Native American & Indigenous Film

by Sanguine_Marble | created - 01 Jul 2013 | updated - 01 Jul 2013 | Public

These are some of my favorite/important films featuring American Indian/Indigenous people/characters. I have an M.A. in Media Studies and did my thesis on American Indian women directors, so this subject is very interesting to me.

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1. Whale Rider (2002)

PG-13 | 101 min | Drama, Family

80 Metascore

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

Director: Niki Caro | Stars: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis

Votes: 37,093 | Gross: $20.78M

Love this film! So rare to feature an Indigenous girl's story at the forefront!

2. Skins (2002)

R | 84 min | Crime, Drama

57 Metascore

An inspirational tale about the relationship between two Sioux Indian brothers living on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation.

Director: Chris Eyre | Stars: Eric Schweig, Graham Greene, Gary Farmer, Noah Watts

Votes: 1,258 | Gross: $0.24M

Love this film by Chris Eyre, especially the last scene.

3. Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993)

119 min | Documentary

A film account about the military 1990 siege of a Native American reserve near Oka, Quebec, Canada and its causes.

Director: Alanis Obomsawin | Stars: Jack Burning, Herbie Barnes, Alanis Obomsawin, Ethel Blondin

Votes: 248

Love Alanis Obomsawin! You can find her full-length documentary films here:

4. Trudell (2005)

PG | 80 min | Documentary

48 Metascore

A chronicle of legendary Native American poet/activist John Trudell's travels, spoken word performances and politics.

Director: Heather Rae | Stars: Robert Redford, Kris Kristofferson, Sam Shepard, Amy Ray

Votes: 432 | Gross: $0.02M

Amazing and beautiful film by Heather Rae!

5. Smoke Signals (1998)

PG-13 | 89 min | Comedy, Drama

76 Metascore

Young Indian man Thomas is a nerd in his reservation, wearing oversize glasses and telling everyone stories no-one wants to hear. His parents died in a fire in 1976, and Thomas was saved by... See full summary »

Director: Chris Eyre | Stars: Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Irene Bedard, Gary Farmer

Votes: 8,961 | Gross: $6.72M

The most well-know Indian directed film (Chris Eyre). Great indie gem!

6. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001)

R | 172 min | Drama

91 Metascore

The telling of an Inuit legend of an evil spirit causing strife in the community and one warrior's endurance and battle of its menace.

Director: Zacharias Kunuk | Stars: Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq, Lucy Tulugarjuk

Votes: 5,965 | Gross: $3.79M

It was the first feature film ever to be written, directed and acted entirely in Inuktitut, and has been highly praised.

7. Four Sheets to the Wind (2007)

R | 81 min | Drama, Romance

After his father's untimely suicide, Cufe leaves his home in a Native American reservation in search of a more fulfilling life.

Director: Sterlin Harjo | Stars: Wes Allen, Jeri Arredondo, Laura Bailey, Nando Betancur

Votes: 515

Directed by one of my fav Indian directors Sterlin Harjo, featuring great performances by Cody Lightning and Tamara Podemski. A lovely low-budget film!

8. Barking Water (2009)

Not Rated | 85 min | Drama

Frankie is dying. Irene hasn't forgiven him. And they are racing against time to find their way home. Frankie needs help and Irene is the one he turns to. He must go home one last time. And... See full summary »

Director: Sterlin Harjo | Stars: Bebe Harjo, Gabriel Pelayo, Frederick Schroeder, Quese IMC

Votes: 155

Another lovely film by Sterlin Harjo! Side Note: This is writer Sherman Alexie's fav Native American film.

9. Thunderheart (1992)

R | 119 min | Crime, Mystery, Thriller

A young mixed-blood FBI agent is assigned to work with a cynical veteran investigator on a murder on a poverty-stricken Sioux reservation.

Director: Michael Apted | Stars: Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, Graham Greene, Fred Ward

Votes: 12,684 | Gross: $22.66M

While it has a white male lead, it features great performances from Graham Greene & Sheila Tousey and touches on some real issues (Sheila's character is based on the amazing Anna Mae Pictou Aquash).

