Once Were Warriors

Once Were WarriorsStill of Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell in Once Were WarriorsStill of Rena Owen in Once Were WarriorsOnce Were WarriorsStill of Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen in Once Were WarriorsStill of Julian Arahanga in Once Were Warriors


A family descended from Maori warriors is bedeviled by a violent father and the societal problems of being treated as outcasts.

Release Year: 1994

Rating: 7.9/10 (16,452 voted)

Lee Tamahori

Stars: Rena Owen, Temuera Morrison, Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell

Set in urban Auckland (New Zealand) this movie tells the story of the Heke family. Jake Heke is a violent man who beats his wife frequently when drunk, and yet obviously loves both her and his family. The movie follows a period of several weeks in the family's life showing Jake's frequent outburst of violence and the effect that this has on his family. The youngest son is in trouble with the police and may be put into a foster home while the elder son is about to join a street gang. Jake's daughter has her own serious problems which are a key element in the plot.

Writers: Riwia Brown, Alan Duff


Rena Owen

Beth Heke

Temuera Morrison

Jake Heke

Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell

Grace Heke

Julian Arahanga

Nig Heke

Taungaroa Emile

Boogie Heke

Rachael Morris Jr.

Polly Heke

Joseph Kairau

Huata Heke

Cliff Curtis


Pete Smith


George Henare


Mere Boynton


Shannon Williams


Calvin Tuteao

Taka (Gang Leader)

Ray Bishop

King Hitter (in pub)

Ian Mune


A family in crisis, a life in chaos… Nothing is more powerful than a mother's love.


Official Website:
FineLine |

Release Date: 3 March 1995

Filming Locations: Auckland, New Zealand

Gross: $2,201,126

Technical Specs


Did You Know?


The building used for the interior and exterior courtroom shots is the main office and warehouse in New Zealand for Apple Computer's national distributor. Although the entrance has been remodeled and the reception area totally changed, the small wall tiles seen on the interior walls can still be found in what is now a cupboard under the (now-enclosed) staircase shown.


When Beth is being beaten by Jake at the start of the film she is thrown into a mirror which shatters completely. Later when the children are cleaning up the mess the mirror is back on the wall with only a few cracks.


Beth Heke?

Beth Heke:
What now?

He's been keeping bad company.

Beth Heke:
Was that before or after you picked him up?

User Review

Beautifully acted, powerfully moving

Rating: 10/10

I don't know where to start. When I'm asked of my favorite movie ever,
this is ALWAYS the first to come to mind. This is one of the finest
movies I've ever seen, and I've seen too many to count.

Once Were Warriors is, at its most stripped, about a woman named Beth
and her struggle to just do what's best for her family. She is of Maori
heritage, New Zealand's sort of Native Americans. Culture is a proud
and powerful aspect of the movie, as Beth's strengths lie in her
devotion to her family and her heritage. But that is little comfort, as
her daughter is struggling to accept adulthood, her youngest son is
heading towards juvenile detention, and her oldest son is fast on his
way to joining a brutal gang. Worst of all, her husband Jake is a heavy

The film excels at painting everybody in full 3 dimensions. Each of her
kids are troubled, but they all have fierce love and respect for their
mother. The gang is cruel to the oldest son, but at the same time
embraces him. The juvenile detention center separates the youngest son
from his only home, but instills in him a pride in his ancestry. And
Jake himself is a beast, a man built like a tank who will destroy you
with anything available should you spill his beer…but somehow he also
comes across as loving Beth. Sometimes.

The film follows Beth as she does her best to hold the family together
even while the various problems tear them apart. At the center is
Jake's drinking and further carelessness of his family's dissipation.
While Beth's answer is to nurture and aid her children, Jake insists
it's best to drink away the problems and quit being so "soft" on the
kids. And we watch, through it all, as the family spirals further
apart. Near the end, after seeing both happy and horrible things happen
to each of the characters, we are jarred by a terrible tragedy. Beth
and Jake both deal with it uniquely, as she draws once again on the
tremendous power of family and human spirit, while Jake deals with it
his own way. The last 15 minutes of the film keep us in suspense as we
wonder whether a certain horrible injustice will be confronted, and if
so, how. This scenario involves and encapsulates everyone in the
family, and who they are inside.

The last few moments of the movie made me want to jump to my feet and
applaud. I won't reveal what happens, but in the last 5 minutes, every
person shows so much inner strength that I glow with admiration for
their actions. Especially those of Beth and her oldest son, whose
interaction with Jake results in my favorite scene in the movie. But
don't think you know what's going to happen based on this description
-it's a complicated scenario. I felt satisfied with the conclusion on
all fronts, and thought that each character showed exactly where their
strength lies.

Be forewarned that this movie is very heartbreaking. Its overall tone
is one of futility, of better lives not received, of wanting the best
but never quite getting it. It is very raw and intense in its portrayal
of physical and domestic violence, and the easily upset may have a hard
time waiting to see if it ends happily enough for their tastes. But no
matter what your opinion is, it will definitely be a film that stays
with you for a long, long time. My highest recommendation.