New Zealand Plays A Big Role In Movie History

The sweeping landscapes, overgrown greenery, and babbling creeks of Craig Zobel's new film Z For Zachariah would overwhelm a narrative of any proportion. But given the post-apocalyptic, claustrophobic proportions of Zobel's three-man society, the sheer scale of the surroundings make the characters look and feel all the more alone in their world. The setting is as perfectly cast as the actors themselves, so where does Z For Zachariah take place? For these people inhabit the aftermath of a destructive nuclear war that has left them perhaps the only survivors, and that only thanks to the oasis-like quality of the valley where Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) has grown up. She's soon joined by scientist Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a stranger named Caleb (Chris Pine), both vying for her attention — and perhaps her affection.

As played by Robbie, Ann Burden's heavy Midwestern accent belies one of the primary shooting locations — West Virginia. But many of the grander surroundings were filmed in New Zealand. The Land Down Under's second cousin has been featured in a number of films in which the grand location played a central role, from the Lord of the Rings films and their various spinoffs to series like Top of the Lake, which was actually set in New Zealand. The New Zealand Screen Production Grant provides filmmakers with significant financial incentive to film in the country — as if its grandeur alone weren't enough. Here are a few of the most notable films shot in New Zealand.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy

Lord of the Rings is probably the bane of every New Zealander's existence, and the joy of everyone else's. Though it was far from the first film shot in the country, it certainly put it on the map. With good reason: The film features locations from open water to dense forests. As far as landscapes go, New Zealand has most of it.

2. The Hobbit Trilogy

Like Lord of the Rings, much of the prequel series The Hobbit was shot in New Zealand. Some of the filming locations, like the hobbit holes of the Shire, still remain, but for the most part, it's just rugged land for miles.

3. Whale Rider

Whale Rider was shot in the place the narrative plays out — Whangara, a Maori town in the north of New Zealand. The Maori (the native people of New Zealand) tell an origin myth of their ancestors arriving on the backs of whales, and this is the myth that forms the foundation of Whale Rider itself "It would almost have been heresy to shoot anywhere else," producer John Barnett said, according to a press release. "There are very physical things that are described in the book — the sweep of the bay, the island that looks like a whale, the meeting houses, the number of houses that are present, and, of course, the people whose legend we were telling."

4. The Lovely Bones

Susie (Saiorse Ronan) narrates much of the film from her life-after-death purgatory, the "In-Between Place." The scenes shot in the In-Between Place were filmed in New Zealand, MTV reported. Director Peter Jackson, also of Lord of the Rings, is from New Zealand, so his choice of location seems a logical one.

5. Avatar

For a director looking to create an entirely new planet, the wilderness of New Zealand makes sense as a choice of location. But James Cameron's Avatar, while filmed in Wellington, New Zealand, actually took place inside a studio where special effects created the world the Na'vi inhabit. Other work was done in Los Angeles and Hawaii.

6. The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe

Like Peter Jackson, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe's Andrew Adamson — a native New Zealander — selected his homeland to set the stage for his film. The sequel, Prince Caspian, was also primarily filmed in New Zealand. "In many ways, it is a fairytale country," Producer Mark Johnson told Tourism New Zealand. Its otherworldly quality helps fully immerse audiences in the supernatural story that plays out.

7. Bridge To Terabithia

Yet again, New Zealand plays a role as the land of make-believe. Much of Bridge to Terabithia was filmed in Auckland — watch it for the stunning scenery, but also for a precious pre-Hunger Games Josh Hutcherson.

8. Slow West

A New Zealand-conceived and -executed western, Slow West stars Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smitt-McPhee, and Caren Pistorius. "The environment is controlling everything and everyone is a victim of the environment," Pistorius told New Zealand-based news outlet Stuff. The film premiered in May, and — in a rare turn for a western — features a few incredible female characters.

New Zealanders and foreigners alike are turning to the country's wilderness to demonstrate an otherworldly quality in their films, or to show how one's surroundings dictate behaviors. Both are the case in Z For Zachariah, where the landscape forces these three people together and provides a backdrop for a post-apocalyptic oasis within a wasteland. Though the film itself takes place in a radioactive West Virginia, it's not a West Virginia that would be recognizable to contemporary eyes — so the addition of New Zealand seems a pretty good idea.

Images: Roadside Attractions; New Line Cinema; Warner Bros.; Newmarket Films; Dreamworks; 20th Century Fox; Buena Vista (2); A24 Films