Australia’s top 50 movies (50 to 41) - From Crocodile Dundee to Wolf Creek

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
5 Min Read
The Nightly counts down Australia’s top 50 movies.
The Nightly counts down Australia’s top 50 movies. Credit: The Nightly

For a small country with a small film industry, Australia has made some ripper films, including the world’s first ever feature length movie.

Whether it’s a laugh-out-loud comedy, a terrifying horror or a moving drama, Australian filmmakers have been entertaining audiences for more than a century.

Here is The Nightly’s list of the top 50 Australian films. We’ll reveal 10 each day, so be sure to come back throughout the week. You may even discover some new gems or an old favourite to add to your watchlist.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

50. CROCODILE DUNDEE (1986)

It may be iconic and one of the most commercially successful movies Australia has ever exported overseas but Peter Faiman’s Crocodile Dundee will forever be remembered for creating an archetype of Australians that is not rooted in any reality. Paul Hogan’s Crocodile, the man with a bigger knife than you, seems forever confounded and unaware of his rube status as he is taken to the US as a P.T. Barnum-type specimen. But this fish-out-of-water in New York can still conquer all with his akubra. More cultural artefact than actual comedy, Crocodile Dundee is still fascinating for the national cringe that it spawned – and the artistic movements to counter the stereotype it established.

Watch: Stan

Scene from Crocodile Dundee with Paul Hogan and Linda Kozlowski
That’s a knife! Credit: Unknown/Supplied

49. THE DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND (1976)

Fred Schepisi’s first feature was a semi-autobiographical story that drew on his childhood in a Catholic seminary. Consequently, The Devil’s Playground is teeming with small details, such as when 13-year-old Tom (Simon Burke) is chewed out for showering in the nude instead of with swimmers on. Apparently, the body is a person’s own worst enemy, a dangerous and harmful philosophy instilled in young boys whose sexual awakenings were repressed by an institution that traffics in shame. In addition to exploring the relationship between teens and an imposing faith, it also foregrounded the adults who rebel against the seminary’s dictate of self-hate.

Watch: Prime, Brollie

The Devil's Playground (1974)
A young Simon Burke in The Devil’s Playground. Credit: Supplied

48. PUBERTY BLUES (1981)

Adapted from Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey’s iconic novel, Puberty Blues remains one of the great stories of teenage yearning - not yearning for a crush but the desire to belong and to be popular. Capturing the surfer enclave of Sydney’s Sutherland Shire, Puberty Blues ingrained in the consciousness a vivid version of Australian culture through two outcast girls who aspired to be accepted by the cool kids. Sunnier than the frankness of Lette and Carey’s book, Bruce Beresford’s film nevertheless swims in the uncertainties, vulnerabilities and pressure-fueled choices of adolescence.

Watch: Netflix, Prime, iView, Brollie

Puberty Blues
Awkward adolescents in Puberty Blues. Credit: Supplied

47. THE STORY OF THE KELLY GANG (1906)

In the early days of the moving picture, films were short, only a few minutes long. That is, until The Story of the Kelly Gang. With a runtime of an hour, the Australian film has been recognised by UNESCO as the first feature length movie in the history of cinema. Directed by Charles Tait, it cost £1000 to make but grossed 25 times as much. Unfortunately, most of the film is forever lost but some reels – including the dynamic scenes of Ned Kelly’s last stand – were discovered in the 1970s. Seventeen minutes still exist today, restored by the National Film and Sound Archive.

Watch: YouTube

The Story of the Kelly Gang
The Story of the Kelly Gang is the world’s first feature film. Credit: National Film and Sound Archive

46. BLAZE (2022)

Del Kathryn Barton is one of Australia’s best known contemporary artists so it stands to reason that when she turned her eye to directing her first feature, that film, Blaze, will be visually arresting and imaginative. The title character is a young teenager (a stunning performance from Julia Savage) who becomes a witness to a rape. Unable to process her PTSD, she retreats into a fantastical world with an imaginary dragon. Barton creates a colourful, striking interior world, a manifestation of a wounded psyche in a story about healing.