10. Incident at Oglala (1992)

PG | 89 min | Documentary, History

This film describes the events surrounding a 1975 shootout at the Pine Ridge reservation in S. Dakota where two FBI agents were killed.

Director: Michael Apted | Stars: Robert Redford, Norman Zigrossi, Robert Sikma, Darelle 'Dino' Butler

Votes: 970 | Gross: $0.54M

Side note: Leonard Peltier is still in prison, even though the F.B.I. evidence that put him there is sketchy. This film & Thunderheart would be good screened together.

11. Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)

PG | 94 min | Adventure, Biography, Drama

80 Metascore

In 1931, three aboriginal girls escape after being plucked from their homes to be trained as domestic staff and set off on a journey across the Outback.

Director: Phillip Noyce | Stars: Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, Kenneth Branagh, Laura Monaghan

Votes: 25,572 | Gross: $6.17M

Great film that focuses on the history of aboriginal children in New Zealand (happened in the U.S. and Canada too) being forced into Boarding schools.

12. Ten Canoes (2006)

Unrated | 90 min | Adventure, Comedy, Drama

82 Metascore

A story within a story. In Australia's Northern Territory, a man tells us one of the stories of his people and his land. It's a story of an older man, Minygululu, who has three wives and ... See full summary »

Directors: Rolf de Heer, Peter Djigirr | Stars: Crusoe Kurddal, Jamie Gulpilil, Richard Birrinbirrin, Peter Minygululu

Votes: 4,108 | Gross: $0.28M

Love Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil (Crocodile Dundee, Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Tracker).

13. Frozen River (2008)

R | 97 min | Crime, Drama

82 Metascore

Takes place in the days before Christmas near a little-known border crossing on the Mohawk reservation between New York State and Quebec. Here, the lure of fast money from smuggling ... See full summary »

Director: Courtney Hunt | Stars: Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Charlie McDermott, Michael O'Keefe

Votes: 23,250 | Gross: $2.51M

Great performances. Native actress Misty Upham has a great supporting role in this.

14. Miss Navajo (2007)

Not Rated | 60 min | Documentary

The role of women and tradition in Dine (Navajo) culture is explored through a young woman's quest for the Miss Navajo Nation crown.

Director: Billy Luther | Stars: Radmilla Cody, Marilyn Help Hood, Ida Gail Organick

Votes: 61

Great Documentary! Check it out on Netflix!

15. Clearcut (1991)

R | 100 min | Drama, Thriller, Western

He's not a "militant"... he's manito. Spirit Being.

Director: Ryszard Bugajski | Stars: Graham Greene, Ron Lea, Michael Hogan, Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman

Votes: 503

I haven't seen this one yet, but I'm sure Graham Greene is amazing.

16. Our Spirits Don't Speak English: Indian Boarding School (2008 Video)

80 min | Documentary, Family

From Rich-Heape Films, the award winning producers of Trail of Tears Cherokee Legacy and Black Indians An American Story and told from the Native American perspective, this documentary ... See full summary »

Directors: Chip Richie, Dan Agent, Gayle Ross, Karl Tipre | Stars: Gayle Ross, August Schellenberg

Votes: 26

Harrowing story of how the U.S. government forced Native children into boarding schools.

17. Apache 8 (2011)


APACHE 8 tells the story of an all-women wildland firefighter crew from the White Mountain Apache Tribe, who have been fighting fires in Arizona and throughout the U.S., for over 30 years. ... See full summary »

Director: Sande Zeig

Votes: 16

Love this documentary directed by Sande Zeig and produced by Heather Rae.

18. Geronimo: An American Legend (1993)

PG-13 | 115 min | Drama, History, Western

The story of the Apache chief and his armed resistance to the U.S. Government's subjugation of his people.

Director: Walter Hill | Stars: Jason Patric, Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, Wes Studi

Votes: 7,707 | Gross: $18.64M

While I love Wes Studi in anything, the movie lacks mention of the female warrior Lozen whose skill helped them tremendously! Definitely look her up, she was pretty awesome.

