Australia Day: 5 classic movies from Down Under

We're celebrating Australia Day here on the Cineworld blog with a round-up of feel-good films from the far side of the world. On this day in 1788, English Royal Navy officer Arthur Philip raised the British flag in Sydney Harbour, and from there, essentially giving birth to the country we now know.

Of course, we're not here to give you a history lesson. Rather, we want to celebrate some of the finest Aussie movies, a diverse mixture of thoughtful dramas, hilarious comedies and sweeping cross-country epics. Scroll down to discover our choices.


1. Walkabout (1971)

Director Nic Roeg's elliptical and atmospheric Outback drama Walkabout is the story of two children, left stranded after their father kills himself. A breakout Jenny Agutter is the older, unnamed girl who must care for her younger brother (played by Roeg's son Luc) as they traverse the arid wilderness. But a life-changing odyssey ensues when they come across an Aboriginal adolescent (David Gulpilil) who is undertaking his rites-of-passage ceremony known as a 'walkabout'.

Roeg's impressionistic editing, slicing time in all manner of directions, creates a hazy and intriguing blur, almost approximating the feel of a distant memory. The deeply moving ending reinforces the message with an older Agutter reminiscing on those life-changing days, to the stirring words of poet Houseman's 'A Shropshire Lad'. In combination with John Barry's haunting score, the movie casts a lingering spell.

2. Crocodile Dundee (1986)

Few movies are as closely associated with Oz as this classic romantic comedy. Paul Hogan writes and stars as the affable Mick Dundee, a bushman with a penchant for tackling wildlife, who is brought to New York as part of a cynical profile piece. Of course, along the way, the journalist profiling him (played by Hogan's eventual wife Linda Kozlowski) experiences a crisis of conscience and falls head of heels for Mick's brusque charms.

The fish out of water set-up isn't exactly original, but Crocodile Dundee consistently mines a rich seam of affection and big laughs. The whole "that's not a knife" scene is one of the most-quoted in film history, but perhaps even funnier is the scene where the displaced Mick finally discovers what a bidet is used for. And that subway-based finale is pure, heartwarming escapism, shot through with a genuine love for the film's characters.

3. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

Ever wanted to see Guy Pearce in drag? Some years before L.A. Confidential and Memento, the actor broke out the feather boa to play the irresistibly brash drag artiste Adam Whitely aka Felicia Jollygoodfellow in this Aussie box office hit.

Pearce is just one side of a triangular friendship in this loveably camp comedy-drama, the others filled in by transgender woman Bernadette (Terence Stamp) and drag queen Mitzi del Bra (Hugo Weaving). All three actors share terrific chemistry as their characters head off in the titular Priscilla, a motor home that will transport them to a remote resort in Alice Springs.

Emotional recriminations and big laughs are the order of the day as the gaudy costumes are off-set against the harsh landscape by director Stephan Elliot. And for all the film's humour, the climax is genuinely moving, a sign of the emotional sincerity that's been coursing beneath the frocks and suspenders.

4. Babe (1995)

Mad Max filmmaker George Miller ditched the post-apocalyptic craziness to adapt Dick King Smith's classic children's story about a talking pig. Although nominally set in the south of England, Babe was actually shot in the lush pastures of New South Wales, but really it attains a timeless, non-specific feel common to all the greatest family movies.

James Cromwell is superb in an Oscar-nominated role as Farmer Hoggett, the taciturn country worker who develops an affection for the titular Babe. The adorable oinker becomes convinced that he is, in fact, a sheepdog, the magic secured by excellent visual effects from Jim Henson's Creature Shop. A big success at the box office and the Oscars (where it won for its effects), Babe has only increased in stature in the years since.

5. Australia (2008)

Two of the biggest stars from Down Under, Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, collide in this lavishly mounted melodrama from Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) The filmmaker isn't one for courting subtlety, and indeed everything in this country-spanning adventure is cranked up to the nines, from the broadness of the performances to the over-saturated visuals. And why settle for a bog-standard cattle-driving sequence when CGI can make it look like something from Lord of the Rings?

Centrally, the movie is focused on the chalk and cheese relationship between Jackman's gruff Drover and Kidman's prissy, uptight Lady Sarah Ashley. Their burgeoning romance plays out against the backdrop of World War II, all lusciously captured by cinematographer Mandy Walker. It remains one of Australia's highest-grossing movies and it was nominated for Best Costume Design at the Academy Awards. Fair dinkum.


What's your favourite Australian movie? Let us know @Cineworld.