10 of the Best Ever Australian Movies

Muriel's Wedding

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Muriel's Wedding Starring Toni Colette and Rachael Griffiths - 1994

If you ever loved ABBA you will love this film!

Muriel's Wedding is a hilarious take off of Australian values, but it also carries deep messages underneath the laughs. The story revolves around Muriel's desperate and doomed attempts to fit in and be part of the hip crowd. Muriel ultimately succeeds in boosting her low self-esteem but not in the expected way. Quirky and touching, this film will capture you quickly and keep you enthralled.

Some interesting things about Muriel's Wedding:

  • Muriel's Wedding turbo powered Rachael Griffiths' career (she is brilliant in her role as the hedonistic Rhonda). Griffiths went on to become the star of the Us TV series Six Feet Under
  • Toni Collette gained 18 kilograms (40 pounds) in seven weeks to play the role of Muriel.
  • ABBAs Bjorn and Benny allowed the music of Dancing Queen to be converted to an orchestral piece in exchange for a percentage of the film's profits.
  • The film features four ABBA songs.
  • Muriel's Wedding won four Australian Film Industry Awards including for Best Film and Best Actress.
  • Muriel's Wedding is the 12th top grossing film in Australia at $15,765,571- about 26.6 million in today's money.

Clip from Muriel's Wedding featuring Rachael Griffiths

Romper Stomper starring Russell Crowe

Romper Stomper starring Russel Crowe - 1992

A starkly confronting look at the right wing skinhead scene in Melbourne in the 1980s. This dark and violent drama is inspired by the life and times of leading Melbourne Neo-Nazi skinhead Dane Sweetman. Themes include violent racial abuse, familial sexual abuse, Nazism, and of course, the Australian ethic of mateship.

The soundtrack features punk rock (suitable to the subject matter) and the acting is extremely competent and the film well crafted.

While I though this was an excellent film, it was not so enjoyable for me because of the unpleasant subject matter, specifically, racial thuggery. I am also familiar with the locations in the film and this made it doubly confronting for me. I shudder to remember certain things about Footscray in those times.

However, if you are a fan of Russell Crowe then this is something you should see. Romper Stomper is in my list because it is brilliantly executed cinema and because the reality is that Australian culture does have a very dark side which should not be shied away from.

Interesting things about Romper Stomper:

  • Romper Stomper was released in the USA in two versions, the uncut version was rated R for the extreme violence (and sex). The cut version was given a NC-17 rating.
  • Dane Sweetman, whose story the film was based on, was not included in the film credits. This fact was later revealed during interviews with cast and crew.
  • Romper Stomper is number 74 on the list of Australia's top grossing films at $3,165,034 - in today's money about 5.4 million.
  • Sadly, Daniel Pollock, who played the character Davey in Romper Stomper, threw himself under a train at Newtown Railway Station in Sydney, suiciding before the release of the film.

A younger thinner Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper

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Romper Stomper Montage

Wolf Creek

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Wolf Creek - 2005

If you are into horror you will enjoy Wolf Creek. This horror movie is more horrible than most as it is partially based on a series of shocking murders and other crimes against tourists visiting Australia.

The most famous of these episodes are the murder of British tourist Peter Falconio and the assault of his girlfriend Joanne Lees in the Northern Territory and the multiple murder of backpackers visiting New South Wales by the notorious Ivan Milat.

Wolf Creek is set in the gorgeous town of Broome and the amazing natural heritage that is the outback heart of northern Western Australia. If you enjoyed the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you will enjoy this. Wolf Creek is no mere splatter flick, even though it is an independent film made on a cheap budget. The tension and suspense is tightly wound and when the bubble finally bursts, you will find it hard to look away.

