New Zealand Popular Culture

New Zealand has shared and continues to share some of our finest creative talent with the rest of the world. We’ve produced a number of icons, in music, art and performance, that have made their mark around the world.

Opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa performed at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, singer Bic Runga has given concerts around the world and actor Sam Neill has starred in some big Hollywood blockbusters such as Jurassic Park and popular television series Reilly: Ace of Spies. They are just some of the people who have made a name for themselves overseas and through that, have raised the profile of New Zealand.

Popular music

Several musicians have left New Zealand’s shores to find fame abroad. Bic Runga lived in Paris and London where she writes and performs. Her albums are available through the library.

Other bands that have made a name for themselves overseas are Cambridge rock band The Datsuns, Evermore, The Chills and Fat Freddy's Drop.

Although the Australians have tried to lay claim to Split Enz, the band members are all New Zealanders. The band’s musical excellence, originality and enthusiasm won them a cult following in New Zealand, Australia and the UK.

Classical music

In classical music, opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is one of our biggest stars. In 1981, she was seen and heard around the world by an estimated 600 million people when she sang at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. She has performed all around the world and has received numerous accolades over the years.

Christchurch singer Hayley Westenra has sold millions of copies of her albums worldwide.

Other Kiwi notables in classical music include Dame Malvina Major, Douglas Lilburn and Jack Body.


A remarkable number of New Zealand filmmakers have gained the world’s attention in recent years and the country is quickly becoming a popular place to film some of Hollywood’s biggest productions.

Directors like Peter Jackson, Jane Campion, Lee Tamahori and Roger Donaldson have produced several award-winning and critically-acclaimed movies.

Following the success of Once Were Warriors, Lee Tamahori moved to Hollywood where he added period thriller Mulholland Falls, wilderness film The Edge and 20th James Bond instalment Die Another Day to his resume. He has also directed numerous episodes of television shows, including an episode of The Sopranos during its second season.

New Zealand also produced well-known actors such as Sam Neill, Anna Paquin, Temuera Morrison, Keisha Castle Hughes, Martin Henderson and Lucy Lawless.

For more information on the history of New Zealand’s film industry, visit


New Zealand-born artist Len Lye is best known for his experimental films and kinetic sculpture. Although most of his sculptures returned to New Zealand after his death in 1980, some are held in collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Berkeley Art Museum. His films are held in archives of the New Zealand Film Archive, the British Film Institute, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and the Pacific Film Archive at the University of California, Berkeley.


One of New Zealand’s best-known comedians has been claimed by the Australians. John Clarke, aka Fred Dagg, moved across the Tasman in the 1970s and has worked on Australian television shows, wrote the screenplay for The Man Who Sued God, which starred Billy Connolly, and has written several books.

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Kiwi popular culture resources

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