Best Nollywood Movies of All Time: The inception of Nollywood as a movie industry may be unclear. But one thing is certain: it is Africa’s most significant film industry. With its primary target audience being Africans, particularly Nigerians, this Afro-centric industry produces a plethora of movies that aim to portray the African worldview and stories. Although it is commonly referred to as Nollywood, meaning the Nigerian Film Industry, other African nations also present their films through this lucrative film industry.
The origins of Nollywood remain shrouded in uncertainty, with some attributing its beginnings to the 1990s while others claim it emerged in the early 2000s. Given the ambiguous nature of its history, the exact Nigerian film that marked the industry’s inception remains unknown. However, there is speculation that “Living in Bondage” (1992) might have been the first. However, since this is not a history class, let’s not delve into those details.
Nollywood films have garnered immense local and global popularity thanks to their originality and well-crafted narratives. Whether you’re new to Nollywood or simply can’t get enough of it, this curated list of the top 20 Nollywood films is a great starting point.
1. Lion Heart (2018)
The gorgeous Genevieve Nnaji takes on the lead role as Adaeze Obiagu, a young woman who strives to save her family’s transportation company, Lionheart, from financial ruin. To save her father’s company from a hostile takeover, she must work with her difficult uncle, played by the veteran actor Nkem Owoh. They face numerous challenges throughout their journey, including financial struggles, gender bias, and competition from rival transport companies.
“Lion Heart” is undoubtedly an amusing and uplifting story that is ideal for family viewing. The delightful on-screen dynamic between Nkem Owoh and Genevieve Nnaji, portraying uncle and niece, adds depth to the story. Yet, what is most commendable is the exploration of feminism, a theme approached in a remarkable and unprecedented manner, setting the film apart from others in its genre.
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2. Half of a Yellow Sun (2013)
Based on the award-winning novel of the same name by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, this gripping tale tells the story of the Biafran War, which took place in Nigeria from 1967 to 1970. Directed by Biyi Bandele, the plot centers around the lives of two sisters, Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose), and how these sisters and their loved ones are forced to confront the harsh realities of war, including displacement, hunger, and violence.
“Half of a Yellow Sun” is undeniably a poignant and emotionally charged film that delves into a sensitive part of Nigeria’s history. As the characters grapple with the harsh socio-political and economic circumstances of the civil war, their struggles become deeply moving, evoking a profound emotional response from the audience. Premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, the movie garnered a mixed reception from critics and viewers alike.
3. Phone Swap (2012)
This popular Nollywood romantic comedy film released in 2012 blends comedy, romance, and cultural commentary to deliver a simple yet heartwarming story about the power of chance encounters and the unexpected twists that can lead to true love. The plot revolves around two strangers who accidentally swap their mobile phones, leading to a series of hilarious events and the beginning of an unexpected romance.
“Phone Swap” represents Nollywood at its peak, showcasing a visually appealing and skillfully executed love story. The vibrant aesthetics and the inclusion of actors from diverse ethnic backgrounds contribute to the film’s captivating beauty and delightful humor. Supported by an endearing soundtrack, believable characters, and a fascinating storyline, this movie keeps audiences thoroughly engaged, leaving them glued to their seats. Director Kunle Afolayan shows his capability to deliver a story that enchants viewers and leaves a lasting impact long after the credits roll.
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4. The Wedding Party 1 & 2 (2016-2017)
“The Wedding Party,” tells the story of a chaotic and eventful wedding ceremony between two families from different backgrounds. This romantic comedy guarantees hearty laughter as audiences become engrossed in the heartfelt love story between Dunni and Dozie. The sequel continues with the enchanting romance of Nonso and Diedre, evoking cheers for this heartwarming relationship. Above all, “The Wedding Party” beautifully emphasizes the significance of love in contrast to material wealth.
The Wedding Party” is an endearing and comedic film exploring love, family, and cultural diversity. It remains among the finest Nigerian movies, standing the test of time. From the groom’s overbearing mother to the bride’s dramatic mother and the quirky wedding planner, each character contributes a unique charm that amplifies the film’s comedic essence. With its captivating music, splendid costume design, valuable life lessons, and uplifting atmosphere, “The Wedding Party” becomes a timeless cinematic experience that warrants repeated viewings.