Interesting things about Wolf Creek:

  • There really is a place of that name, only it is called Wolfe Creek. Wolfe Creek is in northern Western Australia and is the site of the world's second largest meteor impact.
  • Wolf Creek was nominated for seven Australian Film Industry Awards.
  • The release of Wolf Creek had to be delayed in Australia because of the trial of Bradley John Murdoch for the murder of Peter Falconio and the assault of Joanne Lees.
  • Wolf Creek is number 40 on the list of top grossing Australian film at $6,080,571 - in today's money about 7.5 million.

Wolf Creek Trailer

Gallipoli Starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee

Documentary about Gallipoli and the Anzacs

Gallipoli Starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee

A poignant and well executed depiction of the lives of two young Western Australian men before and during the Gallipoli campaign against the Ottoman Empire in WWI.

Gallipoli faithfully shows an Australia from the 1910s. Gallipoli's themes include Australian identity, mateship, coming of age in wartime for the nation and the individual soldiers as it tackles the huge subject of a nation at war. In 1983, Mel Gibson said this “Gallipoli was the birth of a nation. It was the shattering of a dream for Australia. They had banded together to fight the Hun and died by the thousands in a dirty little trench war."

Gallipoli is a well crafted film, worth watching for the historical information and the entertainment value.

Interesting things about Gallipoli:

  • The use of electronic music in the soundtrack created notoriety for the film.
  • Gallipoli grossed $11,740,000 making it the number 18 top grossing film, about 41 million in today's money.
  • Gallipoli won eight Australian Film Industry Awards including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

Gallipoli Starring Mark Lee

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A young Mel Gibson in Gallipoli

Priscilla Queen of the Desert starring Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terrence Stamp

The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert Starring Hugo Weaving - 1994

A cult classic, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is the ultimate road trip movie. Two drag queens and a transsexual woman drive a bus all the way from Sydney to outback town Alice Springs (nearly 3000 kilometers/1864 miles).

The trip organiser (drag queen 'Tick' played by Hugo Weaving) wants to go to Alice Springs because his former wife runs a casino there and has asked him to come and perform. He cajoles the others into going with him and acquires a bus which he christens 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' and they set off.

They have various encounters along the way, some positive, some not and some violently abusive.

The richness and vibrancy of the costumes, particularly against the stark setting of the central Australian outback, are unforgettable. A cultural icon and a visual feast, Priscilla is a remarkable and controversial film.

Interesting things about Priscilla:

  • Priscilla is currently the 11th top grossing Austrian film at $16,459,245 in 1994, making that almost 27 million today.
  • The producers originally wanted Jason Donovan to star in the film but after some issues with Jason getting along with other crew members the idea was abandoned. However Jason did star in the musical theatre production with great success.
  • Priscilla won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
  • Priscilla was criticised for stereotyping homophobic people in Australia as well as drag queens and transsexuals - just goes to show you can't please everyone, or even anyone!

Guy Pearce Places Sequins on the bus in Priscilla Queen of the Desert

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Priscilla Queen of the Desert 'I will Survive' Scene

Mad Max Starring Mel Gibson

Mad Max Starring Mel Gibson

A 1979 cult classic about the creation of a dystopian future society, Mad Max was the kick-off of Mel Gibson's career, propelling him into immediate stardom. Mel Gibson was unknown prior to Mad Max. An action movie, Mad Max is based on a western style paradigm.

Police officer and family man, the hero, Max, dishes out his own version of justice, taking the law into his lethal hands.

Mad Max is a remarkable film because it took the Australian film industry away from the traditionally 'ocker' type of film in to a whole new arena. Mad Max, while using Australian cars, Australian accents and filmed in Australia, does not really look like an Australian film.

Mad Max is a piece of Australian cinematic history.

Mad Max is characterised by a sense of anticipation and unease and much of the power in the film comes from the fast and meaty V8 cars. If you are a rev-head, this is film you should not miss.

Interesting things about Mad Max:

  • Mad Max once held the Guinness Record for being the top grossing film in decades.
  • Mad Max is now the 44th top grossing Australian film at $5,355,490 in 1979 - about 22.5 million in today's money.

