Since Nollywood titles began to head to the cinemas in droves or land on streaming platforms, the Nigerian film industry, the biggest on the continent of Africa, has taken up a new personality.
Once viewed as askant for its low budget and archetypal narratives, Nollywood in the past decade has taken up a new sheen, one that puts it in direct contention with any title from any part of the world.
By international standards, in the budget department, distribution system, and talent production Nollywood has a long way to go. It still takes the industry too long to produce new talents and the budget still pales in comparison with Hollywood and Bollywood.
However, this year, the industry has not been deterred by its restrictions. It has produced world-class content; for cinema, raking hundreds of millions of naira, for direct-to-streaming, ranking in the top 10 in multiple countries.
In 2023, indigenous language titles shined the brightest they have in a long time making waves on the box office and also on streaming platforms.
See below the top 7 Nollywood titles of 2023:
After a hostage escaped from her kidnapper, the police force is left to investigate the intricacies of the case. Based on a true life story, The Trade is brought to life by an all-star cast that includes Blossom Chukwujekwu, Shawn Faqua, Rita Dominic, Gideon Okeke, Stan Nze, Chiwetalu Agu, Charles Inojie and many more stars.
The cat-and-mouse drama dives into the network of kidnappers that have made Lagos their stronghold for decades and heightened the problems of insecurity in one of Africa’s most populous cities. Directed by Jadesola Osiberu, The Trade was one of the most-watched Nigerian titles on Prime Video this year.
This black-and-white flick has been the talk of town since it debuted at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in January. With its ambitious cinematography, it ushers Nollywood into a newer era of creative experimentation.
Directed by CJ Obasi, on October 15, 2023, Mami Wata was selected as the Nigerian entry for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards by The Nigerian Official Selection Committee (NOSC), after two years of no submission. To do this, pidgin had to be recognised as a foreign language.
The cast includes Evelyne Ily Juhen, Uzoamaka Aniunoh, Kelechi Udegbe, Emeka Amakeze, Rita Edochie, and many others. Mami Wata tells the tale of a tiny community whose faith rests solidly on their river Goddess, Mami Wata. Their relative peace is disrupted after some rascals decide to test the ability of the goddess to protect her people.
Gangs of Lagos
Gang of Lagos is part of a new wave of action-packed thrillers that have become a calling card for Nollywood. The Osiberu-directed title pokes holes at the deep-seated corruption in the Nigerian political class and how those at the bottom of the food chain are used as pawns.
The all-star cast includes Tobi Bakre, Olarotimi Fakumle, Bimbo Ademoye, Iyabo Ojo, Wasiu Alabi Pasuma, among others. The film tells the tale of how harsh circumstances can change the course of the life of a young man growing up in Lagos.
After his foster father is murdered, all plans for Obalola (the protagonist played by Bakre) to get an education are vanquished. Together with his friends, he grows up to become a member of a cult that professes to be fighting unrest even as it is the chief instigator of unrest, leaving gang after gang in an endless battle for street power and control.
The Black Book
After the son of a deacon is falsely accused of kidnapping and is murdered by police officers, he takes matters into his own hands to prove his son’s innocence. The Black Book is an action-packed drama that challenges the notion of militancy in Nigeria, arguing for nuance in the conversation. The Black Book stars heavy-weight actors like Sam Dede, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Shafy Bello, Alex Usifo, and others.
The film, which had a million-dollar budget, just five days after its release on Netflix held the number one position on the platform worldwide, the first Nigerian title to take that coveted spot.
Orisa is one of the indigenous language films that broke even this year. Directed by Odunlade Adekola who also plays a lead role, the movie is set in an epic pre-colonial Yoruba time. After the activities of a king bring a curse to his kingdom, he must decide whether to swallow his pride and do the right thing, or continue in his ways, which will lead to certain doom.
Starring Adekola, Femi Adebayo, Shaffy Bello, Jide Kosoko, Dele Odule, Muyiwa Ademola, and Eniola Ajao, for months this year Orisa reigned at the box office. Orisa raked in more than ₦100 million at the box office.
Another pre-colonial Yoruba language epic film, Jagun Jagun follows the life of a “young man determined to become a powerful warrior who joins an elite army, encountering the wrath of a maniacal warlord and the love of a fierce woman.”
Jagun Jagun is currently streaming on Netflix and was directed by Adebayo Tijani and Tope Adebayo, who also also in the film. Its cast includes Femi Adebayo, Odunlade Adekola, Lateef Adedimeji, Bukunmi Oluwashina, Fathia Balogun, and others.
Afamefuna is an Igbo language film that dives deep into the apprenticeship institution that has become synonymous with the South-Eastern part of Nigeria. The Kayode Kasum-directed movie includes stars like Kanayo O. Kanayo, Segun Arinze, Stan Nze, Alexx Ekubo, and many others.
Just under two weeks after it was released Afamefuna raked in over ₦33 million in the Nigerian box office.