Cinema of Nigeria

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Cinema of Nigeria
Number of screens 100 (estimate, 2011)[1]
 • Per capita 0.1 per 100,000 (2011)[1]
Main distributors FilmOne Distribution 65.0%
Silverbird Film Distribution 20.0%
Blue Pictures 5.0%[2]
Produced feature films (2009)[3]
Fictional 987
Number of admissions (2010)[4]
Total 460,083
Gross box office (2013)[6]
Total NG₦126 billion (US$800 million)[5]

The cinema of Nigeria, often referred to as Nollywood, consists of films produced in Nigeria; its history dates back to as early as the late 19th century and into the colonial era in early 1900s. The history and development of the Nigerian motion picture industry is sometimes generally classified in four main eras: the Colonial era, Golden Age, Video film era and the emerging New Nigerian cinema.[7]

Film as a medium first arrived Nigeria in the late 19th century, in the form of peephole viewing of motion picture devices.[8] These were soon replaced in early 20th century with improved motion picture exhibition devices, with the first set of films screened at the Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos from 12 to 22 August 1903.[9][10] The earliest feature film made in Nigeria is the 1926's Palaver produced by Geoffrey Barkas; the film was also the first film ever to feature Nigerian actors in a speaking role[11][12] As at 1954, mobile cinema vans played to atleast 3.5 million people in Nigeria, and films being produced by the Nigerian Film Unit were screened for free at the 44 available cinemas. The first film entirely copyrighted to the Nigerian Film unit is Fincho (1957) by Sam Zebba;[13] which is also the first Nigerian film to be shot in colour.[14]

After Nigeria's independence in 1960, the cinema business rapidly expanded, with new cinema houses being established.[15] As a result, Nigerian content in theatres increased in the late 1960s into the 1970s, especially productions from Western Nigeria, owing to former theatre practitioners such as Hubert Ogunde and Moses Olaiya transitioning into the big screen.[16][17] In 1972, the Indigenization Decree was issued by Yakubu Gowon, which demands the transfer of ownership of about a total of 300 film theatres from their foreign owners to Nigerians, which resulted in more Nigerians playing active roles in the cinema and film.[18] The oil boom of 1973 through 1978 also contributed immensely to the spontaneous boost of the cinema culture in Nigeria, as the increased purchasing power in Nigeria made a wide range of citizens to have disposable income to spend on cinema going and on home television sets..[19] After several moderate performing films, Papa Ajasco (1984) by Wale Adenuga became the first blockbuster, grossing approximately ₦61,000 (approx. 2015 ₦21,552,673) in three days. A year later, Mosebolatan (1985) by Moses Olaiya also went ahead to gross ₦107,000 (approx. 2015 ₦44,180,499) in five days.[20]

After the decline of the Golden era, Nigerian film industry experienced a second major boom in the 1990s, supposedly marked by the release of the direct-to-video film Living in Bondage (1992); the industry peaked in the mid 2000s to become the second largest film industry in the world in terms of the number of annual film productions, placing it ahead of the United States and behind only India.[21] The started dominating screens across the African continent and by extension, the Caribbeans and the diaspora,[22] with the movies significantly influencing cultures,[23] and the film actors becoming household names across the continent. The boom also led to backlash against Nigerian films in several countries, bordering on theories such as the "Nigerialization of Africa".[24][25] Since mid-2000s, the Nigerian cinema have undergone some restructuring to promote quality and professionalism, with The Figurine (2009) widely regarded as marking the major turn around of contemporary Nigerian cinema. There have since been a resurgence cinema establishments, and a steady return of the cinema culture in Nigeria.[26][27] As of 2013, Nigerian cinema is rated as the third most valuable film industry in the world based on its worth and revenues generated.[28]


The first Nigerian films were made by filmmakers such as Ola Balogun and Hubert Ogunde in the 1960s, but they were frustrated by the high cost of film production.[29] However, television broadcasting in Nigeria began in the 1960s and received much government support in its early years. By the mid-1980s every state had its own broadcasting station. Law limited foreign television content so producers in Lagos began televising local popular theater productions. Many of these were circulated on video as well, and a small-scale informal video movie trade developed.

