Bollywood and Hollywood are the two most known “woods” in the world, or at the very least, the top two film industries in the world. Actually, it depends how we measure that statement. Nollywood is another industry that seems to be passing Hollywood in terms of the amount of movies it produces a year. How is this possible? It seemed to have happened overnight. But did it? What is Nollywood and how did it become the second largest film industry in the entire world?

Nollywood History

What is Nollywood?

Before we show you some Nollywood movies, let’s first take a look at where they came from, to figure out how the heck it became the second largest film industry in the world.

Nollywood  Definition

What is Nollywood?

Nollywood is the film industry in Nigeria, and is in fact the second largest movie industry globally - in terms of output, producing about 2,500 films in a year. This number surpasses Hollywood, and is second only to India’s Bollywood. A New York Times journalist, Norimitsu Onishi helped coin the term in 2002, when he began to notice a ton of filmmaking activity happening in Lagos, Nigeria. While Nollywood doesn’t bring in as much money yearly as Hollywood or Bollywood, it is known for its prolificness under much more limiting circumstances.

Early Nollywood is characterized by a kind of home video production quality. More recently, however, the Nigerian movie industry is improving their craft. Known for comedies and dramas, Nollywood is now producing more genres like horror, period pieces, musicals, animations, and even nolly-noir at industry standard picture and sound quality.

Notable Nollywood Movies

  • Living in Bondage (1992)
  • Violated (1996)
  • Maami (2001)
  • Contract (2012)
  • Married But Living Single (2012)
  • 30 Days in Atlanta (2014)
  • Ojuju (2014)
  • Taxi Driver: Oko Ashewo (2015)
  • Okafor’s Law (2016)
  • The Wedding Party (2016)
  • From Lagos with Love (2018)
Early History

By the middle of the 20th century, African movies were being made, but in terms of a booming film industry, there wasn’t one, especially compared to its overseas Hollywood counterpart. 

When Francophone colonies gained their independence (African colonies previously occupied by France), they were able to maintain their movie theaters, film clubs, festivals, and material means to make the films, all with aid from France. But Nigeria was a former colony of England, and England had little interest in dramatic cinema. So when they gained independence in 1960, Nigerian filmmakers had to find a way to support themselves. And they did just that.

In 1957, Fincho became the first Nigerian film to be shot in color. The first Nollywood movies were created by historical filmmakers such as Ola Balogun, Hubert Ogunde, Jab Adu, Moses Olayia and Eddie Ugboma. 

And a bit later in 1984, Wale Adenuga’s Papa Ajasco became the first blockbuster and one of the largest cinematic events in Nigeria. The movie grossed about 61,000 nairas in three days. 

Even though African cinema started to get its legs in the early 60s, and grew exponentially in the 80s, the industry’s insane prolificness is thanks to a more grassroots collective in the earlier part of the 1990s.

1990s: Nollywood’s True Start

It wasn’t until the 1990s, when a grassroots movement in Nigeria emerged and shaped the Nollywood that we have come to understand today. 

The Yoruba people and their traveling theater tradition are a major player in the creation of Nollywood. The Yoruba are a group of African people living in the western part of Nigeria and Benin, who would put on plays as they traveled from village to village.

They soon began filming these plays, and turning them into movies on VHS. It was fast, cheap, and a great way to share their stories. 

Despite lack of funds and experience, self-made directors begin using commercial video cameras to shoot and sell their films for home viewing. Even though this resulted in movies with super low production value,  the original, and occasional mythical themed stories, often lacking in Hollywood, instantly made them a hit. 

By the mid-90s, people were actually making a living turning these plays into movies. Others, like the Igbo Group, an African group coming out of southeastern Nigeria, decided to do something similar. In 1992, Chris Obi Rapu directed Living in Bondage film in 1992.

This 90s VHS is said to have sparked the rise of Nollywood

Living in Bondage is often considered the start of Nollywood. 

These types of movies spread from Yoruba to a much larger population of Africa. This is when we began to hear about 200 films being made a year, then 700, and now nearly 2500 are made in any given year. 

On the whole these movies had awful production value.  Horrible lighting, bad sound, incredibly on-the-nose, with no real attention to anything like poetic devices, or motifs. It was all very “TV” and the hard close-ups didn’t help. They were made quickly, with typical budgets in the range of $15,000 to $40,000. 

Nollywood is best understood as the process of filmmaking with minimal, and I mean minimal resources. Journalist, Onishi observed how the filmmakers there created movies under volatile and unpredictable circumstances, with near impossible production environments. This helped Onishi coin the term, “Nollywood,” which means “nothing wood,” or rather, creating something out of nothing. 

Now, though, thanks to more funding and better quality productions from their contemporary counterparts, the film industry today is the largest employer after agriculture and makes up 5% of Nigeria’s GDP. 

Nollywood is born out of a true grassroots collective that has not only become profitable for the country, but has created thousands of jobs. It an industry built by its people and gets better and better by contemporary filmmakers.

Recent Nollywood Movies

Watch these recent Nollywood hits

We showed you the film that kickstarted Nollywood, Living in Bondage, but what about some more contemporary favorites? 

Ojuju (2014)

A Nigerian zombie-thriller film, written and directed by C.J. Obasi with a zero budget. It stars Gabriel Afolayan, Omowunmi Dada, and Kelechi Udegbe.

Thriller genre is getting more popular in Nollywood

The Wedding Party (2016)

A mega-hit with one of the biggest budgets for a Nigerian film to date. It also has a mega-hit sequel. A fun romantic-comedy about a couple’s nightmarish wedding day.

The Wedding Party, this Nigerian rom-com was a hit

From Lagos with Love (2018)

The film explores parental pressure on relationships. It reveals some ugly truths about familial impact and the choices we make.

Nollywood movies: romantic dramadies


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  • Alyssa Maio is a screenwriter from New Jersey, now living in Los Angeles. She works as a copywriter here at StudioBinder.

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