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Nollywood and foreign movies

So many of us grew up with Nollywood, the likes of Mercy Johnson, Sandra Achums, Aki and Pawpaw, Sam Loco, Mr Ibu made childhood really fun on TV  but did some of us grow out of Nollywood? Yes!

Recently, Aki and PawPaw trended for the amazing jobs they did back then. So what happened to Nollywood? Did we lose interest, did Nollywood lose their bearing? Wait, is anything wrong with Nollywood?

Something must definitely be wrong with it for Desmond Elliot to say foreign movies needs to be banned for Nollywood to thrive, right?

Let’s talk about Nollywood.

Early Nollywood movies reflect the colorful culture, architecture and, in many cases, the relative affluence in our Nigerian societies, while remaining true to authentic, believable storytelling. Stories had to resonate with target audiences and be supported by a strong cast, usually with at least one popular figure. The films were often shot in residences and offices over the course of a few days, and in iconic vehicles, such as BMWs and Mercedes, which were hired for short-term use.

More recently, however, global recognition has brought about bigger budgets, with interest from institutional finance, and more mainstream productions. The producers of half of a Yellow Sun, for example, raised most of their estimated GBP 4.2 million budget from local investors in Nigeria. This development has somewhat diluted the inventive, cutting-edge instincts of the early film-makers in Nollywood.

In the early days, movies like Living in Bondage, Rattlesnake, Violated Glamour Girls, and Nneka the Pretty Serpent were financially very successful. In more recent times, movies like 30 Days in Atlanta, October 1, Ije, The wedding party, the Meeting and others have also earned awards and critical acclaim.

Nigeria produces on average around 1000 films a year, putting it second place behind the biggest film industry, Bollywood, but ahead of Hollywood. However, the average Nollywood movie is produced in a span of 7-10 days on a budget between $7,500-13,000. Compare this to Hollywood’s average budget of $6.7 million per movie and one year production time!

Not only does Nollywood feature prominently in African film Festivals, it has its own annual festival every summer in Paris.

What are the main ingredients of a Nollywood movie that make it unique?

The first operators in Nollywood created stories and scripts that fitted into what was being produced at the time, while supporting a business model that guaranteed profit. The early stories were united by popular themes such as love, marriage and conflicts with mothers-in-law. Film-makers produced clusters of movies based on those themes until the trend tapped out and a new one took its place. But the themes of love, betrayal, conflict, deception and triumph unite most of the stories.

Initially, it shared its audiences with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), equivalent to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the UK. Between 1970 and 1990, the NTA created and broadcast a rich slate of compelling television shows, including The Village Headmaster, Cock Crow at Dawn, Mirror in the Sun, Behind the Clouds, Supple Blues, Checkmate and Ripples.

Nollywood’s talent came from actors, writers, directors and producers who cut their teeth in the NTA environment, and who had benefited from state-sponsored training, albeit for television production.

Nollywood made it possible for Africans to view films made by fellow Africans on a huge scale for the first time. The movies dissolved a lot of the mutual suspicion and mistrust, and encouraged intra-African tourism, trade and engagement, as the films cast light on common traditions, habits and cultures across the continent. They cultivated a massive African audience as a result. To date, this has not changed and has led to several other African countries, e.g., Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and South Africa, getting involved in this kind of film production.

Hollywood VS Nollywood

Hollywood and Nollywood are film industries recognized internationally. The United States film industry has largely been based in Hollywood, Los Angeles District in California, hence was given the name Hollywood.

Nollywood is derived from “Nigeria”, it is the name given to the Nigerian film industry.

Hollywood is older than Nollywood and therefore is more established technology wise and financially, these two are very different. Following are more comparisons between them.

Production Time and Cost– Hollywood produces spectacular, larger than life films with soaring high production costs. An average film will use a budget of between $6M- $7M (six to seven million dollars) and a production time of around one year.

An average Nollywood movie will cost anywhere between $7,500- $13,000 (seven thousand five hundred dollars to thirteen thousand dollars) and a production period of seven to ten days.

Theme- Hollywood movies are themed around any topic really, in and out of this world. They can be based on a true story or fiction. They tackle local and international issues, social and political issues, violence, controversy, sex, animation, etc.

Nollywood movies are mostly about drama, social and political issues. That is family, relationships, love and history. Nothing fictional or controversial like sex and such. Theirs is a predictable and consistent plot that lacks creativity and mostly appeals to human sensitivity.