Nigerian film industry had always been making films on celluloid and the films were screened in cinema houses across Nigeria and later released on VHS for various homes.[30] However, the release of the Straight-to-video movie Living in Bondage in 1992 by NEK Video Links owned by Kenneth Nnebue launched the Home video market in Nigeria. Nnebue had an excess number of imported video cassettes which he then used to shoot his first film on a Video Camera.[31]

Nollywood exploded into a booming industry in the late '90s and pushed foreign media off the shelves. It is now an industry marketed all over Africa and the rest of the world.[32] The use of English rather than the local languages expanded the market and aggressive marketing using posters, trailers, and television advertising also played a role in Nollywood's success.

One of the first Nigerian movies to reach international renown was the 2003 release Osuofia in London, starring Nkem Owoh, the Nigerian comedic actor.

First Nollywood films were produced using celluloid while Nollywood straight-to-video productions were produced with traditional analog video, such as Betacam SP, but today almost all Nollywood movies are produced using digital cinematography technology.[33][34][35][36] The Guardian has cited Nigeria's film industry as the third largest in the world in earnings and estimated the industry to bring in US$250 million per year.[37][38][39] In April 2014, Nigeria's GDP rebasing was concluded and Nollywood was announced to be worth NG₦853.9 billion (US$5.1 billion) and Nigeria's economy was announced as the largest in Africa.[40]

Nollywood's biggest competition in the Nigerian market is the Ghanaian film industry. However, many Ghanaian productions are copyrighted to Nollywood and distributed by Nigerian marketers due to Nigeria's bigger market. Nigerian filmmakers usually feature Ghanaian actors in Nollywood movies as well and that has led to the popularity of Ghanaian actors almost like their Nigerian counterparts.[41][42][43] Van Vicker, a popular Ghanaian actor, has starred in many Nigerian movies. As a result of these collaborations, Western viewers often confused Ghanaian movies with Nollywood and count their sales as one; however, they are two independent industries that sometimes share the colloquial "Nollywood". In 2009, Unesco described Nollywood as being the second-biggest film industry in the world after Bollywood in output and called for greater support for second-largest employer in Nigeria.[44] The Nigerian film industry is also colloquially known as Nollywood, having been derived as a play on Hollywood in the same manner as Bollywood from Bombay, India.[45]


Straight-to-video movies are shot on location all over Nigeria with hotels, homes, and offices often rented out by their owners and appearing in the credits. The most popular filming locations are the cities of Lagos, Enugu, Abuja and Asaba, Nigeria. However, distinct regional variations appear between the northern movies made primarily in the Hausa language, the western Yoruba movies, the Edo language movies shot in Benin City, the Igbo movies shot in the southeast and the Epie movies shot in the south. Many of the big producers have offices in Surulere, Lagos.

Cinematic films are typically shot in studios. Other parts that maybe expensive to replicate in the studio are shot on locations. However, not all production outfits who make films for the cinemas shoot in the studio, some still make use of locations throughout. Major production companies like Golden Effects studios, the Audrey Silver Company, Mainframe studios and few others shoot most part of their movies in the studio, especially the interior scenes. Recent Nollywood movies in which considerable part of the films were shot in the studio include: Ije: The Journey, Phone Swap and The Meeting.

To improve the quality of Nigerian film productions, the country’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, pledged in 2010 to create a $200 million loan fund to help finance film projects.[46]

International co-productions[edit]

With an eye to attracting an international mainstream audience, Nigerian filmmakers are increasingly turning to the West for actors like Isaiah Washington and Thandie Newton.[47] The same developments are taking place in co-productions with filmmakers from other African countries. The 'Princess of Africa,' Yvonne Chaka Chaka, starred in Foreign Demons, a film set in Nigeria as well as her native South Africa.[48]

Feathered Dreams is the first Nollywood-Ukrainian co-production. Set in Ukraine, the film stars Nigerian actress Omoni Oboli and Ukrainian actor Andrey Rozhen who also directed it.[49]


The primary distribution centres for straight-to-video movies are Idumota Market on Lagos Island, 51 Iweka Road in Onitsha in Anambra State, and 1/3 Pound Road Aba in Abia State. Currently, Nigerian films outsell Hollywood films in Nigeria and many other African countries. Straight-to-video producers turn out movies at an astonishing rate in a year and new titles are delivered to Nigerian shops and market stalls every week, where an average video sells 50,000 copies. A hit may sell several hundred thousand. VCDs sell for one to two dollars each,[50] making them affordable for most Nigerians and providing large returns for the producers.