Mad Max Starring a Very Young Mel Gibson - 1979

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Mad Max 1979 Trailer

Dead Calm Starring Nicole Kidman

Dead Calm Starring Nicole Kidman - 1989

Nicole Kidman's entry point into Hollywood, Dead Calm is a tense, suspenseful thriller with loads of action, fantastic acting and great photography.

Nicole Kidman is grieving mother Rae who with husband John (Sam Neil) go on a boat trip to try to deal with the death of their son. While out at sea they encounter another yacht and meet up with Hughie, who is in fact a mass murderer. What follows had me on a knife edge of suspense. The isolating emptiness of the ocean heightens the drama and suspense as there is no one out there at all to help Rae.

Interesting things about Dead Calm:

  • Nicole Kidman was 22 at the time of filming.
  • The film was based on a novel by Charles Williams and Orson Welles started making a film about it in 1960 but never finished it.
  • Dead Calm is number 99 on the top grossing Australian film list at $2,444,407 in 1989 - about 3.6 million in today's money.
  • Dead Calm is listed on the New York Times Top 1000 Movies list.

Nicole Kidman in Dead Calm

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Dead Calm Trailer

The Castle

The Castle - 1997

The Castle is a story about a Melbourne family - the Kerrigans - living in their dream home which is actually a bit of a dump right beside the airport. When the government wants to expand the airport it tries to resume the nearby land and the Kerrigans fight for the right to keep their home.

The Castle is hilariously funny in a very Australian way. The Kerrigans have become one of the most adored of all Australian fictional families with many of the sound-bites from the movie making their way into Australian daily idiom, for example, 'tell 'im 'e's dreamin'.

For all that it is a story about family and family values, what this movie is really about is the law, specifically constitutional law. Much of the movie is played out in the legal arena and the movie is littered with references to landmark Australian legal decisions as well as sections of the Australian Constitution.

This movie is a 'cracker' and well worth a watch.

Interesting things about the Castle:

  • The Castle was Eric Bana's first film.
  • The film only took five weeks to make, with only two of those weeks being actual shooting.
  • Many of the references to things Australian had to be altered for the film to be released on the US market.
  • The Castle is currently number 24 on the top grossing Australian films list - making $10,326,428 in 1997 - about 15.5 million in today's money.
  • The title is a reference to the English saying that a man's castle is his home.

The Castle - 1997

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The Castle Trailer - 1997

The Castle - "tell 'im 'e's dreamin"

Rabbit Proof fence Starring Kenneth Branagh

Rabbit Proof Fence - 2002

Rabbit Proof Fence is the story of three Aboriginal girls taken from their home to be trained as domestic staff and their escape and 2,400 kilometre/1500 mile walk to get back home. The girls are pursued by a white official and a black tracker.

Based on a true story, the film is set in Western Australia where there is in fact a rabbit proof fence stretching thousands of kilometres. The book was written by Doris Pilkington Garimara, whose mother was one of the girls.

The girls form part of the stolen generations. This film makes a political statement about the stolen generations and while it is not factually correct in places, this does not diminish the statement it makes.

The film is stunning and compelling. Kenneth Branagh gives a polished performance as always and the children are brilliant. The film is well worth watching not only for the engaging story, but the message it carries.

Interesting things about Rabbit Proof Fence:

  • There has been a lot of controversy about the truth of the movie version, but it is agreed that Doris Pilkington Garimara's book is almost wholly faithful to history.
  • Rabbit Proof Fence won three Australian Film Industry Awards - Best Film, Best Sound and Best Original Music Score.
  • Rabbit Proof Fence is number 36 on the list of top grossing Australian films taking $7,562,439 in 2002 - about 10 million in today's money.

Rabbit Proof Fence Starring Kenneth Branagh

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Rabbit Proof Fence Trailer

The Sapphires Soundtrack

The Sapphires - 2012

I truly loved this film for many reasons. The acting is charming and engaging, the music incredible and on top of this inspirational film is based on a true story.

