The Best Nigerian Movies of All Time

An image from the film of a man sitting next to a woman, looking forlorn.
Photo courtesy of the filmmakers.

A still from the film ‘Eyimofe,’ directed by Arie and Chuko Esiri, which has a firm spot on our list of best Nigerian movies of all time.

It’s not an easy list to compile but one that guarantees hours of satisfying viewing. Here are our top Nigerian movies and where to stream them.

Making a list of the best Nigerian movies of all time is as challenge and complex as it is daunting. But that didn’t stop us from doing so. Because of the sheer volume of titles, it would be impossible to see every single film required to register a list like this one. Add to this, genuine questions around the subjective nature of art plus the debates about what should qualify as a Nigerian film. And then, does a cinema release matter? Or is the home video circuit just as relevant?

To make this list, OkayAfrica started from the post-Living in Bondage era that began in 1992. This is the period that can also officially be categorized as the Nollywood era. That leaves out hard-to-access gems from maestros like Ade Love Afolayan, Ola Balogun, and Eddie Ugbomah. We zeroed in on films that have proven to be not only commercially or critically successful but also have achieved artistic and cultural significance.

These are OkayAfrica’s picks for the best Nigerian films of all time.76 (2016)

'76' (2016)

Director Izu Ojukwu’s magnum opus, 76 is a superbly detailed period piece that boasts stellar turns from leads Rita Dominic, Ramsey Nouah and Chidi Mokeme. Adopting historical events as the epic background for a young marriage’s ultimate test, 76 is a triumph of scale, ambition and imagination. Set six years after the civil war, the film is a fictional account of the fallout of the coup d’etat that resulted in the killing of former head of state, Murtala Muhammed. Embracing cultural and historical significance, 76 is proof that movies need not be perfect to work.

Where to stream: Netflix

'B for Boy' (2013)

Chika Anadu’s sole directorial feature is an instant stunner, an empathetic slice-of-life drama that takes on feminism and the plight of the Nigerian woman. In this fictional world, wealth and social strata are hardly enough to insulate anyone from the selfish clutches of the patriarchy. Starring Uche Nwadili and Ngozi Nwaneto, B for Boy follows a well-to-do woman's mounting desperation when her inability to produce a male heir threatens her marriage. A festival darling upon release, B for Boy won the Audience Award (Breakthrough) at the American Film Institute’s film festival but remains hard to track online.

Not presently streaming.

'Confusion Na Wa' (2013)

In many ways, Kenneth Gyang’s refreshing feature length debut birthed the wave of arthouse independent films that has expanded to include titles by C.J. Obasi, Abba Makama and Dami Orimogunje. Rough around the edges but endlessly fascinating, what with its unique plotting and fine writing, Confusion Na Wa boldly reimagines the Nollywood canon, borrowing heavily from Hollywood, of course. Taking its title from an old Fela Kuti tune, the film juggles multiple narrative strands highlighting the seeming interconnectedness – or lack thereof – amongst a posse of strangers in a small city.

Not presently streaming.

'Eyimofe' (2020)

Perhaps the most critically successful Nigerian film in recent times, Eyimofe, directed by twin brothers Arie and Chuko Esiri, premiered at the Berlinale in 2020 and has since been added to the Criterion Collection. Telling two separate stories about tangentially linked individuals who live in Lagos but dream of life across the ocean, Eyimofe is a poignant observation on what it means to be Nigerian today. The film’s two leads – a middle aged electrician (Jude Akuwudike) and a much younger bartender (Temi Ami-Williams) – want to migrate to Spain and Italy respectively. Life – and Lagos – has other plans for them.

Where to stream: Prime Video, HBO Max

'The Ghost and the House of Truth' (2019)

As a producer, Ego Boyo has been a quiet reformer, pushing boundaries and setting industry standards with each project. From her days working with the late Amaka Igwe (Violated, To Live Again) to her work redefining the Nollywood romcom (Keeping Faith), Boyo has always been ahead of the curve. Which is why her latest film, The Ghost and the House of Truth with Akin Omotoso as director feels like an encapsulation of her entire career. The slow burn drama tackles the scourge of missing children, choosing emotional heft instead of gratuitous traumatic scenes. A profile on empathy, this stark drama manages to both uplift and devastate.

Where to stream: Prime Video, BET Plus, Showmax

'Lionheart' (2018)

The only reason this list isn’t filled with straight-to-video titles from Nollywood’s super-prolific era is because Lionheart works as both homage and guiding principle for what can be achieved if technical improvements are merged with the storytelling gusto of years past. It makes sense then that Lionheart – Nigeria’s first Netflix original – would be produced and directed by Nollywood sweetheart Nnaji, who cut her teeth cranking out titles from this bygone “golden era” of video and DVD distribution. In Lionheart, Nnaji plays a transport company heiress and executive teaming up with her rascally uncle to save their family business.

Where to stream: Netflix

'Mami Wata' (2023)

Might it be too early, or not fair, to place Mami Wata on a list such as this – considering that the film only just debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January and has not been seen yet by a wider audience? Perhaps. But sometimes it is easy enough to recognize an instant classic from the get-go. C.J. Obasi’s take on the myth of the popular marine spirit is a stunning black-and-white experience that plays as a culmination of everything he has done so far in his career. Yes, some scenes are repetitive and maybe the film could use some tighter edits but Obasi and his cast and crew are clearly inspired, and the result is an eloquent statement that Nigeria can indeed be the home of grand cinematic experiments.

Not yet available for streaming.

'The Milkmaid' (2020)

Desmond Ovbiagele’s insurgency drama remains the only Nigerian film to be accepted as a submission for the international film category at the Oscars. Ambitious and epic in scope but with plenty of feeling, The Milkmaid tells a universal story of human resilience amidst devastation. Inspired by the imagery of two nameless Fulani milkmaids at the back of the Nigerian Ten Naira note, Ovbiagele fleshes out a complex narrative for his characters that complicates their journey and muddies the audience’s loyalties. The film features fiery star-making turns by the trio of Anthonieta Kalunta, Maryam Booth and Gambo Usman Kona.

Where to stream: Prime Video

'October 1' (2014)

Once upon a time, before Kunle Afolayan became content with churning out B-list fare for Netflix and Africa Magic, he was for a spell, the most exciting filmmaker working in Nollywood. As an auteur, Afolayan has never bettered October 1, an impressive, if indulgent, psychological thriller set during the last days of colonial-era Nigeria. The late Sadiq Daba plays Danladi Waziri, a police officer posted to a remote town to investigate a spate of female murders. October 1 has a lot to say about postcolonial trauma, ultimately positing that, in many ways, the Nigerian project was doomed from the start.

Where to stream: Netflix

Saworoide (1999)

The veteran Tunde Kelani could easily post several films on this list but Saworoide, considered the crowning achievement of his esteemed career wins out on account of its eternal appeal. Saworoide might as well be the story of Nigeria today, yesterday or even tomorrow. Written by the late Akinwunmi Ishola, the epic is set against the backdrop of a Yoruba community dealing with a new monarch (Kola Oyewo) whose only goal is to enrich himself while in office. The town is thus forced to check his excesses, setting the stage for some turbulent times.

Where to stream: YouTube