5. Isoken (2017)
Set in Nigeria and released in 2017, this film features Dakore Egbuson-Akande as a prosperous and self-reliant woman in her 30s. Despite her beauty and achievements, societal norms dictate that her happiness and success are incomplete without a husband. The pressure intensifies when her younger sister ties the knot, leaving Isoken with no option but to marry Kevin, a man she met at the wedding, solely to satisfy her mother and society’s expectations.
Dakore Egbuson-Akande’s performance is not the sole reason this film deserves a spot on the all-time best Nigerian films list. The exploration of family dynamics, which adds depth and humor to the storyline, is expertly portrayed by a talented ensemble cast. Funke Akindele shines as Isoken’s sister, Kukua, while Timini Egbuson portrays her younger brother, Osaze. Tina Mba delivers a remarkable performance as their mother, Mrs. Obianuju. At the end of it all, Isoken teaches the importance of self-discovery and staying true to oneself despite external pressure. It is undoubtedly one of those stories many Africans can relate to.
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6. King of Boys (2018)
Under the direction of Kemi Adetiba, “King of Boys” serves as a compelling exposé of power dynamics, politics, and corruption within Nigerian society. The narrative revolves around the remarkable journey of Eniola Salami, portrayed by Sola Sobowale. The film begins with Eniola’s ascent to power, fueled by her involvement in criminal activities and politics. However, the storyline takes a gripping twist when her underworld ties become a threat, prompting Eniola to fight to reclaim her throne and protect her family.
Undoubtedly, Kemi Adetiba’s “King of Boys” is a thought-provoking and classic film that reflects the political climate of Nigeria through the powerful performances of its talented cast. This gripping crime drama draws viewers into the dark world of Eniola Salami and never lets us go until the very end. Despite its flaws, this film is a cut above many other Nollywood productions, thanks to its original storyline, fantastic cast, and intriguing plot.
7. October 1 (2014)
October 1 offers a thought-provoking exploration of Nigeria’s past and the challenges faced during a pivotal moment in the country’s history. Written and directed by Kunle Afolayan, this historical thriller takes viewers back to 1960, during the period leading up to the country’s independence from British colonial rule. The film combines mystery, suspense, and political drama while delving into themes of identity, colonialism, and the struggle for independence.
“October 1” captivates viewers with its breathtaking cinematography, meticulous costume designs, and a talented ensemble cast featuring fresh and established faces. Beyond providing a glimpse into the 1960s and its turbulent events, the film presents a tightly woven plot that encompasses all the intriguing elements of a detective story, keeping the audience guessing until the final moments. Often overlooked, “October 1” is an underrated crime drama that skillfully balances historical authenticity with an engrossing narrative.
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8. Okafor’s Law (2016)
According to Okafor’s law, once a man has been with a woman, he can have her again at any point in the future, regardless of her current circumstances or relationship status. In this comedy-drama, Chuks (Blossom Chukwuma), an ardent player, firmly believes in this principle and sees it as a personal challenge to prove its validity. The story begins when Chuks reunites with his friends from university, including Alex (Gabriel Afolayan) and Tomi (Ufuoma McDermott). During a thoughtful conversation, they discuss their romantic escapades, and Chuks confidently asserts that he can win back any of his ex-girlfriends.
To Prove his point, Chuks selects three women from his past to try out this theory. But as the story unfolds, Chuks begins questioning his beliefs and faces the consequences of his actions. He discovers the importance of genuine love and respect for others’ choices and learns that relationships are more than just conquests. “Okafor’s Law” undoubtedly falls into the category of light-hearted tales that impart valuable lessons about male entitlement, love, and the complexities of relationships.
9. Sugar Rush (2019)
“Sugar Rush” is a Nigerian comedy film that follows three sisters, Susie ( Adesua Etomi-Wellington), Bola ( Bisola Aiyeola), and Sola (Bimbo Ademoye), struggling to make ends meet in Lagos, Nigeria. They are all frustrated with their financial situation and dream of a better life. But their luck changes when they accidentally possess a large sum of money and become overnight millionaires. However, they soon realize the cash belongs to a notorious criminal who is now after them. Racing against time, they must find a way to rectify the situation and set things right.
