A number of new records set by Nollywood – the colloquial name for Nigeria’s domestic film industry – brought 2016 to a successful close. In the last two weeks of the year The Wedding Party, a locally produced film, broke records for the biggest opening weekend, the biggest week and the highest box office sales total for a Nigerian film, eclipsing the previous record of N178m ($629,000). By the end of the year the romantic comedy, which featured a star-heavy cast and high production values, had achieved box office sales of N203m ($717,000). In Nigerian cinemas The Wedding Party also outperformed Hollywood competitors such as Batman v Superman and Doctor Strange.
Moses Babatope, COO of FilmOne Distribution, told local press, “This has been an amazing year for Nigerian cinema … It is important to note that it is selling more tickets than Rogue One, part of the Star Wars franchise and the biggest film worldwide this season. For the first time Nollywood is competing with Hollywood at the Nigerian box office and winning.”
This could potentially mark a turning point for the country’s film industry. While Nollywood has gained a strong reputation on the African continent, the investment and development undertaken for blockbuster movies is also helping elevate local productions. Although The Wedding Party is something of an outlier, it is part of the wider growth in the local film industry. Nollywood produces around 2500 films per year, and its output in 2016 brought in N1bn ($3.5m), representing almost 30% of cinema ticket sales across the country. Mo Abudu, executive producer of The Wedding Party, told local press, “We really believe that the Nigerian consumer will support ‘made in Nigeria’ products if the quality is comparable to international standards. We wanted to create a film that would make our people proud, and the response of moviegoers suggests that we have succeeded.”
The film industry within Nigeria is worth around 1.4% of GDP, and has become the second-biggest employer in the country after agriculture. Furthermore, Nollywood dominates the African continent, accounting for as many as 80% of the films produced. In terms of the volume of productions, it is one of the largest film industries in the world, ahead of Hollywood, and behind only India’s Bollywood.
Beyond revenue and reach, Nigerian films are also beginning to garner critical acclaim, which is evident in the reception they have started to receive at international film festivals. “When the Africa International Film Festival started seven years ago, Nigerian movies hardly won. But the festival has increased our competitiveness. When films enter our festival, one of the main goals is to create awareness,” Chioma Ude, founder of the Africa International Film Festival, told OBG. At the closing night movie of the 2016 festival, the Nigerian film ‘76 became the first local production to receive an international sales and distribution deal.
The government is eager to back the growing success of Nollywood. Increased funding and supportive programmes will be welcome to an industry that is trying to improve the professionalism and production values of its films.
The budget for the latest blockbuster offerings from Nollywood can range from $250,000 to $750,000, compared to a figure of N6m ($91,800) for the average Nollywood film. While the industry has traditionally been financed with private capital, public funds are now increasingly being made available for local film production. The previous administration launched an intervention fund worth N3bn ($10.6m) in 2013 to support training and development in the local film industry, and the current government is looking to build on the success of this initiative. The administration has looked abroad as well. In November 2016 Lai Mohammed, the minister of information and culture, told local media that the federal government plans to work with its Japanese and French counterparts to develop the animated movie industry in the country.