The Best Nollywood Films of 2021
Twenty twenty-one was projected to be an exciting year for Nollywood. It was the year of reopening theaters and movie sets, most of which had their operations restricted or shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, it was not entirely a rosy year for the industry. With the pandemic still showing its ugly face and various strains coming into play, more and more film sets with the capacity to run had to deal with the extra expensive costs of managing both the cast and crew.
Likewise, poor patronage of cinema outlets was a big problem in 2021. In an industry like Nollywood, where cinema carries a huge chunk of profit, one can see how this poses a huge threat for filmmakers. It is especially worse because the cinema culture in Nigeria has grown over the years. We can also blame the operations of video on demand services like Netflix and iRoko, responsible for making it easier for viewers to stream on the go. In 2022, filmmakers would have to deal with that problem — managing the viewers’ demands while making the projects they are interested in.
While the year could have been a lot better for the industry, we celebrate these films for being entertaining, exceptional and captivating in their various ways.
The films on this year’s list differ in several forms — it’s a fine mix of comedies and dramas, some from well-known directors and others from new names to the average cinemagoer. From the much talked about Juju Stories, to Tunde Kelani’s return to the big screen Ayinla, in no particular order, here are the best Nigerian films of the year.
Directed by Bolanle Austin-Peters, Collision Course tells the story of police brutality from the lens of a young man and a law enforcement agent. It was inspired by the #EndSARS protests of October 2020 when young Nigerians marched in defiance of years of human rights abuse perpetrated by a unit of the Nigerian police referred to as SARS.
The film casts Kelechi Udegbe, who delivers an award-winning performance for his role as Corporal, and other actors such as Daniel Etim Effiong, Chioma Akpotha, Ade Laoye, and Bimbo Manuel.
Swallow is a very slow burn that depicts an interesting picture of Nigeria in the 1980s. Based on Sefi Atta’s 2008 book of the same name, Swallow is a story of two women, Tolani (Niyola) and Rose (Ijeoma Grace-Agu), united by their struggle to survive in a patriarchal society. For this Netflix original, director Kunle Afolayan also enlisted Deyemi Okanlawon, Eniola Badmus and Kelvin Ikeduba to bring the adaptation to life.
While Swallow captures the dream of finding greener pastures outside the shores of Nigeria, Gone, which is currently streaming on Netflix, takes a look at homecoming from the eyes of Ani (Sam Dede), who is looking to connect with his estranged family after 25 years in New York City. The movie is directed by Daniel Ademinokan and also stars Bimbo Ademoye, Gabriel Afolayan, Sophie Alakija, and Stella Damasus.
Juju Stories is a three-part anthology film exploring stories rooted in Nigerian folklore and urban legend, written and directed by Michael Omonua, Abba Makama and C.J Obasi. The film features three stories, “Love Potion,” “Yam” and “Suffer The Witch.
Juju Stories first premiered at the 2021 edition of the Locarno Film Festival where it won the Boccalino d’Oro award for best film. Since then, it’s traveled across various film festivals and is showing in select cinemas.
ÀYÌNLÁ is one of the best Nigerian films of the year. Almost everything is right about ÀYÌNLÁ, from the script to the casting — led by Lateef Adedimeji who plays the titular character — down to other details like location and scoring.
The film is based on the life of Apala musician Ayinla Yusuf popularly known as Ayinla Omowura who was stabbed to death by his manager in a bar fight. It features Omowunmi Dada, Bimbo Manuel, Ade Laoye, Kunle Afolayan, Bimbo Ademoye, and Mr Macaroni.
La Femme Anjola
After years of conceptualization, Mildred Okwo’s La Femme Anjola finally made its grand debut in Nigerian cinemas. With strong acting performances from Rita Dominic, Nonso Bassey, Femi Jacobs and a host of others, the film revolves around Dejare, a stockbroker who falls in love with Anjola, a woman married to a gangster. Like the best Nollywood films, La Femme Anjola gets cinematography right. It is intense and absolutely intriguing.
You can watch the movie here.
For Breaded Life, Biodun Stephen takes some characters from her 2016 Picture Perfect comedy and creates a film on their realities. This time, it’s Sunmisola (Timini Egbuson), a rich spoilt brat who wakes up one day to find that he is unknown to everyone but Toluwade (Bimbo Ademoye), a bread seller. In typical fashion, Sunmisola has to work his way up back to riches and this sets the tone for the entire movie.
It also features Bisola Aiyeola, Bolanle Ninalowo, Adedimeji Lateef, and Tina Mba.
While Eyimofe made its cinema debut this year, it was out in 2020 and was awarded as one of our best films of the year here.