Why are so many films made in New Zealand now?

New Zealand may be synonymous with the Middle Earth we see in ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’, but why does the Antipodean country still hold major allure for Hollywood filmmakers?

Flexible locations

The 2017 manga adaptation ‘Ghost in the Shell’, starring Scarlett Johansson and directed by Rupert Sanders (‘Snow White and the Huntsman’) is a world away from Bilbo and co., set in a futuristic city with a cyberpunk aesthetic.

But because of the versatility of the cities as locations (and the tax breaks), parts of the capital Wellington have been transformed into Tokyo-esque city. And for a whole lot less money than shooting in Japan for real.

Combine that with the staggering scenery and it’s a location scout’s dream. Whether it’s Mount Ngauruhoe aka Mount Doom in J. R. R Tolkien’s world, or the cliffs above Purakaunui Bay which stood in as Cair Paravel in ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’, the options are almost endless.

Of course, we’ve seen the variety on offer in the country already in a vast number of blockbuster movies. For example, the ocean scenes in ‘King Kong’ were made near the Kapiti Island Nature Reserve, off the coast of Paraparaumu. An early 20th century London train station was rebuilt for ‘Narnia’ in an old airforce base in Auckland. Meanwhile, ‘Underworld: Rise of the Lycans’ was shot in Penrose, a suburb of Auckland City.

No need for CGI

“People coming off the plane say they thought a lot of the Middle Earth landscapes were Photoshopped, or CGI,” laughs Shayne Forrest, marketing manager for Hobbiton Tours. “But they arrive and looking around them they realise it’s actually what New Zealand looks like.”

Certainly, visiting the country is one of the closest experiences you’ll get to feeling like you’re immersed in a real-life movie set. Yes, Peter Jackson is a Kiwi, but there’s an authenticity to the country’s topography that is reflected on-screen and almost impossible to recreate elsewhere. There are few places on Earth that earn the term ‘natural beauty’ as much as New Zealand.

In fact, Shayne admits that most of the people he gets coming to look round the leftover Hobbit village from both of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien franchises are there not because of their love of the films, but because they want to know what it’s like to be backstage on a movie.

“About 40% of people who visit us haven’t seen the movies or read the books,” he explains. “When you talk about Gandalf, or Frodo, they don’t know what you’re talking about. They’re just coming for a behind-the-movie-set experience.”


“You’ve got the mountain ranges, plains, glaciers, natural forests and beaches,” says Shayne. “And as far as logistics go for a film company, you don’t have to fly from one place to the other. It was described as a mini village heading through the country when they were travelling for ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’.”

It’s true that there are few places on Earth where you can be in the mountains in the morning, on the beach in the afternoon and in fjord lands in the evening. Being able to get there easily with the truckloads of equipment required to shoot a major motion picture is a major bonus too.

The people

Speak to most people in New Zealand and it’s their go-getting attitude and love for their country that stands out. “We’re pretty can-do,” says Shayne.

What’s more, he adds, “There’s a big mixture [of cultures]. You don’t have to look too far to get a big range of ethnicities and people. As far as casting for movies go, it’s an easy experience for people because we’re a big melting pot.”


It’s safe to say that the Weta Workshop, founded in 1987 by Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger and originally called RT Effects (the change to Weta came later, named after a prehistoric Kiwi cricket), is one of the most cutting edge FX houses in the world. And it’s all done in Miramar, a suburb of Wellington.

Becoming famous for its ground-breaking work on ‘Lord of the Rings’, it is now at the forefront of the digital and practical effects revolution, whether it’s Andy Serkis as a human-like ape in ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, the Na’vi in ‘Avatar’ or the vehicular carnage of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’.

Just check out some of its upcoming credits: as well as ‘Ghost In The Shell’, the workshop is working on a new adaptation of ‘Wind in the Willows’, a big-screen ‘Power Rangers’ and ‘The Justice League: Part One’. Meanwhile, the digital side is involved in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ and ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’.

Tax breaks

Not only do you get top quality personnel and landscapes, but shooting in New Zealand will pay off in the budget.

Most countries have tax credits available for visiting movies, but there’s actually a New Zealand government-backed scheme which promises a cash rebate of 20% of any shoot’s production expenditure which is undertaken in the country as long as filmmakers fulfil certain criteria.

And that’s not all – if you can prove you’re benefiting the Kiwi economy through tourism, arts or culture (like Hobbiton and co.), you’re potentially eligible for another 5%.

Amazing PR

New Zealanders love knowing that their beloved homeland is getting international recognition thanks to the movie business and aren’t afraid to tell people about it.

“It’s a pretty proud moment when you’re sitting in the cinema and New Zealand’s up there and you know it’s a picture being released all around the world,” admits Shayne.

The tourism board will also jump on movies that are shot in the country, adding another layer to the film’s marketing and publicity strategy by pushing it to foreign visitors and making it a part of their campaigns to bring people to New Zealand. Free advertising is a pretty big plus.