Australia. The Land Down Under. If youre thinking of a big move, a stunning holiday destination, or just want to immerse yourself in some Aussie culture, Australian native Jo Vraca is here with her definitive list of Australian cinematic classics.
We’ve suffered from cultural cringe since it was invented. We also like to knock down every single tall poppy that grows on our red soil. In Melbourne we’ll wax lyrical about our cafe scene but we always complain about the weather. In Sydney we talk about how we are the greatest city int he country because of the harbour. In Queensland we just talk about perfect weather.
Yet there’s a bit more to us as a nation. So here’s a list of seven movies that are a must before coming to Australia. They’ll give you a glimpse into how we think, what our suburbs look like, and how we won’t put up with your shit.
7. Dogs in Space (1987)
Director: Richard Lowenstein
A very Melbourne story about a group of musicians, junkies and lovers, Dogs in Space proved that Michael Hutchence was a true star. The minimalist story follows the lives of a group who share a house in the inner city Melbourne suburb of Richmond (pre-gentrification) as they share music, parties and needles. There’s lots of live music in local pubs, dirty musicians, and everything to love about the early-80s rock, pub and punk scene. Sam (Michael Hutchence) and Anna (Saskia Post) were Australia’s fictional, nice-guy Sid & Nancy
6. Muriel’s Wedding (1994)
Director: P.J. Hogan
It’s the movie that made Toni Collette a household name, and gave us Aussies our, now, Favourite saying: “You’re terrible, Muriel”. I use it to this day. Set in the fictional Queensland Porpoise Spit (say it fast five times), Muriel’s Wedding tells the story of Muriel, hoping and praying for a dream wedding that will elevate her social standing. There’s a bit of Mean Girls about the relentless bullying of Muriel, but with a nod to Abba’s music, and lots of sparkle, it’s a little less mean.
Cast: Toni Collette (Spotswood, The Sixth Sense, Velvet Goldmine), Bill Hunter (Newsfront, Gallipoli, Strictly Ballroom), Rachel Griffiths (My Best Friend’s Wedding, Blow, Cosi, TV’s Six Feet Under)
5. The Castle (1997)
Director: Rob Sitch
When corporate greed meets the little Aussie Battler. We don’t like it when the multi-nationals fuck with our “salt of the earth” suburbanites. Set in a fictional Melbourne suburb, The Castle tells the story of the Kerrigan Family whose home, their Castle, is threatened by compulsory acquisition when the airport plans its expansion. Shenanigans ensue as the Kerrigan family digs in its heels to protect everything they hold dear.
With a budget of AU$750,000, The Castle grossed more than AU$10 millions dollars in Australia. The Castle is a national treasure.
Cast: Michael Caton (Monkey Grip, TV’s The Sullivans), Anne Tenney (TV’s A Country Practice, Brides of Christ), Sophie Lee (Muriel’s Wedding), Eric Bana (Chopper, Hulk, The Time Traveler’s Wife)
4. Lantana (2001)
Director: Ray Lawrence
Set in Sydney’s inner-city middle-class suburb of Balmain and The Rocks. Lantana features beloved Aussie actors including Geoffrey Rush (Quills, Shine, Shakespeare in Love), and Kerrie Armstrong (TV’s Prisoner, One Life to Live) and international star Barbara Hershey (The Last Temptation of Christ, Beaches, Hannah and Her Sisters). The opening scene has a Twin Peaks vibe, only a little more gruesome and no catch-phrases. You’ll see Anthony LaPaglia (Analyze That, Looking for Alibrandi, Empire Records) before Hollywood, our police in high-vis jackets, and three marriages at different phases of deterioration. It’s not what you expect, but it’s very Australian.
3. Mad Max (1979)
Director: George Miller
A bizarre post-apocalyptic fantasy set in the outback. If anything, it gives us a glimpse of what the outback really looks like. Filmed around Silverton (with a population of 50 as 2016, and with an excellent cafe and cemetery – you have to visit), around 26km from Broken Hill (in NSW near the South Australian border), Mad Max will leave you wondering if there are actually any cities in Australia, or water, or trees. Don’t be fooled by the big budget 3rd movie in the franchise, Beyond Thunderdome, or the latest, Fury Road. The original is a simple story about a young policeman and revenge. It’s as low-budget and low-fi as you can get. Mad Max stars a very young Mel Gibson ( and a string of (as yet) unknown Australian actors including NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Arts) mate Steve Bisley.
2. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Director: Peter Weir
Filmed around Hanging Rock, just west of Melbourne, and adapted from Joan Lindsay’s novel. Every Australian over 40 has read the book, and believed every.single.word was true. A group of teenage girls and their boarding school teachers visit Hanging Rock on Valentine’s Day 1900. Every Australian girl loved Miranda, or wanted to be Miranda. It was homo-eroticism before we knew what that meant. The film’s bucolic oversaturated colour feels like a painting come to life. To this day, we don’t know what happened to the girls and their teacher.
Cast: Helen Morse (TV’s Matlock Police and Division 4), Jacki Weaver (Cosi, Silver Lining Playbook), Anne Lambert (Somersault)
1. Gallipoli (1981)
Director: Peter Weir
Before 1917, there was Gallipoli. One of Mel Gibson’s earliest and greatest performances, Gallipoli tells the story of a group of young men from Western Australia, sent to Gallipoli during WWI. Portraying the camaraderie of the kids sent to die in what became a horrible massacre, Gallipoli is Australian new wave at its best, telling of the loss of innocence, mateship and the larrikin tradition seen across the Australian film landscapes.
Cast: Mel Gibson, Mark Lee (TV’s Vietnam and Home & Away), Bill Kerr (The Year of Living Dangerously, The Dam Busters)
The below great Aussie movies so nearly made the cut…
The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994) – Drag queens meet the outback. It’s like Max Max, but no guns and lots of sequins.
Romper Stomper (1992) – Love and war amongst the Neo-Nazi skinheads of Melbourne. Filmed in my neighbourhood (yay?), it’s early Russel Crowe, and it’s one of his best. Don’t freak out. We’re not full of skinheads and post-apocalyptic freaks.
Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) – Featuring a talented cast of unknown indigenous actors, Rabbit Proof Fence is a reminder of Australia’s appalling treatment of its first people.
Chopper (2000) – Eric Bana before The Hulk, this is the story of one of our most notorious criminals. We love our underworld figures, and Chopper Reid fits that mould as much as Ned Kelly does.
Looking for Alibrandi (2000) – A super sweet coming of age movie about a first generation Australian teenage girl and her migrant experience. This one speaks to my heart because it’s my experience, kind of.
Puberty Blues (1981) – The movie that highlighted the real injustice between the sexes. Boys surf while their girlfriends watch. This movie is responsible for so many Aussie girls spraying deodorant on their pubes.