The Whale Rider


Critical response

The film received critical acclaim and Castle-Hughes's performance won rave reviews. Based on 144 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an overall approval rating from critics of 90%, with an average score of 7.7 as of June 2010.[9] By comparison, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 79, based on 31 reviews.[10] Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton of The Movie Show both gave the film four out of five stars. Pomeranz said "Niki Caro has directed this uplifting story with great sensitivity, eliciting affecting performances from a sterling cast, and a wonderful one from newcomer Keisha Castle- Hughes."[11] Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and said, "The genius of the movie is the way it sidesteps all of the obvious cliches of the underlying story and makes itself fresh, observant, tough and genuinely moving." He said of Castle-Hughes: "This is a movie star." [12] Ebert later went on to name it as one of the best ten films of 2003.[13] The Los Angeles Times‍ '​s Kenneth Turan praised Caro for her "willingness to let this story tell itself in its own time and the ability to create emotion that is intense without being cloying or dishonest."[14] Claudia Puig of USA Today gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars and praised Castle-Hughes' acting, saying "so effectively does she convey her pained confusion through subtle vocal cues, tentative stance and expressive dark eyes."[15]

Box office

Whale Rider grossed 6,400,000 in New Zealand and Germany.


The film won a number of international film-festival awards, including:

  • the Toronto International Film Festival's AGF Peoples Choice award in September 2002
  • the World Cinema Audience award at the January 2003 Sundance Film Festival in the United States
  • the Canal Plus Award at the January 2003 Rotterdam Film Festival.

At the age of 13, Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance, becoming the youngest actress ever nominated for the award at that time. She held the record until 2012 when Quvenzhané Wallis (at the age of 9) was nominated for that category for the film Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Academy Awards:

  • Best Actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes, lost to Charlize Theron for Monster)

Chicago Film Critics Association:

  • Best Actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes, lost to Charlize Theron for Monster)
  • Most Promising Filmmaker (Niki Caro, lost to Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini for American Splendor)
  • Most Promising Performer (Keisha Castle-Hughes, winner)

Image Awards:

  • Best Actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes, lost to Queen Latifah for Bringing Down the House)
  • Best Film (lost to The Fighting Temptations)

Independent Spirit Awards:

  • Best Foreign Film (winner)

New Zealand Film Awards:

  • Best Film
  • Best Director (Niki Caro)
  • Best Actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Cliff Curtis)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Vicky Haughton)
  • Best Juvenile Performer (Mana Taumanu)
  • Best Screenplay (Niki Caro)
  • Best Original Score (Lisa Gerrard)
  • Best Costume Design (Kirsty Cameron)

Satellite Awards

Screen Actors Guild:

  • Best Supporting Actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes, lost to Renée Zellweger for Cold Mountain)

Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association:

  • Best Actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes, lost to Naomi Watts for 21 Grams)

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