2023 was a terrific year for Nigerian film. As in the year before, Nollywood doubled down on her efforts to improve filmmaking culture through the production and distribution of more quality Nigerian films. While such Nollywood films are not impeccable in form and content, the filmmakers made laudable attempts to push their narratives in the best possible way and win the hearts of film lovers. From Jadesola Osiberu’s breathtaking crime drama The Trade, Linda Ikeji’s tragedy Dark October and Femi Adebayo’s epic Jagun Jagun to BB Sasore’s redemption-seeking drama Breath of Life, these Nollywood films rendered a mélange of motifs across different genres that resonated with audiences at home and in the diaspora. Here is a list of Nollywood films that made positive and outstanding impressions last year. The picks are strictly feature-length films and film series that debuted in 2023 in widely accessible mediums such as Nigerian cinemas, festival screenings, and streaming systems like Netflix, Prime Video and Showmax.
- Dark October
Release Date: February 6, 2023
Director: Toka McBaror
Nigerian blogger Linda Ikeji’s first voyage into filmmaking sees her derive inspiration from a real-life incident of the 2012 Aluu Four lynching. As history has it, on that fateful day in Obio/Akpor local government area of Rivers state, Nigeria, a group of four students from University of Port Harcourt were falsely accused of theft and mobbed. The unjust killings, at the time, sparked public outrage as several persons were arrested in connection with it. Linda Ikeji’s Dark October provides a tweaked, fictional but apt account of this gruesome incident, showing how four promising but ill-fated youngsters, played by Chuks Joseph, Munachi Okpara, Kem-Ajieh Ikechukwu, and Kelechukwu Oriaku, are framed up by a debtor, leading to their death in the hands of a mob. The film raises awareness about jungle justice in Nigeria, setting the tone for a possible call to action.
- Black Harvest
Release Date: September 13, 2023
Director: James Amuta
Talk of action, crime, suspense, tension and social reality, Nollywood filmmaker James Amuta (notable for his role as producer on EbonyLife’s Oloture, Blood Sisters and Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman) brings all of this to play in Black Harvest. A group of hostages are abducted for ransom, but unknown to them and even some of their captors, the scheme is a decoy for what the real deal is—organ harvesting. The film made its global debut with its screening at the exotic Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) after which it made a domestic appearance at the 2023 Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF).
- This Is Lagos
Release Date: November 9, 2023
Director: Kenneth Gyang
Here’s a decent dark comedy from the stable of Cinema Kpatakpata about the adventure of Stevo (Gabriel Afolayan), a young man in quest of musical stardom in a city where people strive to survive by hook or crook. After debuting in competition at AFRIFF 2023, This is Lagos is still expected in the Nigerian cinemas. The film gives a relatable account of what it takes to survive in the cosmopolitan, dog-eat-dog world of Lagos. An Adaptation of Crispin Oduobuk-Mfon’s short story of same title, This Is Lagos sees Gyang rekindle his collaboration with co-producer Tom Rowlands-Rees since the success of their 2013 dark comedy, Confusion Na Wa.
- Love In A Pandemic
Release Date: February 10, 2023
Director: Akay Ilozobhie
Nancy Isime is at her poetic best in this romcom as she embodies the character of Alex, a lady who becomes apprehensive when the COVID-19 pandemic causes her to adjust to working from home. While she worries over an emotionally unavailable boyfriend and the mundaneness of her job against the backdrop of the lockdown, Alex meets a new guy, Bolanle (Deyemi Okanlawon), by chance via a phone call. It doesn’t take long for these strangers to build chemistry through their online conversations. Written by Amaka Chidioka and Ablsi Ogba, the film explores themes of love, betrayal and self-discovery at a time when the world seems to have taken a break.