Watch: Binge

Blaze
Blaze is centred on a young girl who witnesses a brutal crime. Credit: Supplied

45. THE SAPPHIRES (2012)

Fizzy with joy and rousing with gumption, Wayne Blair’s delightful underdog story is of four Yorta Yorta women who discover their power through song and performance. Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Miranda Tapsell play three sisters alongside Shari Sebbens’ cousin who become a musical group singing Motown songs for troops in Vietnam. Chris O’Dowd plays their Irish manager, a well-intentioned drunk with the hots for the oldest sister. It’s an exuberant, toe-tapping movie that shines with its big, earnest heart while also digging into the injustice of the Stolen Generation and the racial politics of the era.

Watch: Digital rental

09/09/2011 ARTS: Undated publicity pic of cast members (L-R)  Shari Sebbens, Jessica Mauboy, Deborah Mailman and Miranda Tapsell from the production 'The Sapphires'. Pic. Supplied
Charms aplenty in The Sapphires. Credit: Supplied/News Limited

44. PREDESTINATION (2014)

A high-concept sci-fi thriller, Predestination has more twists and revelations than any time-travelling movie could demand. Yet it pulls off a complex plot with finesse, while maintaining a suspenseful, moreish pace that has audiences wondering, “whoa, what next?”. Starring Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook and Noah Taylor and directed by brothers Michael and Peter Spiereg, Predestination is the story of a temporal agent trying to stop a bombing attack who comes across a mysterious stranger whose story is connected to his mission. It’s a slick puzzler with a satisfying pay-off that may trigger an identity crisis.

Watch: Digital rental

New Movies - Predestination cover shots.
Ethan Hawke
Ethan Hawke stars in the trippy and timey wimey Predestination. Credit: Unknown/Supplied by Subject

43. THE BIG STEAL (1990)

If you ever needed proof the US doesn’t have the monopoly on sweet teen capers, The Big Steal is that evidence. Nadia Tass’s teen comedy stars Ben Mendelsohn as Danny, a guy who’s sweet on Claudia Karvan’s Joanna. Danny is certain that the way to Joanna’s heart is a muscle car but when he’s scammed by a slimy car salesman (Steve Bisley), he and his friends concoct a plot to exact their revenge. Rammed with hijinks, jokes and sincere teen emotions, The Big Steal is a fun and smart movie that clips along with charm.

Watch: Prime, Brollie

The Big Steal
The Big Steal has similar vibes to John Hughes movies. Credit: Supplied

42. THE DAUGHTER (2015)

For his feature debut, director Simon Stone tackled familiar territory by taking The Wild Duck by Henrik Ibsen (which he had previously shepherded on stage) and loosely adapting it for the screen. With a killer cast including Sam Neill, Miranda Otto, Ewen Leslie and then-newcomer Odessa Young, the story starts with the return of a prodigal son whose homecoming becomes a catalyst for the family’s many secrets to be unearthed. With a beautiful naturalism, The Daughter’s tension is tightly paced until it ramps up to an emotionally wrenching climax which avoids melodrama.

Watch: Stan

Stand-out performance: Odessa Young stars in The Daughter
The Daughter is a loose adaptation of Henrik Ibsen play The Wild Duck. Credit: Supplied

41. WOLF CREEK (2005)

Most definitely not for the faint-hearted and a no-go for anyone planning a lonely drive through Australia’s outback anytime soon, Wolf Creek is renowned for its high-level gore and unhinged horror. Wolf Creek’s terror was heightened because the marketing highlighted that its origins lay in true stories that had captured the national imagination. But its real power comes from director Greg McLean’s willingness to present a boogeyman that was so intensely repulsive he made Freddy Kreuger seems like a snuggly, stripey Wiggle. At the heart of it is a fear that haunts most city dwellers – that you won’t survive out where no can hear you scream.

Watch: Paramount+, Stan

A scene from Wolf Creek.
Wolf Creek legitimised city folks’ fears of the outback. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

Comments

Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 15-04-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 15 April 202415 April 2024

Justice Lee finds Lehrmann ‘hell-bent on having sex’ with Higgins and ‘didn’t care if she knew what was going on’