19. The Only Good Indian (2009)

114 min | Western

Set in Kansas during the early 1900s, a teen-aged Native American boy (newcomer Winter Fox Frank) is taken from his family and forced to attend a distant Indian "training" school to ... See full summary »

Director: Kevin Willmott | Stars: Wes Studi, J. Kenneth Campbell, Winter Fox Frank, Paul Butler

Votes: 285

Another great performance from Wes Studi, and a depiction of Indian boarding schools.

20. Older Than America (2008)

102 min | Drama

A woman's haunting visions reveal a Catholic priest's sinister plot to silence her mother from speaking the truth about the atrocities that took place at her Native American boarding school... See full summary »

Director: Georgina Lightning | Stars: Adam Beach, Tantoo Cardinal, Bradley Cooper, Glen Gould

Votes: 795

Georgina Lightning directs this haunting film.

21. The Business of Fancydancing (2002)

103 min | Drama, Music

49 Metascore

Seymour Polatkin is a successful, gay Native American poet from Spokane who confronts his past when he returns to his childhood home on the reservation to attend the funeral of a dear ... See full summary »

Director: Sherman Alexie | Stars: Evan Adams, Michelle St. John, Gene Tagaban, Swil Kanim

Votes: 479 | Gross: $0.17M

One of the few fiction films exploring Two-Spirit identity.

22. Two Spirits (2009)

R | 65 min | Documentary

Filmmaker Lydia Nibley explores the cultural context behind a tragic and senseless murder. Fred Martinez was a Navajo youth slain at the age of 16 by a man who bragged to his friends that ... See full summary »

Director: Lydia Nibley

Votes: 78

Also known as Two Spirits: Sexuality, Gender, and the Murder of Fred Martinez

23. Naturally Native (1998)

PG-13 | 107 min | Drama

Three Native American sisters (Red-Horse, Bedard, Guerrero) decide to try to sell a line of cosmetics they call Naturally Native, based on old tribal remedies, only to have to fight an ... See full summary »

Directors: Jennifer Wynne Farmer, Valerie Red-Horse | Stars: Valerie Red-Horse, Yvonne Russo, Irene Bedard, Kimberly Guerrero

Votes: 107 | Gross: $0.01M

One of the few fiction films featuring female Native American leads.

24. Edge of America (2003 TV Movie)

105 min | Drama

Based on a true story, a black educator takes a job teaching high-school English at the Three Nations Reservation, and is coaxed into coaching the girls basketball team.

Director: Chris Eyre | Stars: James McDaniel, Irene Bedard, Delanna Studi, Misty Upham

Votes: 324

Another great one by Chris Eyre.

25. The Doe Boy (2001)

85 min | Drama, Romance

A Cherokee boy is a haemophiliac in a culture obsessed with blood identity.

Director: Randy Redroad | Stars: James Duval, Kevin Anderson, Andrew J. Ferchland, Jeri Arredondo

Votes: 251

Intriguing film by Randy Redroad.

26. The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (2006)

112 min | Drama

A portrayal of the lives of the last great Inuit shaman, Avva, and his beautiful and headstrong daughter, Apak. Based on the journals of 1920s Danish ethnographer Knud Rasmussen.

Directors: Norman Cohn, Zacharias Kunuk | Stars: Pakak Innuksuk, Leah Angutimarik, Neeve Irngaut, Natar Ungalaaq

Votes: 322

Also by the crew that did Atanarjuat:The Fast Runner

27. The Last Wave (1977)

PG | 106 min | Drama, Fantasy, Mystery

85 Metascore

A Sydney lawyer defends five Aborigines in a ritualized taboo murder and in the process learns disturbing things about himself and premonitions.

Director: Peter Weir | Stars: Richard Chamberlain, Olivia Hamnett, David Gulpilil, Frederick Parslow

Votes: 7,548

28. Windtalkers (2002)

R | 134 min | Action, Drama, War

51 Metascore

Two U.S. Marines in World War II are assigned to protect Navajo Marines, who use their native language as an unbreakable radio cypher.

Director: John Woo | Stars: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Peter Stormare, Noah Emmerich

Votes: 61,288 | Gross: $40.91M

A lot of people attribute the U.S.'s success in WWI & WWII to Choctaw and Navajo code talkers.

