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Cate Blanchett | © Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Cate Blanchett | © Gage Skidmore/Flickr

10 Australian Cinema Legends You Should Know

Picture of Tom Smith
Updated: 26 September 2017

The production line of Aussie actors dominating Hollywood at the moment didn’t spring up overnight. These are the legends of the local film industry that helped put Australian film-making on the map in the first place.

Cate Blanchett

The First Lady of Australian Cinema boasts more than 50 film credits to her name, as well as a mantle piece that’s overflowing with awards, including Oscars for The Aviator (2004) and Blue Jasmine (2013) and Golden Globes for Elizabeth (1998) and I’m Not There (2007). That’s not a bad CV for an actress whose career began with a commercial for beloved Aussie biscuit Tim Tams in the early ’90s.

Hugo Weaving

When you scroll through the Nigerian-born actor’s filmography, you realise Weaving is possibly the most versatile – and underrated – performer in Australian cinematic history. Who else could play Agent Smith in The Matrix (1999-2003) and Elrond in Lord of the Rings (2001-03), a vigilante anarchist in V for Vendetta (2006) and a flamboyant drag queen in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)? Not to mention the evil Red Skull in Captain America (2011) and the even more dastardly English cricket captain Douglas Jardine in Bodyline (1984), and his voice credits in Babe (1995), Happy Feet (2006) and Transformers (2007-present).

Errol Flynn

A man so suave he’s entered the Australian vernacular for his womanising prowess – ‘in like Flynn’. The Tasmanian native turned into a swashbuckling star of the silver screen, celebrity playboy par excellence, and acting trailblazer decades before Australians migrated to Los Angeles en mass, starring in westerns, war movies and screwball comedies until a lifestyle of alcoholism and drug abuse sent him to an early grave aged 50 in 1959.

Peter Weir

Meet the director who spearheaded the Australian New Wave movement in the 1970s and ’80s, reviving interest in Australian cinema around the world. Weir directed Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Gallipoli (1981) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) before moving to Hollywood to rack up six Academy Award nominations for A-list flicks like Dead Poets Society (1989), Green Card (1990), The Truman Show (1998) and Master and Commander (2003).

Mel Gibson

Gibson’s career is inextricably linked to Weir – after a breakout role in George Miller’s Mad Max (1979), Mel won critical acclaim in Weir’s Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously, before enjoying his commercial breakthrough in buddy cop comedy Lethal Weapon (1987). Gibson grew up in New York but moved to Australia aged 12, and returned to his adopted home in 2016 to shoot the war epic Hacksaw Ridge.

Russell Crowe

Rusty’s another foreign-born star Aussies are more than happy to claim. The New Zealand citizen became one of the world’s genuine A-listers with his Oscar-winning portrayal of Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator (2000) and has gone on to star in a string of big-budget blockbusters. Yet his career had humble beginnings in Oz, with appearances in soap opera Neighbours and playing music gigs under the stage name Russ Le Roq.

Nicole Kidman

From the moment she appeared opposite then-partner Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder (1990), Kidman has starred in more than 50 flicks that have grossed in excess of $4 billion dollars… that’s billion, with a ‘b’. And Kidman’s showing no signs of slowing down after his 50th birthday in 2017, winning the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress for her role in HBO’s Big Little Lies and filming the upcoming Aquaman reboot on the Gold Coast.

Baz Luhrmann

Colourful. Creative. Energetic. Theatrical. Chaotic. Imaginative. It’s impossible to pin down just one quality that makes Luhrmann one of Australia’s most legendary directors, renowned for his visually spectacular creations. Baz cut his teeth on 1992 Aussie flick Strictly Ballroom before hitting Hollywood with the modern Shakespeare Romeo + Juliet (1996) and the dramatic Moulin Rouge! (2001), then the big-budget historical drama Australia (2008) and The Great Gatsby (2013), both filmed Down Under.

Paul Hogan

This bloke’s so Australian he made his living as a rigger the Sydney Harbour Bridge before he cracked local TV, then enjoyed his big film break in Crocodile Dundee (1986) followed by a solid sequel two years later. The third installment of the Mick Dundee trilogy and the rest of Hogan’s Hollywood offerings could be kindly described as ‘straight to DVD’, but his knife-brandishing croc-hunter shtick helped put Australian cinema on the map three decades ago.

Geoffrey Rush

The list of people who’ve won the ‘Triple Crown of Acting’ – an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony – is littered with entertainment royalty. Al Pacino, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Irons, Ingrid Bergman… and a man from Toowoomba in Queensland by the name of Geoffrey Rush, who won the gongs for Shine (1996), The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004) and Exit the King (2009). The King’s Speech (2010) and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (2003-present) are other highlights of a stellar four-decade career.