Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a 2016 New Zealand adventure comedy-drama film written and directed by Taika Waititi, whose screenplay was based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump. Sam Neill and Julian Dennison play "Uncle" Hector and Ricky Baker, a father figure and son who become the targets of a manhunt after fleeing into the New Zealand bush. Carthew Neal, Leanne Saunders, Matt Noonan, and Waititi produced the film.[4]

Hunt for the Wilderpeople
New Zealand theatrical release poster
Directed byTaika Waititi
Produced by
Screenplay byTaika Waititi
Based onWild Pork and Watercress
by Barry Crump
Music by
  • Lukasz Buda
  • Samuel Scott
  • Conrad Wedde
CinematographyLachlan Milne
Edited by
  • Defender Films
  • Piki Films
  • Curious
Distributed by
Release date
  • 22 January 2016 (2016-01-22) (Sundance)
  • 31 March 2016 (2016-03-31) (New Zealand)
Running time
101 minutes[1]
CountryNew Zealand
BudgetUS$2.5 million[2]
Box officeUS$23.2 million[3]

The film premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on 22 January 2016.[5] The film opened across New Zealand on 31 March 2016.[6][7][8] The film received a limited North American release on 24 June 2016.[9] It received highly positive reviews, with many critics highlighting Dennison and Neill's performances and chemistry.


Ricky Baker, a juvenile delinquent who was abandoned by his mother, is taken by child welfare services officer Paula and police officer Andy, to live in a remote farm with foster mother Bella Faulkner and her husband, the cantankerous southern man Hec. Hec is remote, but Bella quickly manages to break through Ricky's defensive shell by taking him hunting and giving him a dog for his 13th birthday, which he names Tupac after his idol Tupac Shakur.

When Bella suddenly dies and Hec tells Ricky that child services will take him back, Ricky ineptly fakes his suicide by burning a barn and runs away into the bush with Tupac, where he is completely unable to cope and gets lost. Hec finds him easily but breaks his ankle in a fall, forcing the two to camp for a period of time. The authorities meanwhile have found the house empty and the barn burnt down, and come to the conclusion that the bereaved and mentally unstable Hec has abducted Ricky. The impression is strengthened after an encounter with three foolish hunters who get the idea that Hec is molesting Ricky. Hec reveals to Ricky that he has served prison time for manslaughter and is illiterate. Ricky, in turn, says his only friend in foster care has died and that his only options are risking the same fate in the foster system, or serve time in juvenile prison. The pair agree to disappear into the bush.

A national manhunt ensues, and the two slowly bond while working together to escape arrest. Upon finding another hut, they encounter an unconscious, diabetic ranger. Ricky leaves to find help and runs into a girl his age named Kahu. She takes him back to her house and introduces him to her dad. Ricky stays the night and returns the next morning to the hut where Hec was supposed to be. Ricky finds the place to be swarming with police, led by Paula. Ricky runs away. He later encounters Paula and Andy in the bush, separated by a ravine. Paula attempts to bribe Ricky, asking him to say that Hec was a sex offender. In return, she tells him that he won't ever go to juvenile prison. Ricky declines and runs away. Ricky catches up to Hec by remembering the survival strategies Hec taught him, and they continue their travels. They encounter a wild boar that mortally wounds Hec's dog Zag, forcing Hec to euthanize him. Ricky reveals he has been carrying Bella's ashes and originally planned to deliver them to "where the earth wets the cloak of the sky," as per her wishes. They bury Zag and scatter Bella's ashes into a remote waterfall high in a mountain range. Ricky and Hec find a man living out on his own called Psycho Sam. Sam lets them stay the night. After five months of surviving in the wilderness and several close calls, they are finally caught following a car and helicopter chase, and Ricky accidentally shoots Hec. Hec gets remanded and Ricky is taken in by Kahu's family.

After Hec's release from jail, Ricky, with his new foster family's permission, returns to the bush with Hec to photograph the huia, an extinct bird they had re-discovered during their time on the run.



Waititi first began to adapt the book Wild Pork and Watercress in 2005, and completed multiple different drafts.[10] The early drafts stayed true to the book, with characters dying, however this was revised in later versions.[11] Julian Dennison was cast by Waititi from earlier work they did together on a commercial.[12]

The film had a budget of approximately NZ$4.5 million,[12][13] of which $2 million came from the New Zealand Film Commission.

The film was shot over 5 weeks, in locations including the Central Plateau and the Waitakere Ranges.[14] Almost the entire film was shot using a single camera.


The film premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on 22 January 2016 and was released in cinemas on 31 March 2016 in New Zealand by Madman Entertainment and The Orchard. The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray in America on 25 October 2016 by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The soundtrack by Moniker was released on 8 April 2016 by Majestical Pictures Ltd.


Box office

The film grossed NZ$1,263,000 in New Zealand on its opening weekend, the highest grossing opening weekend for a New Zealand film, ahead of What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?'s $912,000.[8][nb 1] It has become the highest grossing New Zealand film, making over NZ$12 million.

Internationally, as of October 2016, the film has grossed A$10,935,319 in Australia, US$507,380 in the UK and US$5,137,201 in North America.

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, Hunt for the Wilderpeople received a score of 97%, based on 169 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "The charmingly offbeat Hunt for the Wilderpeople unites a solid cast, a talented filmmaker, and a poignant, funny, deeply affecting message."[15] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 81 out of 100, based on 30 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[16]

In his review, Hamish Popplestone remarked: "Though both flawed, Neill's and Dennison's characters are so, so charming on-screen and are fully apt at weaving through the dramatic, comedic, and sad points of the script."[17] Empire magazine named Hunt for the Wilderpeople the number one film for 2016.[18]


  1. While the films of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies had higher grossing opening weekends, they do not meet the definition of a New Zealand film per the New Zealand Film Commission Act 1978.


  1. "Hunt for the Wilderpeople (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 9 August 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  2. "Hunt for the Wilderpeople': New Zealand's Oddball Hit". The Wall Street Journal. 16 June 2016. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  3. "Hunt for the Wilderpeople". The-Numbers. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  4. "Wilderpeople (@wilderpeople)". Twitter. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  5. Harvey, Dennis. "Sundance Film Review: 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople'". Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  6. "Hunt for the Wilderpeople takes top spot at the Kiwi box office". New Zealand Film Commission. 16 May 2016. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  7. "Hunt for the Wilderpeople continues smashing NZ box office records". 7 April 2016. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  8. "Hunt for the Wilderpeople breaks Kiwi box office records". 4 April 2016. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  9. "Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) - IMDb". Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  10. "Taika Waititi Talks Wilderpeople and Ragnarok". 19 July 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  11. "Next big thing: 'Wilderpeople' director about to hit mainstream with 'Thor' sequel". Star Tribune. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  12. "Taika Waititi: "Hunt For The Wilderpeople" Isn't So Different From "Thor: Ragnarok"". Co.Create. 22 July 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  13. "Hunt for the Wilderpeople sets new box office record". New Zealand Herald. 4 April 2016. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  14. "The Terminator Pig". Stuff. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  15. "Hunt For the Wilderpeople". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  16. "Hunt For the Wilderpeople". Metacritic. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  17. Popplestone, Hamish (17 April 2016). "Hunt for the Wilderpeople — Salient". Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  18. John Nugent; Emma Thrower; Phil De Semlyen (21 December 2016). "The best movies of 2016, Feature | Movies - Empire". gb. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
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