Photo courtesy of the filmmakers.

The 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

Photo by @photosagie.

Nine Nigerian Actors Blazing a Trail

Whether you have or haven’t heard of them yet, here are nine top Nigerian actors you should be closely following.

Nollywood is entering a golden age. The industry is experiencing growth in scale, technical capacity, and even education as major players are launching film schools to educate, prepare, and launch actors and filmmakers. The influx of streamers — and foreign money — has also changed the type of stories being told as the industry shifts from formulaic light-comedic films to crime dramas, remakes of classics and indigenous historical films.

This diversity in stories is incredible for actors because there is more to play with. One doesn't have to be funny on Instagram to lead a big Nollywood film today; being able to act is becoming a vital criterion again.

This shift is bearing fruits already. We have seen skilful leading performances from Tobi Bakre and Chidi Mokeme in the gritty Brotherhood and Shanty Town, respectively, and there is Kunle Remi’s charming delivery of Saro in the historical Aníkúlápó. Then you have the YA shows like NdaniTV’s Schooled and Netflix’sFar From Home introducing us to highly talented young actors.

OkayAfrica takes a look at some of the trailblazers you should be familiar with because you will see them on your screens for a long time to come.

Tobi Bakre

Tobi Bakre is perhaps Nollywood’s most exciting actor today. The Big Brother Naija alumnus is soulful and charismatic — a throwback to old Nollywood actors who could act and charm. It is more exciting because Bakre is only scratching the surface, like a superhero coming to terms with his gifts. We might get an actor for a generation if he continues to play the right roles under capable directors.

Bakre was the highest-grossing actor thanks to his star-turning performance in the electrifying Brotherhood, and he is leading Prime Video’s first African Original, Gangs of Lagos.

Uzoamaka Aniunoh

Uzoamaka Aniunoh has an actor’s face, the type that’s unassuming at first glance but can progress a narrative with a smile or smirk. It is no wonder she is becoming a favorite for art-house filmmakers. The exceptional C.J. Obasi cast her in the mystical Mami Wata, the first Nigerian film to be selected for the Sundance Film Festival official competition earlier this year.

The past few years have seen Aniunoh rise from forgettableroles in popular TV series like MTV Naija Shuga and Skinny Girl in Transit to leading the Africa Magic Telenovela Venge, and playing prominent roles in Showmax’s Diiche and in the reboot of the classic Domitilla.

While Aniunoh is having a great time in front of the camera, she is also starting her journey behind it, by writing a short film called Love Language.

Onyinye Odokoro

There is a scene in Africa Magic’s Dilemma where Onyinye Odokoro’s character, Rekiya, enjoys being manhandled by her narcissistic ex. It is a Joker-esque scene many would fumble by overplaying, but Odokoro gives a restrained, nuanced performance that makes her character more intimidating. It was one of her earliest roles, but her performance on the show announced her talent with certainty.

She is also gaining attention outside of Nollywood. While shooting Dilemma, Odokoro had the notice to audition for a character she didn’t know about. That character, Sophia, is one of the major characters in Sky Original’s Unwanted, an international series premiering later this year. The actress is also leading the reboot of Domitila.

Emeka Nwagbaraocha

Emeka Nwagbaraocha has had pockets of breakout roles. He came into prominence with Ema Edosio’s Kasala, a low-budget comedy where he played TJ, a Yoruba kid with an Igbo accent and enough swagger to make you forget it.

He has gone on to play several supporting roles in a few films and the recurring MTV Naija Shuga series. However, with Netflix’s Far from Home, he has been shot into a higher stratosphere — and has even become a popular meme on Nigerian Twitter.

For his next chapter, Nwagbaraocha wants to play outside his comfort zone, like being a villain in a horror or crime film villain. There is a glimpse of that in Jade Osiberu’s The Trade, where he played a kidnapper. It will be interesting to see how he embodies villainy.

Genoveva Umeh

It is easy to forget that Genoveva Umeh’s breakout role in Blood Sistershappened less than a year ago. Her rise since debuting in the Netflix original has been meteoric; she has been cast in original productions from all prominent streamers present in Nigeria, and is appearing in the sixth season of MTV Naija Shuga, which releases later this month.

The Enugu-born actress told OkayAfrica in an interview last year that she helped prepare for her foray into the acting world by shadowing producers, learning the ins and outs of the industry, and that her goal is to “work and have fun with the characters [she] plays.”

Uzoamaka Onuoha

Uzomaka Onuoha knew she wanted to act as far back as high school, so she majored in Theatre and Film Studies. Her love for film is infectious; you will find adoration for the classics she watched growing up on her social pages. No wonder she often works with artistic filmmakers and on prestige projects.

The Ebonylife Creative Academy alum has featured in short films that have toured the globe, from queer drama Country Love and Finding Diana to the haunting Swimming in a Sea of Trauma, which premiered at the recently concluded International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR).

Onuoha had been in several film and theatre productions before her 2022 breakout when she was cast as the lead for Showmax’s Diiche. It was a challenging role where she morphed from an ordinary daughter to something sinister, but Onuoha was more than capable.

Gbubemi Ejeye

Gbubemi Ejeye was one of the delightful surprises on Far From Home for many, but those who have seen her in Africa Magic’s Covenant, where she plays a classic Nollywood poor girl loved and to be saved by a rich man’s son, know she is a gem and more. The impressive thing about Ejeye’s acting is its simplicity; nothing is ever too much or too little.

Natse Jemide

Another welcome surprise off Netflix’s Far From Home, Natse Jemide is a fine boy who can act. It is pretty easy to fumble the Reggie character, a cool kid with zero worries, but Jemide has been one. “Playing the character allowed me to infuse some of my personal experiences; I captained my football team when I was younger and even took martial arts, just like Reggie,” he told OkayAfrica earlier this year. So he never forces the act; he gives the right amount of oomph, and it is no surprise he is the most beloved of the cast.

His fans have gone as far as establishing an association of wives — perhaps a message to Nollywood that here is your romance lead, a pretty boy who can act and make us swoon.

Paul Nnadiekwe

On a list of names to keep a close eye on, Paul Nnadiekwe’s place is guaranteed; he is a bona fide talent whose time has come. He made his breakout on NdaniTV’s Schooled, playing the charming Ayo, an intelligent kid from a poor home who wins a scholarship to attend a prestigious school.

Schooled is just the beginning for the 23-year-old actor, who trained under the Nollywood veteran Hilda Dokubo. He is the lead actor for a few major projects, including Kayode Kasum’s Afamefuna (a film about the Igbo apprenticeship system) and Jade Osiberu’s social drama, Everything Scatter.

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