Generally favorable reviews - based on 31 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 28 out of 31
  2. Negative: 0 out of 31
Watch On
  1. 100
    The genius of the movie is the way is sidesteps all of the obvious cliches of the underlying story and makes itself fresh, observant, tough and genuinely moving.
  2. 75
    Story itself is richly rewarding and uplifting -– the coming-of-age tale of a girl who must defy the odds to achieve her goals. There's plenty of humor to keep the overall tone light.
  3. 88
    A film of female empowerment that resonates deeply.
  4. 75
    An excellent way to teach children that movies don't begin and end with Hollywood blockbusters.
  5. By the end, a sense settles in that Whale Rider could have accomplished as much -- and been considerably more powerful -- as a 25- minute short.
  6. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    Like last year's Inuit sensation ''The Fast Runner,'' the Maori drama Whale Rider is based on a folk myth, and it's told with an elemental timelessness that feels like a swan dive into prehistory.
  7. Seduces us with its leisurely pace and felicitous details into believing that something miraculous is afoot in a mundane rural community.
  8. An inviting international audience-pleaser.
  9. A substantial film of unexpected emotional force. And when at a certain point it seems to slip the bonds of this world and take a leap of faith into an almost mythological dimension, it breathlessly takes us along for that memorable ride.
  10. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Caro gives the fablesque story -- based on a 1,000-year-old Maori legend -- both a contemporary and timeless quality, anchored by newcomer Castle-Hughes' powerful and haunting performance.
  11. Reviewed by: Ken Fox
    what makes Caro's film a future classic is What so many movies geared toward younger audiences lack: a cool and very courageous 'tween heroine whom boys and girls of all ages can admire
  12. 89
    Castle-Hughes and Paratene are nothing short of remarkable in their roles.
  13. Evokes its spirituality with deft strokes and wonderful humor.
  14. You can say nothing of Castle-Hughes except that she's already a movie star: The camera loves her and we do, too.
  15. 100
    One of the best performances -- and movies -- of the year so far.
  16. The Canadian film "Atanarjuat" travelled back to the past to meet an ancient legend on its own ground and treated the tale realistically. Whale Rider whisks its legend up into the present, and then adds a touch of lyricism.
  17. The rhythms of Whale Rider are hypnotic as the ebb tide, haunting as the song of the humpback sea mammal, bracing as the ocean spray. It's a movie that rewards the patient viewer.
  18. 70
    Though there's a formula at the film's core, Whale Rider still has the good taste to make that formula go down easy.
  19. 50
    Whale Rider is one long, sensitive downer capped by an uplifting finale. A martyr fantasy that turns victorious -- it's a surefire recipe for arthouse crowd-pleasing.
  20. Pai is resourceful and in harmony with the natural world in a way that will charm and enthrall young viewers.
  21. Like the film, Pai's character is muddily conceived and ill-focused, but the coltish, tremulously delicate Castle-Hughes is a hypnotic camera subject.
  22. Reviewed by: Dennis Harvey
    Combines straightforward coming-of-age narrative with Maori mysticism to most engaging effect.
  23. 75
    There is magic here, enough to make Whale Rider worthy of the audience-choice awards it has earned at film festivals worldwide.
  24. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    While Whale Rider is a doozy of a female-empowerment fantasy, it’s mercifully free of any feminist smugness.
  25. 80
    Writer-director Niki Caro, who adapted the screenplay from the novel, has crafted a script replete with both crowd-pleasing touches and subtle but powerful insights into all the characters.
  26. The film boasts a terrific newcomer in the lead role, exquisite widescreen photography and a powerful sense of place.
  27. Once in a while a film comes along that is as sound, smart, sweet and significant as can be, and Whale Rider is such a film.
  28. The real find in this lovely family film is Castle-Hughes, who makes Pai's confusion, emotional fragility and devotion palpable.
  29. 88
    One may gripe that the tale at times seems familiar, yet that familiarity is also part of the movie's power: Here's a story from halfway around the world that somehow connects with the hearts of viewers of almost any culture.
  30. 90
    Utterly fresh and beguiling.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 182 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 73 out of 98
  2. Negative: 22 out of 98
  1. LucyS.
    Sep 19, 2005
    Very dull and over dramatic.
  2. Mar 27, 2014
    This movie is a bubbling cauldron of whale urine. The acting is putrid, the story nauseating, and the cinematography mundane, unless you likeThis movie is a bubbling cauldron of whale urine. The acting is putrid, the story nauseating, and the cinematography mundane, unless you like lots of underwater shots of people slowly drifting around with voiceovers playing in the background. In fact, I made an account specifically so I could come and issue the warning that Roger Ebert and his fellow critics wouldn't. STAY AWAY! Full Review »
  3. Nov 10, 2013
    "Whale Rider" has an emotional and powerful story. The acting of young Keisha Castle-Hughes was great, in fact, the acting of the entire cast"Whale Rider" has an emotional and powerful story. The acting of young Keisha Castle-Hughes was great, in fact, the acting of the entire cast was fantastic. The only problem with this film is that, because the film doesn't give you much background of New Zealand cultures, and if you don't know much about it, you will be slightly puzzled in some places. Full Review »