56 year-old New Zealand director Peter Jackson is among our most celebrated directors, and has been almost since his debut in 1987. He’s primarily known for helping bring the fantastical world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to life, having made a whopping six films set in Middle-Earth.
The Rings trilogy is one of the most acclaimed series in film history, and The Hobbit prequel trilogy was a major box office success. Other films from Jackson, however, are just as stellar and exhilarating as the Tolkien adaptations. These are often overshadowed by the Tolkien films, but do not deserve to be forgotten.
Let’s take a look back at some of the best films from Peter Jackson that aren’t set in Tolkien’s fictional lands.
Meet the Feebles
- Release: 1989
- Stars: Mark Hadlow, Peter Vere-Jones, Donna Akertson, Stuart Devenie
Peter Jackson followed one cult hit with another. His debut, Bad Taste, got serious fan attention, and he followed it with a bizarre musical black comedy, Meet the Feebles. Like the anti-matter to Jim Henson’s acclaimed Muppets series, the film follows a group of animal-like puppets who represent all of the darkness, sleaze and negativity of the real world. No surprise: it wasn’t a commercial hit. But Meet the Feebles made even more people pay attention to Jackson, and solidified him as a filmmaker to watch.
- Release: 1992
- Stars: Timothy Balme, Diana Penalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin
It’s one of the goriest fright films of all time, and also one of the funniest. Called Braindead at home in New Zealand, and Dead Alive in the US, this might be Jackson’s greatest film prior to the Middle Earth franchise. The story follows a man whose blossoming first relationship is nearly thwarted by a very over-protective mother. Things get very messy when she’s bitten by a Sumatran Rat Monkey, dies, returns as a zombie, and then manages to create hundreds of other undead to threaten her son and his girlfriend. Dead Alive is a horror classic, with its kinetic direction, gleeful gore and wildly comic script.
- Release: 1994
- Stars: Kate Winslet, Melanie Lynskey, Sarah Peirse, Diana Kent
Before one was the rebellious Rose in Titanic and the other was the slightly deranged Rose in Two and a Half Men, Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey made their film debuts in this 1994 psychological drama. Based on the notorious 1954 Parker-Hulme murder case in New Zealand, in which a relationship between two teen girls led to murder, the film opened to critical acclaim thanks to the performances from Winslet and Lynskey. Peter Jackson’s direction was sensitive with the characters and stylish in fantastic flourishes that brought the girls’ fantasy world to life. Heavenly Creatures was Jackson’s breakout from cult horror into the mainstream.
- Release: 1996
- Stars: Michael J. Fox, Jeffrey Combs, Trini Alvarado, Jake Busey
After finding critical acclaim with Heavenly Creatures, Jackson returned to his horror comedy roots with this story of con men, ghosts, and serial killers – but now he worked on a much bigger scale. The Frighteners follows a former architect who can communicate with ghosts. He works with real spirits to con people into paying for fake spiritual cleansing… until his crew runs into a real evil spirit. Universal didn’t put much muscle behind The Frighteners, leaving it to linger as a cult film. But you don’t even have to watch this one closely to Jackson’s WETA developing the digital chops to make The Fellowship of the Ring, which came immediately after.
- Release: 2005
- Stars: Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, Jack Black, Thomas Kretschmann
After The Lord of the Rings trilogy made Jackson one of the biggest directors in the world, he remade one of the biggest monster movies in the world. Set around a film crew’s expedition to an uncharted island, where they find a 25-foot-tall gorilla, King Kong received rave reviews for its sense of wonder and special effects. The movie won three Oscars, including one for Best Visual Effects.
The Adventures of Tintin
- Release: 2011
- Stars: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost
In an unlikely partnership, Jackson worked with Steven Spielberg to turn a long-running comic book series into a mo-cap adventure. The Adventures of Tintin is directed by Spielberg, but with Jackson overseeing much of the post-production the movie bears his signature as well. Following a young reporter embarking on a treasure hunt with his best friend Captain Haddock, the film earned praise for its animation and thrilling adventure.
Peter Jackson’s upcoming film Mortal Engines hits theatres December 14, 2018!