“Sugar Rush” is a delightful and engaging film that seamlessly blends comedy, action, and romance elements. While some scenes may showcase exaggerated acting and plotlines, the movie successfully conveys a meaningful message about the value of diligence, honesty, and integrity. The film beautifully highlights the strength of sisterhood and the unwavering resilience of women when confronted with challenges. Although the conclusion may lack perfect resolution, this comedic gem takes viewers on an enjoyable journey from start to finish.
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10. Soole (2021)
Blending elements of comedy and thriller, this dark comedy takes viewers on a journey as a diverse group of passengers boards a bus, only to be confronted by dangerous criminals. What begins as a lighthearted drama soon takes an unexpected twist, delving into darker territories beyond anyone’s expectations. With a runtime of one hour and fifty-six minutes, this film captivates audiences with its intriguing narrative and keeps them on the edge of their seats.
“Soole” is an epic yet underrated film that showcases a distinctive and relatable storyline brought to life by a talented ensemble cast. Although the balance between comedy and thriller elements may appear strained at times, the film remains intriguing despite its imperfections. Aduni Ade’s mind-blowing dark comedy, filled with unexpected twists, imparts valuable lessons, earning it a well-deserved place on this list.
11. Brotherhood (2022)
For enthusiasts of Nollywood cinema, “Brotherhood” unquestionably falls under the category of a must-watch film. Written and produced by Jade Osiberu, this compelling story revolves around twin brothers named Akin and Wale, who tragically witnessed the murder of their parents in their youth. Despite their shared past, the brothers evolve into contrasting individuals—Akin embracing a life of crime while Wale joins the police force. The strength of their bond is tested when Wale becomes part of a task force assigned to track down Akin and his gang.
Tobi Bakare and Falz deliver exceptional performances as the leading characters, surpassing expectations in this action-packed thriller. Beyond the gripping action sequences, the poignant story of the two brothers and the captivating original musical score has the power to evoke tears from viewers. The collaboration of talented writers, producers, and directors results in a timeless and appealing tale. However, given its nearly two-hour runtime, some may find it difficult to watch despite its commendable qualities.
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12. Anikulapo (2022)
Kunle Remi takes on the lead role in this captivating folklore drama as Saro, a young man searching for a better life in a foreign land. Along the way, he meets the youngest wife of the King, portrayed by Bimbo Ademoye, and their illicit affair almost costs Saro his life. However, his near-death experience leads to the discovery of a mystical object with the power to grant and take life.
Despite having a storyline that left much to be desired, Anikulapo has been praised for showcasing the African heritage beautifully and accurately. The setting does capture the Yoruba community during the pre-colonial era. Like traditional African folklore, Anikulapo imparts valuable lessons about the perils of arrogance and turning against one’s benefactor. With visually striking cinematography and a skilled cast that brings the magical tale to life, Anikulapo offers a captivating cinematic experience.
13. Merry Men (2018-2019)
“Merry Men” is known for its entertaining blend of comedy, action, and romance, and it received positive reviews for its engaging storyline, comedic performances, and stylish presentation. The film’s success led to a sequel, “Merry Men 2: Another Mission,” released in 2019. The comedy-action film follows the story of four friends – Ayo, Naz, Amaju, and Remi- known for their stylish and affluent lifestyles.
Alongside the action-packed and humorous sequences, Toka Macro’s “Merry Men” explores the friends’ personal lives, including their romantic relationships and the challenges they face in balancing their double lives as Merry Men and respected members of society. With its star-studded cast, Merry Men managed to be fun and fast-paced without being tacky or poorly executed. The story may not be all believable, but it is fun.
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14. Gangs of Lagos (2023)
Under the production of Jade Osiberu Kemi, this Nigerian crime-action thriller showcases a mix of well-known and emerging talents, including Tobi Bakare, Adesua Etomi, Iyabo Ojo, Zlatan, Olarotimi Fakunle, Pasuma, more. The film revolves around a group of friends who find themselves caught in the dangerous web of deadly gang rivalries after witnessing the murder of their adoptive father. Through this thought-provoking story, Jade Osiberu explores the issues of political exploitation, political thuggery, and the ghetto.
“Gangs of Lagos” is a Nollywood blockbuster that delivers both entertainment and valuable life lessons to its viewers. The film boasts a talented cast, captivating cinematography, and stunning locations, all of which contribute to its notable highlights. Similar to “Brotherhood,” this gangster film showcases the trademark quality and originality that have become synonymous with Jade Osiberu’s work.