29. Choctaw Code Talkers (2010)

56 min | Documentary

In 1918, not yet citizens of the U.S., Choctaw members of the American Expeditionary Forces were asked to use their Native language as a powerful tool against the German Forces in World War... See full summary »

Director: Valerie Red-Horse | Stars: Israel Richard Adams, Mary Ashby Anderson, Calvin Billy, William Billy

Votes: 5

Great film by Native director Valerie Red-Horse.

30. Spirit Rider (1993 TV Movie)

Not Rated | 95 min | Drama, Family

Jesse Threebears is a troubled Native-American teen who has been tossed from one foster home to the next since his mother died when he was an infant. Finally, he is taken in by his ... See full summary »

Director: Michael J.F. Scott | Stars: Herbie Barnes, Michelle St. John, Tom Jackson, Gordon Tootoosis

Votes: 94

31. DreamKeeper (2003 TV Movie)

174 min | Drama, Fantasy

In South Dakota, in an Indian reservation, an old storyteller Indian asks his grandson Shane, who is in trouble owing money to some bad guys, to take his old pony and him to Albuquerque to ... See full summary »

Director: Steve Barron | Stars: August Schellenberg, Eddie Spears, Gary Farmer, John Trudell

Votes: 1,320

I have yet to see this, but I've heard lots of raves about it.

32. Blackstone (2009–2015)

44 min | Action, Drama

Political drama situated in a First Nations community in Canada.

Stars: Carmen Moore, Eric Schweig, Michelle Thrush, Steven Cree Molison

Votes: 291

Canadian show with great performances by a ton of Native actresses/actors.

33. Christmas in the Clouds (2001)

PG | 96 min | Comedy, Family, Romance

56 Metascore

A classic comedy of mistaken identity and romance set during the holiday season at a ski resort that is owned and operated by a Native American Nation. Shot on location at The Sundance ... See full summary »

Director: Kate Montgomery | Stars: Timothy Vahle, Sam Vlahos, Mariana Tosca, M. Emmet Walsh

Votes: 617

34. Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee (1994 TV Movie)

100 min | Drama

Mary Crow Dog, daughter of a desperately poor Indian family in South Dakota, is swept up in the protests of the 1960s and becomes sensitized to the injustices that society inflicts on her ... See full summary »

Director: Frank Pierson | Stars: Charles Abourezk, Dave Bald Eagle, Lawrence Bayne, Edgar Bear Runner

Votes: 256

Hard to find film, featuring an excellent performance by Irene Bedard (voice of Disney's Pocahontas).

35. Turquoise Rose (2007)

Not Rated | 94 min | Drama

"Turquoise Rose" is a coming of age story about a Navajo girl from Arizona. Raised in the suburbs of Phoenix, "T" attends college and is interning as a photojournalist at the local paper. ... See full summary »

Director: Travis Holt Hamilton | Stars: Deshava Apachee, Donavon G. Barney, Ethel Begay, Kathleen Benner

Votes: 39

36. Rez Bomb (2008)

95 min | Romance, Thriller

Set on and around the poorest place in the USA, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Rez Bomb is a love story/thriller about a Lakota girl and a white guy who are very much in love but get ... See full summary »

Director: Steven Lewis Simpson | Stars: Amara Zaragoza, Trent Ford, Chris Robinson, Russell Means

Votes: 69

37. Coyote Waits (2003 TV Movie)

107 min | Mystery

Two tribal cops uncover a plot involving a lost fortune, an historical artifact and a mythical Coyote on a Navajo reservation.

Director: Jan Egleson | Stars: Adam Beach, Candice Costello, Jimmy Herman, Gary Kanin

Votes: 557

Park of PBS pictures detective series featuring Native-themed stories starring Wes Studi & Adam Beach

38. Powwow Highway (1989)

R | 88 min | Drama

Depicts the struggles of reservation-dwelling Native Americans in the North Central United States. The main character is an introspective and lovable person in a process of seeking pride ... See full summary »

Director: Jonathan Wacks | Stars: Gary Farmer, A Martinez, Joanelle Romero, Amanda Wyss

Votes: 1,426 | Gross: $0.28M

Gary Farmer is always entertaining.

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