Indigenous Australians are incredibly disadvantaged in too many ways to contemplate here - so to see an inspirational story about a successful Aboriginal singing group, to see these young women find love and happiness despite the odds, is heartwarming and uplifting.

This movie is funny, romantic, and has a social conscience. Set in 1968 Australia, the film explores the stolen generations, the Vietnam war, familial relationships, friendship, coming of age and Aboriginal identity in an atmosphere of standardised and institutionalised racism (the norm in 1968 Australia).

It is helpful to know some things about 1968 in Australia to fully appreciate the film. Aboriginal people finally gained Australian citizenship in 1967. Before this, Aboriginal people could not vote (they got the vote in 1968), could not get a passport easily, could not access social services in the same way that white Australians could, were not paid anything like the same wage as citizens (for the same jobs), and did not have the same legal rights as citizens. This is despite Australian governmentns and organisations supporting individual Aboriginal people with great sporting prowess to be successful and allowing many Aboriginal men to fight in both world wars and lose their lives for Australia.

It was standard government practice to remove many Aboriginal children, especially the 'whiter' looking ones from their mothers and families for a variety of reasons (espoused and hidden) during the 20th century. The people that were removed are called the 'stolen generations' - one of the characters in the movie was stolen.

Against this backdrop, The Sapphires explores the journey of four young and talented Aboriginal women as they become a singing group that tours Vietnam, playing to American Soldiers. Thankfully the film does not sugar coat the harshness of the times, but deals with the loss of cultural identity forced upon Aboriginal people respectfully.

If you love soul music, you will love The Sapphires soundtrack. Two weeks after its chart debut, The Sapphires soundtrack was number one in the Australian Albums Chart. Jessica Mauboy, a leading Australian pop vocalist, was cast in the role of Julie in the film and she also sings most of the tracks on the album. Motown reigns supreme!

Interesting things about The Sapphires:

  • The Sapphires received a ten minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival when it debuted.
  • The Sapphires was the highest earning Australian film on its opening weekend, taking $2,320,000 for the weekend.
  • The Sapphires took a total of $14,465,831, making it number 14 on the top grossing Australian films list.
  • The film is based on an equally successful stage play also starring Deborah Mailman as Gail.
  • The real Sapphires are seen at the ending credits, a nice touch.
  • Tony Briggs wrote the theatre production and the movie adaptation. He is the son of one of the original Sapphires, Beverley Briggs.

The Sapphires

The Original Sapphires - Lois Peeler, Naomi Mayers, Laurel Robinson and Beverley Briggs

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The Sapphires Trailer

Sources

  • 25 best Australian movies ever: http://www.stuff.tv/news/past-and-future/movie-classics/25-best-australian-movies-ever?page=0,2
  • Wikipedia
  • IMBD
  • Rotten Tomatoes
  • Muriel's Wedding: http://www.murielsweddingmovie.com/Synopsis/Synopsis2.htm
  • Screen Australia: https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/research/statistics/mrboxaust.aspx
  • Reserve Bank of Australia Inflation Calculator: http://www.rba.gov.au/calculator/annualDecimal.html

Australian Films Quiz

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Comments 2 comments

SaffronBlossom profile image

SaffronBlossom 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas

I love the in-depth way in which you covered these movies! I've only seen Mad Max and Muriel's Wedding from the list, but I definitely want to see a few of the others now, especially Rabbit Proof Fence. Thanks for a great hub--voted up and interesting!


Mel Jay profile image

Mel Jay 3 years ago from Australia Author

Thanks for visiting, SaffronBlossom :) - these are all really great Aussie films, but I think my favorite from this lot is The Sapphires - I love a happy ending, especially when it involves the disadvantaged. Not to mention the great music! I hope you get the chance to see some of these movies and thanks for the feedback - Appreciated, Mel

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