15. 10 Days in Sun-city (2017)
Featuring a talented cast of comedic actors, “10 Days in Sun-city” offers its audience a heartening and entertaining adventure. Notable cast members include Falz, a well-known Nigerian musician and actor, as well as Mercy Johnson, Ay Makun, Adesua Etomi, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Adesua Etomi, and others. Against the stunning backdrop of South Africa, this film delivers numerous plot twists and comedic mishaps that make it both captivating and endearing.
The movie follows the story of a young man named Akpos, who wins an all-expenses-paid trip to Sun City, South Africa. Excited about the opportunity, Akpos embarks on the journey, hoping for a fun and adventurous vacation. However, his plans take an unexpected turn when he meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman named Bianca, played by Adesua Etomi. Bianca happens to be the girlfriend of a wealthy and influential man, Otunba, portrayed by Richard Mofe-Damijo.
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16. 93 days (2016)
This Nigerian drama film, released in 2016, directed by Steve Gukas, is based on the true story of the Ebola virus outbreak in Nigeria in 2014. Despite being slow-paced, “93” Days was interesting and equally served as a great tribute to the medical staff at the crisis’s epicenter.
The plot centers around the character of Dr. Stella Adadevoh, played by Bimbo Akintola, a Nigerian physician who was instrumental in containing the spread of the deadly virus. When a Liberian-American diplomat, Patrick Sawyer, arrives in Lagos, Nigeria, infected with the Ebola virus, the situation becomes critical. The movie received critical acclaim for its powerful performances, gripping storytelling, and sensitive handling of a real-life crisis that significantly impacted Nigeria and the world.
17. Up North (2018)
“Up North” is a Nigerian drama film released in 2018, directed by Tope Oshin. The movie tells the story of Bassey, a young man from a privileged Lagos background who is sent to Bauchi State in Northern Nigeria for his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) program.
As Bassey embarks on this journey and creates a bond with his fellow corp members, “Up North” explores themes of self-discovery, cultural diversity, and the importance of unity across different ethnic and geographical divides. The film also captures the beauty of Northern Nigeria’s landscapes, traditions, and the warmth of its people. It is generally a light-hearted and beautiful story set in the northern part of Nigeria.
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18. The Figurine (2009)
“The Figurine” is known for its blend of mystery, suspense, and elements of Yoruba folklore. Also known as “Araromire” in the Yoruba language, this Nigerian supernatural thriller film directed by Kunle Afolayan follows the story of two friends, Femi and Sola. They encounter a mysterious artifact in a remote village during their national youth service.
“The Figurine” offers a fresh perspective on common Nollywood themes such as witchcraft and the supernatural. To lighten these heavy themes, comic moments and other lighter sub-plots are added to this story. Figurine also touches upon societal issues, including corruption, jealousy, power of fear, and the pursuit of power. While some may perceive it as slow-paced, the film ultimately rewards viewers with a fulfilling and engaging storyline.
19. Living in Bondage: Breaking Free (2019)
This supernatural thriller serves as a sequel to the 1992 film “Living in Bondage,” which is often regarded as the starting point of the Nigerian film industry. This ground-breaking project was among the pioneers that transported viewers to a nostalgic era, setting the stage for the resurgence of remaking classic Nollywood films.
The plot follows the story of Nnamdi Okeke, played by Swanky JKA, the son of Andy Okeke, the original film’s protagonist. Nnamdi is a young and ambitious man who faces a crisis when his rise to power draws the attention of the occult. With top-notch acting from its lead cast, great editing, and a soundtrack, this is one of the best Nollywood movies ever.
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20. Last Flight to Abuja (2012)
This Nigerian thriller film directed by Obi Emelonye revolves around a group of passengers aboard a commercial airplane traveling from Lagos to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. As the flight takes off, it encounters a series of mid-air difficulties, leading to a tense and life-threatening situation. Amidst this chaos and panic, characters try to deal with the ordeal as they discuss their fears and individual struggles.
“Last Flight to Abuja” captivates with its gripping narrative and tense atmosphere, complemented by solid performances from the talented cast. However, it has faced criticism for its perceived lack of excitement and uneven pacing, leaving some viewers unsatisfied. While the director succeeds in bringing a fresh story to Nollywood, the film falls short due to its flawed execution of the plot and script.