Most films are produced by independent companies, businessmen and investors. However, the direct-to-video films in Nigeria are made mostly by individuals who usually have their personal digital cameras and they are shot at extremely low budgets. The average home video costs between US$17,000 and US$23,000, is shot on video in just a week, and sells up to 150,000–200,000 units nationwide in one day. With this type of return, more are getting into the direct-to-video business. According to Frank Ikegwuonu, author of Who's Who in Nollywood,[51] about "1,200 films are produced in Nigeria annually." More filmmakers are heading to Nigeria because of "competitive distribution system and a cheap workforce." Further, Nigerian films seem to be better received by the market when compared to foreign films because "those films are more family oriented than the American films."

Nigerian movies are available in even the most remote areas of the continent. The last few years have seen the growing popularity Nigerian films among the people of African diaspora in Europe, North America and the Caribbean. Nigerian films are receiving wider distribution as Nigerian filmmakers are attending more internationally acclaimed film festivals. In the United States, viewers can watch Nollywood and other West African movies on TvNolly, Afrotainment. Video on demand is gradually becoming part of the distribution system with platforms like Dobox, iROKOtv, AllAfricanCinema and international platforms like Distrify and Amazon Instant Video[52] showing Nollywood video content. Afrinolly app developed in Nigeria has emerged as Africa's most downloaded entertainment app for Nollywood and African movies, short films, documentaries, music videos, entertainment news and African celebrity profiles.[53]


Many Nollywood movies have themes that deal with the moral dilemmas facing modern Africans. Some movies promote the Christian or Islamic faiths, and some movies are overtly evangelical. Others, however, address questions of religious diversity, such as the popular film One God One Nation, about a Muslim man and a Christian woman who want to marry and go through many obstacles.

Portrayal in the Western media[edit]

  • The 2007 documentary Welcome to Nollywood by director Jamie Meltzer gives an overview of the industry. It pays particular attention to directors Izu Ojukwu and Chico Ejiro, and acknowledges the unusual, rapid, and enterprising way that most Nollywood films are created as well as their significance and contribution to the greater society and the production difficulties Ojukwu faced during production of his war epic Laviva.[54]
  • Franco Sacchi's 2007 documentary This Is Nollywood follows the production of Check Point, directed by Bond Emeruwa. It features interviews with Nigerian filmmakers and actors as they discuss their industry, defend the types of films they make and detail the kind of impact they can have.[55] In 2007, Franco Sacchi presented the film on Nollywood at the TED conference.[56]
  • The 2007 Danish documentary Good Copy Bad Copy features a substantial section on Nigerian cinema. It focuses on the direct-to-DVD distribution of most Nigerian movies, as well as the industry's reliance on off-the-shelf video editing equipment as opposed to the more costly traditional film process.[57]
  • A 2008 Canadian documentary Nollywood Babylon was co-directed by Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal, and produced by AM Pictures and the National Film Board of Canada in association with the Documentary Channel. It played in the Official Competition at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2009.[58]

Nigerian films[edit]

Notable actors[edit]


See also[edit]


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  2. ^ "Table 6: Share of Top 3 distributors (Excel)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 13 February 2015. 
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  4. ^ "Table 11: Exhibition - Admissions & Gross Box Office (GBO)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013. 
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  39. ^ From The Guardian. Retrieved from on May 27, 2008
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  47. ^ Can Thandie Newton Play an Igbo Woman?
  48. ^ Foreign Demons Invade Nigerian Cinemas
  49. ^ Oogbodo, Oseyiza (14 July 2012). "Feathered Dreams live your life". National Mirror. Retrieved 11 October 2012. 
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  51. ^
  52. ^ About Us | allafricancinema
  53. ^ Vanguard Newspaper. "$25,000 for five entrants in Google’s ‘Africa connected’ competition". Retrieved 23 October 2013. 
  54. ^ "Welcome to Nollywood". Retrieved 2009-09-29. 
  55. ^ This Is Nollywood
  56. ^ "Franco Sacchi tours Nigeria's booming Nollywood | Video on". Retrieved 2009-09-29. 
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  58. ^ "Nollywood Babylon | Sundance Festival 2009". Retrieved 2009-09-29. 

External links[edit]