Quality– Hollywood produces several hundred movies every year, but these films take a long time to be produced. Some use special effects and other advanced technology. They often last two hours in length. The sets are well planned, the studios are known wide world, and the producers hire professionals for each and every aspect of the film’s production. Casting takes time and intensity to get the perfect character for each role.

Nollywood produces over 1000(one thousand) movies a year, but it’s not really concerned with quality, the studios where their movies are made are unknown, these movies have no lots, no sound stages and no trailers for the stars. If this movie is broken down into the various aspects for example sound, lighting, cinematography, writing, background music and such, you will find mistakes in majority of them. That leaves a lot of room for improvement.

Sales– Hollywood movies are viewed in theaters after they are released and hence the people behind the production make a lot of money from ticketing. They actually get more money from franchising that is exclusivity to TV networks, home videos and movie revenues.

Nollywood movies once released used to be put on DVDs and sold in stores, because the theatres are few and the average citizen cannot afford or refuses to spend a lot of money on tickets. Thank God for digital platforms where one can subscribe and watch

Actors- Hollywood stars are professional and are recognized around the world. They are from different nationalities.

The actors in Nollywood movies are mainly Nigerian. They are quite slow as compared to those cast in Hollywood movies. The lead men and women are diverse meaning, unlike in Hollywood where a pretty woman has to have perfect hair and features, a pretty woman in Nollywood can be fat with short hair and warts. They are also not keen on pronunciation of English words and most are amateurs. However with a little patience and an open mind one finds traces of brilliance in them and in the story that the writer is trying to tell. It’s a lot like finding diamonds in the rough. Nonetheless this diversity gives Nollywood an edge over Hollywood especially in Africa where they have little or no competition.


We have really great stories that fail at the box-office or those that are not seen by audiences across the world because of marketing and distribution choices that limit the reach of our films. We need to explore distribution merchandising as an income bringer for the industry. We need more cinemas to engage youths in certain parts of the country.

When DVD’s were very popular in Nigeria, it made actors and film distributors rich. Nollywood was really popular for its stories at the time. Piracy increased by the day but filmmakers were able to navigate through it to make more movies and keep their profit. The tides have changed and Nigeria is getting back to a cinema culture that, unfortunately, is not enjoyed by even 15% of the population.

With Nigeria’s population of over 150 Million people, there are 33 cinema chains and about 120 screens. You see the problem? These cinema chains and screens are also available in the main cities: Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano. It is very rare to experience a vibrant cinema culture in other parts of Nigeria, not because the people in these parts hate films, but investors do not trust it will work. There are 37 states in Nigeria. In each of these states, you will find a vibrant youth culture. Those interested in watching films at the cinema but have to make do with TV or streaming options.

While there are a number of streaming sites in Nigeria, the problem is that these streaming sites do not even capture the best of stories being told. Filmmakers are also limited to a very small budget for new content to be created. Many of the filmmakers I have spoken to about their business deals with streaming sites in Nigeria think that it is only an easy way out. It is a compromise needed, to continue to make films. They are really happy that Netflix has turned its head this way. But, we also want our home based/home grown streaming apps to do better, make better content and to sell Nigerian narratives to an international audience.

It is also important to note that while other industries like Hollywood and Bollywood are funded by studios and the government, Nollywood films are entirely unaided by these bodies. It is not rare that you would hear a filmmaker ask friends to contribute for a film to be made, or take a loan, or use up savings from a lifetime to fund a film.

Nollywood films rarely get international release dates. Which takes me to the limited marketing and distribution structures that exist here. Bollywood has had films like Dangal open in the US, UK and in other cinemas across the world, this gives it an opportunity for more profit, and promotes the international visibility of India. A Nollywood film on the other hand could go as far as the Odeon cinemas in the UK for 2–3 weeks, a few film festivals and that is it.

But honestly, Nollywood production quality in the last few years has greatly improved. We are telling better stories and will continue to get better. However, there is a long way to go.

I do not agree that Nollywood should be compared to other film industries but should go head on as things changes and with technology, development, good stories, getting the government involved, good production, available studios, unredictable story line, good scripts, funds, good editing.

Banning foreign movies is the least of the problem with Nollywood, Nollywood itself is its problem. The world is changing, the industry should change with the world, it shouldn’t be static and expect us to sit and watch talent-less people, some are casted because of popularity, physical appearance or funds while the talented ones wither away in the so many calls for audition.

Nollywood get with the program.




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