In a great sign of confidence for its upcoming summer release here in the U.S., Taika Waititi’s comedy-adventure “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” has broken box office records over its opening weekend in New Zealand. According to a report from the New Zealand Herald, “Wilderpeople” set a new opening weekend record with $1.3 million, robustly beating the second weekend of blockbuster “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which earned $741,000. More than half a million of the movie’s opening weekend gross was made on Saturday – now the highest grossing day for a New Zealand film ever – and the newspaper estimates that 100,000 people have seen the movie in its first four days in cinemas.
The box office record is a huge boon for writer-director Taika Waititi, one of the country’s most prolific filmmakers who is about to embark on his first-ever blockbuster, Marvel’s “Thor: Ragnarok.” Waititi premiered the film at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in January to favorable reviews, and U.S. distributor The Orchard moved quickly in picking up domestic rights for just under $2 million. Waititi is an established filmmaker in his home country – his 2010 coming-of-age comedy “Boy” is still the highest grossing local film of all time in New Zealand with a gross of more than $9 million – but even though many American filmgoers may not know his name, “Wilderpeople’s” record-breaking opening indicates great word-of-mouth, and it seems The Orchard surely has a soon-to-be summer hit on its hands here in the states.
Based on a tale by the New Zealand novelist Barry Crump, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” stars newcomer Julian Dennison as a “very bad egg” named Ricky. The story follows the defiant young child’s adventure with his grumpy foster uncle (played by Sam Neill) in the wild New Zealand bush. A national manhunt ensues to find them, and the two are forced to put aside their differences and work together in order to survive.
With $1.3 million and counting, “Wilderpeople” will most likely eclipse “Boy” in the New Zealand record books by the end of its run. The movie will next screen at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City this month, and The Orchard will release the hit sometime this summer.