Roger Donaldson
Birth Date:
November 15, 1945
Birth Place:
Ballarat, Australia
Famous for:
Director of 'The Bounty' (1984)
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Director of Species


Film director, writer and producer Roger Donaldson achieved success with such popular features as “The Bounty” (1984), “No Way Out” (1987), “Cocktail” (1988), “Species” (1995), “Dante's Peak” (1997), “The Recruit” (2003) and “The Bank Job” (2008). He earned a Golden Palm nomination for “The Bounty” and a Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival nomination for “Species.” Starting out in New Zealand as a photographer, Donaldson made documentaries for television before branching out to features with “Sleeping Dog” (1977), which was produced in New Zealand. After gaining attention in Hollywood, Donaldson returned to the New Zealand film industry with the critically and commercially successful “The World's Fastest Indian” (2005). He won three New Zealand Screen Awards for his directing, writing and producing efforts on the film, in addition to a High Falls Film Festival Award and nominations at the San Sebastián International Film Festival and the Australian Film Institute. Donaldson helped establish the New Zealand Film Commission.


Childhood and Family:

Roger Donaldson was born on November 15, 1945, in Ballarat, Australia. At age 19, he immigrated to New Zealand. He has a son named Chris Donaldson, who represented New Zealand at the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games.

The World's Fastest Indian


Born and raised in Australia, Roger Donaldson moved to New Zealand in 1965 to launch a career as a photographer before making documentary films. In 1971, he made a short titled “Burt Munro: Offerings to the God of Speed” for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC). He also directed “Winners and Losers,” a series of seven short dramas for New Zealand TV.

Switching to fiction, Donaldson made his feature directing and producing debut with “Sleeping Dog” (1977), an action thriller adapted from C.K. Stead's book “Smith's Dream.” The film, starring Sam Neill, Clyde Scott and Warren Oates, was produced in New Zealand. After the success of the film, the country established a film commission in 1978 to promote and solicit additional movie and TV projects.

After directing “Nutcase” (1980), Donaldson directed, produced and co-wrote “Smash Palace” (1981). Starring Bruno Lawrence and Anna Maria Monticelli, the film was a success in New Zealand and enjoyed positive reviews in the U.S., where it was shown at the New York New Directors and New Films Festival in April 1982. The film was also screened at the Toronto Film Festival on September 10, 1982. Under Donaldson's direction, Lawrence was handed a Best Actor Award at the 1982 Manila Film Festival for his performance.

In 1984, Donaldson made his non-Australian feature debut when he directed Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Edward Fox, Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson in the British period drama “The Bounty,” a remake of the film “Mutiny on the Bounty.” It was entered into the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, where Donaldson received a Golden Palm nomination for his effort.

However, Donaldson did not make his Hollywood debut until the following year with “Marie (also known as “Marie: A True Story”), which starred Sissy Spacek. Based on the book “Marie: A True Story” by Peter Maas, the film earned positive reviews from critics.

Donaldson resurfaced in 1987 with “No Way Out,” an American thriller about a Navy officer investigating a murder. A remake of the 1948 film “The Big Clock,” the film opened at No. 2 at the box office and starred Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young and Will Patton. The director attained further recognition with “Cocktail” (1988), which starred Tom Cruise as a bartender who falls in love. The film was a big success at the box office but won Razzies for Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay and Donaldson and Cruise were nominated for Worst Director and Worst Actor, respectively.

In 1990, Donaldson produced (with Charles Roven) and directed the comedy “Cadillac Man,” starring Robin Williams and Tim Robbins. He then directed Willem Dafoe, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Mickey Rourke and Samuel L. Jackson in “White Sands,” which was met with a mixed reception upon its release. He next worked with Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger, Michael Madsen, James Woods, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jennifer Tilly on the thriller “The Gateway” (1994), a remake of the 1972 film of the same name. The movie grossed $30,057,974 worldwide.

Donaldson next directed the horror film “Species” (1995), which starred Ben Kingsley, Forest Whitaker, Natasha Henstridge, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina and Marg Helgenberger. The movie received mixed to negative reviews from critics but earned Donaldson a Best Film nomination at the 1995 Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival. “Species” spawned a sequel in 1998 titled “Species II” and a direct-to-video “Species III” in 2004.

Donaldson worked with Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton and Charles Hallahan for his next motion picture, “Dante's Peak” (1997). A disaster movie about a volcano erupting near a small town, the film grossed $67,127,760 domestically and $111,000,000 internationally against a budget of $116 million. The film won an ASCAP Award for Top Box Office Films, a Blockbuster Entertainment for Favorite Actress - Action/Adventure (Hamilton) and two Young Artist Awards. Donaldson closed out the decade serving as the executive producer for the New Zealand TV film “Fearless” (1999).

Back to the director's chair, Donaldson was reunited with “No Way Out” star Kevin Costner for the 2000 docudrama “Thirteen Days,” about the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Adapted from the book “The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis” by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow, the film received primarily good reviews, but performed poorly at the box office. In addition to Costner, Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp also starred in the film.

In 2003, Donaldson directed the thriller “The Recruit,” which starred Al Pacino, Colin Farrell, Bridget Moynahan and Gabriel Macht. It gained mixed reviews from critics. After executive producing the 2004 documentary “The Making of 'Sleeping Dogs,’” for director John Reid, Donaldson returned to the New Zealand cinema with “The World's Fastest Indian” (2005), a biopic based on racer Burt Munro and his highly modified Indian Scout motorcycle. Starring Anthony Hopkins as Munro, the film was met with positive reviews and became an immediate box office hit in New Zealand. “The World's Fastest Indian” won seven New Zealand Screen Awards, including Best Achievement in Directing, Best Picture and Best Screenplay for Donaldson. He also picked up an Audience Award for Best Feature at the 2005 High Falls Film Festival, a Golden Seashell nomination the 2005 San Sebastián International Film Festival and an International Award nomination for Excellence in Filmmaking at the 2006 Australian Film Institute for his efforts.

In 2008, Donaldson directed the British crime film “The Bank Job,” starring Jason Statham and Saffron Burrows. It was well received by critics and debuted at No. 4 at the North American box office. It was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay.

Recently, in 2010, Donaldson made a short film called “Lawyers.” It starred Larry Bates, Saffron Burrows and Ron Livingston. His new film, “The Hungry Rabbit Jumps,” will star Nicolas Cage, Guy Pearce and January Jones and is set to be released in 2011. Tobey Maguire co-produced the film with Ram Bergman.


  • New Zealand Screen: Best Achievement in Directing, “The World's Fastest Indian,” 2006

  • New Zealand Screen: Best Picture, “The World's Fastest Indian,” 2006

  • New Zealand Screen: Best Screenplay, “The World's Fastest Indian,” 2006

  • High Falls Film Festival: Audience Award, Best Feature, “The World's Fastest Indian,” 2005

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