If you’re not on the Taika Waititi train already, now is absolutely the time to do it. Waititi has been working as a director since the early 2000s, where he got his start directing short films like the Oscar-nominated Two Cars, One Night, and What We Do in the Shadows, which later inspired the feature film of the same name (which then went on to inspire a TV series of the same name). Since 2007, Waititi has spent his time moving between film and television directing (as well as acting and screenwriting), crafting for himself a heck of a resumé which includes a mockumentary, a big studio superhero movie, and an Oscar-nominated movie.
With nearly two decades worth of work under his belt as a director, Waititi is gearing up for what may be the highest-profile phase of his career yet. We’re all sitting down to Thor: Love and Thunder, but we should be prepared to see a lot more of Waititi in the coming years. Waititi is preparing for the release of Next Goal Wins, starring Michael Fassbender and Elisabeth Moss (plus a role with frequent collaborator Rhys Darby), which is now completed. He is in pre-production for a Tower of Terror movie with John August (Big Fish) and Josh Cooley (Inside Out) attached as writers. He’s also reuniting with Jemaine Clement for The Incal, a sci-fi space opera flick based on the graphic novel by Jean ‘Moebius’ Griaud and Alejandro Jodorowsky. On top of all that, he has a Star Warsmovie in the works, an Akira movie in the works, and he is the producer on several hit TV shows including What We Do in the Shadows, Reservation Dogs, Our Flag Means Death (which he also stars in), and the upcoming Time Bandits.
But before we can look ahead, we should probably take a look back at what features Waititi has directed and how they stand up to one another. So, without further ado, here’s a ranking of Waititi’s seven feature films from worst to best.
7. Jojo Rabbit
A recent Waititi feature, Jojo Rabbit, may be the first of his directorial and screenwriting efforts to scoop up Oscars, but I don’t think we should allow that recognition let this one slide. Adapted from the 2008 Christine Leunens novel Caging Skies, 2019’s Jojo Rabbit tells the story of Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) a young German boy coming of age during World War II. Jojo is enamored with his country’s president, Adolf Hitler, to the point he’s created an imaginary friend version of him. Jojo is also keen to serve his country in any way he can, so he joins the Hitler Youth with his friend, Yorki (Archie Yates). Life takes a wild turn when Jojo discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), in their attic.
Jojo Rabbit returns to some familiar themes seen in previous movies, primarily the depiction of the awkwardness of growing up and finding one’s place in the world amidst the absurdities of life. As is the case with Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, this plays out through the perspective of a young boy who believes he is ready for manhood and quickly discovers there’s more to being a grown-up than he thinks. And while Jojo Rabbit does this all in a flashier, sleeker manner than some of his previous efforts, the timing of Jojo Rabbit‘s release, and its handling of the subject matter — with Waititi playing a goofy, idiotic Hitler and the spoofing of Nazi Germany — are done a bit too cavalierly for comfort. Jojo Rabbit isn’t the first movie to tackle children coming of age in war-torn, fraught times in global history, and it hardly makes a case for itself being remembered as one of the best of them.
6. Eagle vs. Shark
In the early ’00s, Waititi’s resumé as a director was all short films, including the short which inspired What We Do in the Shadows. And then, 2007 rolled around, marking the arrival of his directorial debut feature, Eagle vs. Shark. This unique indie stars Jemaine Clement and Loren Taylor as Jarrod and Lily, two slightly awkward twenty-something Aussies who find themselves falling in love just around the time Jarrod wants to return home to kill his childhood bully. Jarrod doesn’t necessarily have the follow-through or ability to actually kill a man, to be clear, but he’s so dead set on it that half the fun of Eagle vs. Shark is watching him attempt to properly prepare for doing the deed.
The other half of the fun of watching Eagle vs. Shark (and what makes it such a good, watchable movie) is seeing how it treats these two nerdy protagonists as they try to grapple with all the big feelings that come in the early stages of a relationship when they themselves have big personalities. Lily and Jarrod have both experienced great personal loss, retreating into their own semi-fantastical worlds as a way to cope with rejection, loneliness, and sadness. Watching them undergo a second coming-of-age (of sorts) as their young love exposes new depths is part of the beauty of this movie.
Eagle vs. Shark establishes Waititi’s interest in exploring how humanity’s clumsiness, silliness, and awkwardness telegraphs so much about our personal histories, our psyches, and our pain. It also lets us in our Waititi’s attraction to depicting comedy through mundane interactions, allowing deadpan humor to flourish to marvelous effect. While other films of Waititi’s pull off these elements better, Eagle vs. Shark is still quite good in the story it’s telling.
5. Thor: Love and Thunder
Waititi’s second Thor entry is still highly enjoyable but it is an uphill battle to try and top the wild success of 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. Still, the fourth chapter in Thor’s story is no less funny, and it is plain to see that this is a Taika Waititi movie. Colorful, bombastic, excessive, there is a lot going on in Thor: Love and Thunder.
Love and Thunder follows Thor in a post-Endgame life. He’s left his travels with the Guardians of the Galaxy in order to find his purpose. He encounters Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a man set on eliminating all gods from the universe, and gathers a team together to fight him. The team includes Korg (Waititi), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and Jane (Natalie Portman). Wielding Mjolnir, Jane goes from Dr. Jane Foster to the Mighty Thor!
