There is very little doubt, 2016 was one of the biggest – if not the biggest – years in Nigerian cinema history. Box office records were broken almost as frequently as movies were released. Eight Nollywood movies were screened in Toronto, following the selection of Lagos as the year’s City to City focus at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). These films were screened before international audiences. Some of them even got standing ovations. Nollywood had arrived. Five new cinemas were opened during the course of the year. Six of the top 10 highest grossing Nollywood movies of all time were released in 2016. Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg came to Nigeria, and among other things, narrowed his focus on Nollywood. “Nollywood…really sounds like a national treasure,” he declared.
We could go on and on, but then, we wouldn’t get to the purpose of this article. Of all the things that happened to the industry last year, by far the greatest was the success after success of Nollywood movies at the box office. Twice, within the space of two months, the title for the highest ever grossing movie in the industry’s history changed hands. Apparently, a lot more people now go to the cinemas to watch “our movies.” In 2014, AY Makun’s “30 Days in Atlanta” set the record for the highest grossing movie, after having earned 130 million Naira at the box office. By the end of 2016, a single movie had grossed well over 200 million. A lot has been said about what accounts for this, but we’re here to examine the top performing movies of last year, so we’ll jump right into it.
The Wedding Party – N200 Million
The news that music video director, Kemi Adetiba would be helming the big budget ensemble comedy starring Adesua Etomi, Banky W, Richard Mofe Damijo, et al was met with a lot of skepticism. “Why would they risk such a big budget project on someone whose directing experience is limited to the world of music videos?” Well, it turns out that risk paid off, and it did so big time too. Not only did the movie set a new record for the highest grossing weekend ever in Nollywood cinema, earning N36 million. It also surpassed the highest opening week gross for a Nollywood movie with N66 million in gross sales, surpassing the record set by “A Trip to Jamaica” only a few weeks earlier.
By the end of the year, and only two weeks into it’s cinema run, “The Wedding Party” had been declared the highest grossing movie ever at the Nigerian Box Office, with N200 million. The game had been completely turned on it’s head. By the end of it’s cinema run, some of us will be surprised if the movie hasn’t done N250 million.
Fifty – N94 Million
Technically, Fifty is not a 2016 movie, having been released on Christmas day in 2015. However, because most of it’s cinema run was in 2016, we decided to add it to this list.
If there was only one thing remarkable about “Fifty”, it was it’s marketing. In the weeks leading up to the film’s release, we were bombarded with a barrage of billboard ads, social media posts, and even TV ads. It seemed like we couldn’t turn our heads without seeing “Fifty.”
By the end of it’s cinema run, EbonyLife Films, through a Press release, announced the film had had a N400 million return on investment, including a N94 million box office gross.
The CEO – N60 Million
“Veteran Nigerian helmer Kunle Afolayan wants the world to know his ambitions are sky-high. So for his fifth feature, “The C.E.O.,” he’s taking his premiere 30,000 feet into the air.”
That’s how Variety, one of the leading media organizations covering Hollywood, began a feature on the premiere of Afolayan’s “The CEO.” As has become a custom for Afolayan movies, the hype was great, and expectations were fever high. Whether or not the film lived up to expectation is a debate for critics. Whether or not it was a commercial success however, is quite clear for all to see. By the end of it’s run, The CEO had earned a total of N60 million (including sales from Ghana), making it the sixth highest grossing movie of the year, earning it a joint number six spot on the list of highest grossing Nigerian films, tied with “Half of a Yellow Sun” and “October 1,” another Afolayan movie.
A Trip to Jamaica – N170 Million
Calling AY Makun the “king of the Nollywood Box Office” has proved controversial. Some claim commercial success alone should not be the basis for such a title, but when you consider that combined, both his movies have done over N300 million in box office gross, it becomes a little hard not to see how the comedian turned actor/producer deserves the crown. Yes, critically, the movie probably couldn’t have done worse, but in the end, the audience showed the movie love— N170 million worth of love— and this, some would argue, is all that matters.
Following the immense success of his first outing in “30 Days in Atlanta,” AY employed the services of actress, Funke Akindele, and they, like the name already suggests, go on a wild and hilarious adventure to the Caribbean country of Jamaica.
By the time the film’s cinema run is over, we expect the figures to have climbed a lot higher.
93 Days – N50 Million+
Despite the film not having the blessings of the family of Dr. Stella Adadevoh, on September 16, 2016, “93 Days,” the Steve Gukas movie that sought to retell the story of the Ebola crisis that almost festered into a full blown medical disaster in Nigeria, hit cinemas. The film sought to shine the spotlight on the heroic and selfless sacrifice of Dr. Stella Adadevoh (played in the film by Bimbo Akintola) and her team at the First Consultant Medical Centre.
The film went on to land a total gross of well over N50 million (the exact figures were not available as at the time of compiling this report).
Wives on Strike – N67 Million
Taking on a social issue and addressing it in a funny way (allegations of the movie being a rip off of Spike Lee’s “Chiraq” notwithstanding), is almost always a win. A big win in the case of “Wives on Strike” which earned a whooping N67 million at the cinemas.
The film told the story of the story of a group of market women who decided to starve their husbands of sex, in a bid to stir them into standing up for a young girl whom they wanted to protect from the wishes of her own father.
In promoting the movie, the film’s stars, led by Omoni Oboli, have been accused of orchestrating a publicity stunt that involved a faux fight between them. A lot of people thought it was a cheap way to gain publicity, but we all know that saying about there not being anything like bad publicity.
Ghana Must Go – N32 Million
Comedy sells all over the world; in Nigeria, comedy is king.
Ghanian-Nigeria actress cum Producer, Yvonne Okoro teamed up with director, Frank Rajah Arase for “Ghana Must Go,” a story of two young lovers Nigerian and Ghanaian origin. When they decide to get married, and thus introduce their parents, all hell breaks loose.
Some people loved it, others didn’t. But in the end, the film did a respectable N32 Million at the box office, landing it a place on the list of the top grossing movies of 2016.
This is a special mention.
Five years, 3 Chiefs of Army Staff and $3 Million after it was conceived, Izu Ojukwu’s historical fiction, “76” finally hit cinemas in Nigeria. Before that, it had premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation from the audience. The film also picked up a Hollywood distributor. It seemed like all the hard work had finally paid off.
There is no official word on what the film’s final gross was at the box office. But “76” was so well made and received that we strongly believe it was one of the highest grossing films of the year (even though we don’t know the exact figures). How well it did, however, is the big question.
There’s news of a box office tracking software (Rentrak) being deployed in cinemas across the country in the coming months. This, we hope, will help in better reporting and transparency of box office figures. If all things go well, our list of the top performing movies at the box office for 2017 should be backed with a lot more data and verifiable figures.
2016 was a defining year for the industry and we are sure a lot of film makers were in many ways inspired by the events of the year. And so it is for that reason we say, “2017, bring it on!”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly indicated that 6, and not 8, Nollywood films were screened at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).