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Whale Rider (2002)

PG-13 | | Drama, Family | 29 August 2003 (USA)
2:24 | Trailer

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A contemporary story of love, rejection and triumph as a young Maori girl fights to fulfill a destiny her grandfather refuses to recognize.



, (book)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 32 wins & 32 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Vicky Haughton ...
Nanny Flowers
Uncle Rawiri
Mana Taumaunu ...
Taungaroa Emile ...
Tammy Davis ...
Mabel Wharekawa ...
Maka (as Mabel Wharekawa-Burt)
Rawinia Clarke ...
Tahei Simpson ...
Miss Parata
Roi Taimana ...
Hemi's Dad (as Roimata Taimana)
Elizabeth Skeen ...
Tyronne White ...
Jake (as Tyrone White)


On the east coast of New Zealand, the Whangara people believe their presence there dates back a thousand years or more to a single ancestor, Paikea, who escaped death when his canoe capsized by riding to shore on the back of a whale. From then on, Whangara chiefs, always the first-born, always male, have been considered Paikea's direct descendants. Pai, an 11-year-old girl in a patriarchal New Zealand tribe, believes she is destined to be the new chief. But her grandfather Koro is bound by tradition to pick a male leader. Pai loves Koro more than anyone in the world, but she must fight him and a thousand years of tradition to fulfill her destiny. Written by berkeley

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


In the ways of the Ancients, she found a hope for the future See more »


Drama | Family

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for brief language and a momentary drug reference | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:







Release Date:

29 August 2003 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Domadora de Baleias  »

Box Office


NZD 6,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$198,471 (Australia) (2 May 2003)


$20,772,796 (USA) (21 November 2003)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Niki Caro cut a scene showing Keisha Castle-Hughes vomiting because she didn't think Keisha's vomiting was convincing enough. See more »


When the girl has been crying and the grandfather is comforting her, he wipes the tears from her face. In some shots, you can see where he wiped the tear. In other shots, a tear that has tricked down to her chin. In some other shots, she has a tear that hasn't traveled so far. See more »


[first lines]
Paikea: In the old days, the land felt a great emptiness. It was waiting. Waiting to be filled up. Waiting for someone to love it. Waiting for a leader.
[child birth scene]
Paikea: And he came on the back of a whale. A man to lead a new people. Our ancestor, Paikea. But now we were waiting for the firstborn of the new generation, for the descendant of the whale rider. For the boy who would be chief.
Paikea: There was no gladness when I was born. My twin brother died, and took our mother with him.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Dedicated to those who have gone before See more »


Referenced in Death Valley: Assault on Precinct UTF (2011) See more »


Kaikoura Dub
(Michael Hodgson (as M. Hodgson) / Paddy Free (as P. Free))
Performed by Pitch Black
Courtesy of Pitch Black
See more »

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User Reviews

A feel-good movie that doesn't suck (***1/2)
19 October 2003 | by (Sacramento) – See all my reviews

"Whale Rider" can accurately be called an art film, but it's also one that will appeal to mainstream audiences. That's because it has a strong story that deals with universal themes like family, tradition, childhood and rebellion. The story is unique and unpredictable but also comfortingly familiar.

The main character is a young girl named Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) who is the grand-daughter of the chief of a Maori tribe in New Zealand. Her twin brother, who was to be the future chief, died along with the mother in childbirth. Grief-stricken, her father (Cliff Curtis) fled, leaving Pai as the only family descendant, but of course she can't be chief because she's a girl. That doesn't stop her from trying, though.

Her grandfather (Rawiri Paratene), a stern, traditionalist chief, loves Pai dearly, but refuses to mess with tradition by even attempting to train her to be the chief of the tribe, even though she truly believes she is meant to be chief. He begins to train first-born male sons of other tribesmen, but Pai eavesdrops, soaking up all the knowledge she can.

The first 2/3 of the movie is excellently done but fairly familiar. Pai is a terrific and instantly sympathetic character and we feel for her in her struggle to assert herself in the face of a sexist tradition without losing the love of her stern grandfather. Then, in the last third, when the whales actually come into play, the story enters territory that is thrillingly unpredictable and incredibly powerful.

The ending, in particular, has quite an emotional punch.

It also bears mentioning that Keisha Castle-Hughes is one of the best child actors I've seen in years; she will get some tears from you, guaranteed.

This is a great movie for kids, but it's not a "kid's movie". It's moving, beautifully filmed, and inspirational without being the slightest bit cheesy. It's worth seeking out even if you don't follow the art-house circuit.

27 of 31 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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