For some, Love and Thunder can be a bit too much of a good thing. You either laugh every time the screaming goats turn up, or you’re groaning about the repeating joke. Unlike Hela (Cate Blanchett) in Ragnarok, Gorr doesn’t seem to relish his role as a destroyer, at least not in the dramatic fashion Hela does. The return of the romance between Thor and Jane is tender and sweet, but not without its flaws. But while the first half of the movie is a bit uneven, the second half soars. It’s hardly Waititi’s worst movie but if we have to rank it, this is its place.
4. Thor: Ragnarok
It’s not hard to see why Waititi is one of the go-to directors for Marvel (and fellow Disney-owned studio Lucasfilm) after watching Thor: Ragnarok. The third movie in the solo Thor (Chris Hemsworth) arc in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: Ragnarok is quite unlike its predecessors, Thor and Thor: The Dark World.
Thor: Ragnarok is a much more colorful, free-spirited movie, with improvised jokes aplenty and deadpan comedy we’ve come to recognize as a Waititi trademark. The third Thor movie follows the God of Lightning as he tries to prevent Ragnarok, the apocalyptic event long spoken of meant to wipe out his home of Asgard for good. Thor manages to get majorly waylaid, ending up a prisoner of the trash planet of Sakaar and forced to play in gladiatorial games overseen by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Thor does find allies to help him on his quest to save Asgard — and defeat his villainous older sister, Hela — including Avengers co-worker Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson).
Thor: Ragnarok isn’t just a stand-out in the MCU, but it’s a stand-out in Waititi’s career. This movie carried one of the biggest budgets Waititi’s ever worked with and marked him as a big studio-friendly director who can deliver crowd-pleasing results in the form of a rock-solid movie. Waititi inserted plenty of his trademark tricks into Thor: Ragnarok and managed to pull it off, effectively helping to evolve Thor’s MCU arc while also taking a big step up as a notable director.
3. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Hunt for the Wilderpeople follows Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a juvenile delinquent who emerges from New Zealand’s foster system and is sent to live with childless couple Hec (Sam Neill) and Bella (Rima Te Wiata) out in the countryside. Ricky’s adjustment to country life is a bit bumpy as a tough-talking former city-dweller, but he manages to get along decently well with Bella and just okay with Hec. Following the sudden death of Bella, Child Services decide they want to bring Ricky back into the system, but he refuses to go. Instead, he decides to run away with Hec forced to go on the lam with him as his protector and guide through the New Zealand wilderness.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople combines Waititi’s predilection for using deadpan comedy as a means to explores and express real human drama with the director’s knack for bringing out some truly great performances in his actors. Dennison and Neill are a fun, heartfelt pairing who really take a shine to Waititi’s writing and direction, bouncing off one another as they play the comedic highs and stark dramatic moments.
2. What We Do in the Shadows
To rank What We Do in the Shadows any lower on this list would be a sin. Based on a 2005 short of the same name, which Waititi also co-directed with Jemaine Clement, What We Do in the Shadows follows three vampires — Viago (Waititi), Vladislav (Clement), and Deacon (Jonny Brugh) — whose lives are being filmed for a documentary. We’re introduced to the centuries-old vamps as they eke out what seems to be both a boring night-to-night existence, with arguments about chore charts and respecting roommates bubbling about, and an exciting one, as we watch the boys lure home unsuspecting victims to feed on.
What We Do in the Shadows is a triumph of horror-comedy, adding some refreshing new takes on the vampire archetype and the ways in which we can tell stories about them. The mockumentary style of filmmaking allows for some very fun and very organic comedy to shine through as the audience is treated to peeking behind the cloak of a vampire’s modern life. Waititi’s co-direction on this is supreme, as his comfort in directing actors, as well as special effect-laden action, registers clearly. It also doesn’t hurt that Waititi also plays a very dorky, sweet vampire who is in search of his long-lost love and seems entirely horrified at the prospect of having to kill people and drink their blood in order to survive.
Waititi’s second feature film, Boy, is also one of his most personal and heartfelt films. Boy was a passion project of Waititi’s which had long been in the works before he tackled Eagle vs. Shark. Set in a remote village in New Zealand, Boy begins by introducing us to the titular Boy (James Rolleston), a pre-teen obsessed with Michael Jackson who is also very excited at the prospect of his absentee father, Alamein (Waititi) returning home. Boy idolizes Alamein, readily sharing some of his dad’s greatest achievements (a proficient deep-sea diver, captain of the rugby team, a man with the record for punching the most people with one hand) while trying to grapple with the hurt of his absence for such a long time. Alamein’s return forces Boy, his brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu), and their dad to confront the true reasons for Alamein’s absence and whether there is a possibility for this family to heal and move forward.
Boy is so tender with its protagonist and so honest in its depiction of this particularly tough coming-of-age story. Sure, there are moments of levity (this is a Waititi joint, after all), but it’s clear Waititi is a bit more interested in leaning into the drama which arises out of this particular set of narrative circumstances. In doing so, audiences are allowed to see the true heart of Waititi himself, a man who’s built his career around being a jokester with a heart of gold.