt Korg, the character he himself brought to life through motion capture - Ragnarok is still very much a movie in the Marvel Studios mold, and for that, it finds itself nearer the bottom of this list of Waititi's work.
4. Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Taika Waititi's latest film is Jojo Rabbit and it is another solid offering from a writer/director who doesn't shy away from bold choices. In the case of this film, it's the choice to make what Waititi dubs the "anti-hate satire". Set in Nazi Germany, Jojo Rabbit uses a story about a young boy, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) and his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Waititi) to examine both fanaticism and prejudice head-on. Jojo Rabbit is largely successful in that respect, hilariously pairing the naive Jojo with a cartoonish Hitler while also exploring the growing friendship between Jojo and a Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), hiding in his home.
Jojo Rabbit includes many of the themes found in much of Waititi's work, like absent fathers and found families. The film also openly addresses how fanatical beliefs can take hold and warp a society, exposing both the absurdity of the situation and the very real danger it poses. In many ways, Jojo Rabbit bears all the influence of Waititi's previous films, but its daring subject matter doesn't always make for the easiest of transitions between the amusing and the abhorrent.
3. Boy (2010)
Boy is only Taika Waititi's second feature film, but much of what is now considered to be the writer/director's distinctive style can be traced back to this one. It is about a young boy (James Rolleston) whose father (Waititi) returns unexpectedly in search of buried treasure he left behind when he first split. As they reconnect, it becomes clear his father is not the rock star adventurer he always imagined and is instead just a petty criminal and loser. Over the course of the film, past family trauma is unearthed and the boy's eccentric father is made to face his own shortcomings before, eventually, the whole family comes together to heal.
Boy is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, striking that balance which Waititi will only continue to perfect in his later movies. It also includes many surreal asides, be they the boy's fantasies of his father's exploits or his brother's imagined superpowers, that keep Waititi's work from becoming predictable. Boy is also Waititi's most personal film, reflecting much of his own upbringing in his native New Zealand. Both Jojo Rabbit and Hunt for the Wilderpeople are the natural successors to a film like Boy, and for that, it's must-see for fans of Waititi. It also includes a traditional Māori Haka rendition of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" with Waititi in the role of the famous popstar that is just too good to pass up.
2. What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Of all of Taika Waititi's films, What We Do in the Shadows is by far most purely comedic of the lot. Co-written and co-directed with Flight of the Conchords' Jermaine Clement, this mockumentary is the Spinal Tap of vampire movies, lampooning the many tropes the blood-sucking genre has gained over the centuries. It follows a group of vampires living together in a flat in Wellington, NZ, including Waititi's foppish Viago, Clement's tyrannical Vladislav the Poker, and Jonathan Brugh's 183-year-old Deacon, the "young rebel" of the group. Together, they ineptly navigate Wellington's nightlife looking for meals and have regular run-ins with a local werewolf gang led by Rhys Darby.
What We Do in the Shadows began life as a short film before Clement and Waititi resurrected the idea for a feature. The film has also inspired two spinoffs, the New Zealand series Wellington Paranormal and FX's What We Do in the Shadows (on which Clement, Waititi, and Brugh briefly reprise their undead roles). Rumors of a sequel focusing on Darby's pack of werewolves continue to circulate, but nothing has ever been confirmed. Regardless, What We Do in the Shadows remains a pitch perfect comedy that demands rewatching in order to catch and appreciate all the ways it lovingly mocks vampire stories both new and very, very old.
1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Landing at the top spot is Taika Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a film encapsulating everything that makes Waititi's work so charming. Like much of the writer/director's filmography, Wilderpeople follows a young boy and his newly acquired father figure on a madcap but ultimately heartwarming adventure. It stars Julian Dennison (Deadpool 2) as Ricky Baker, a delinquent orphan who's been bounced from one foster home to another, and Sam Neill as his reluctant caregiver, Hec.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople effortlessly weaves in real heartbreak amid the lunacy of Ricky and Hec's months-long trek through the New Zealand bush, and it benefits greatly from the fantastic chemistry between its odd couple leads. It also stars many of Waititi's frequent collaborators, with Rachel House's child welfare worker, Paula, as a notable scene stealer. And while his native New Zealand often features in Waititi's films, here its natural wonder gets especially celebrated by the film's beautiful cinematography. Hunt for the Wilderpeople has everything that makes Waititi's films such a joy - weird but endearing characters, hilariously absurd scenarios, and touching moments of genuine emotion that all combine into one wonderful movie.
- Jojo Rabbit (2019) release date: Oct 18, 2019
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2021) release date: Nov 05, 2021