- A Sunday Affair
Release Date: February 14, 2023
Director: Walter Banger
Falling in love with a complicated man is never a good idea. Two best friends Uche (Nse Ikpe-Etim) and Toyin (Dakore Akande) unknowingly fall in love with the same charming and eligible but manipulative man, Sunday (Oris Erhuero); and when the ladies realize they have been played, their loyalty is tested in the face of the disappointing circumstance. A mushy romantic comedy that samples related components of the genre such as love, with humor, heartbreak and betrayal, EbonyLife’s A Sunday Life is your go-to film for reviving the amorous spirit in you.
Release Date: October 13, 2023
Director: Kunle Afolayan
Kunle Afolayan, who has dabbled in different genres but achieved immense success in the thriller genre, gets back to filmmaking business with his first teenage-based film. The dramedy focuses on four teenagers—Oby, Jamiu, Omo Oba and Ranti—who stumble on a bag of diamonds in their local community. Ironically, what is supposed to be a blessing turns out to be a nightmare, as their lives are threatened by the dangerous Chidera (Adunni Ade) and her gang, and entitled Chief Owonifari (Yemi Solade). The cast also includes veterans like Bolaji Amusan, Yemi Shodimu, Funky Mallam, Gabriel Afolayan, Sam Dede, Femi Branch and Bimbo Manuel, all of whom deliver their roles to make the film a truly adventurous one.
- Shanty Town
Release Date: January 20, 2023
Director: Dimeji Ajibola
Veteran actor Chidi Mokeme makes a significant return in a lead role as gang leader, Scar, in this crime thriller series. Known for his ruthlessness and allegiance to his political godfather, Chief Fernandez, Scar oversees criminal deals such as prostitution and drug peddling in Shanty Town. The series is partly a detective story as it revolves around an undercover agent, who disguises as her late twin sister, Inem, to investigate and uncover the truths about Shanty Town. Written by Xavier Ighorodje and produced by Chinenye Chichi Nworah, the film captures human trafficking, prostitution, betrayal of trust and politics.
Release Date: January 23, 2023
Director: Dimeji Ajibola
Celebrated as Nigeria’s first longest Showmax original series, Wura offers a combustion of thrills and twists while exploring issues of betrayal, love, relationships, revenge, deception, power tussle, Machiavellianism and gender consciousness. It’s the story of a powerful woman, Wura Amoo-Adeleke (Scarlet Gomez), a mother of two children, who will go to any length to protect her interests and stay afloat in the gold mining industry, even if it means hurting people. While the lead director of the series is Dimeji Ajibola, others are Adeola Osunkojo, Yemi Morafa, Ben Chiadika and Philemon Maigari. The show, which has become a fan favorite, is currently in its second season.
- The Trade
Release Date: January 13, 2023
Director: Jadesola Osiberu
Blossom Chukwujekwu takes everyone by surprise by delivering one of his best acts of 2023 in this film. A crime drama inspired by a true life story, The Trade sees the Nollywood star take on the character of a notorious ringleader who specializes in kidnapping notable people in the country for ransom. The narrative explores underground crime, deception, identity crisis and survival. It takes time to unravel the identity of Eric and track him down, but when the authorities eventually do, we are grateful for the suspense that has been sustained so far. Cast members in this tantalizing drama include Stan Nze, Shawn Faqua, Waje, Ali Nuhu, Mercy Aigbe, Chiwetalu Agu, Charles Inojie, Rita Dominic, among others.
- The Black Book
Release Date: September 22, 2023
Director: Editi Effiong
It’s an unusual affair for one of Nollywood’s sweethearts, Richard Mofe-Damijo, as he takes on the stunt-fighting role of Paul Edima. Following the murder of his son Damilola (Olumide Oworu), Paul forfeits his clergy life to go after the killers, opening a can of worms in the process. Editi Effiong’s feature-length directorial debut is praised for its one-million-dollar budget and painstaking production values, as the film addresses social maladies such as political corruption and crime. Starring in the film are Sam Dede, Ade Laoye, Shaffy Bello, Kelechi Udegbe and Alex Usifo.
- The Origin: Madam Koi-Koi
Release Date: October 31, 2023
Director: Jay Franklyn-Jitubor
Storytelling in film often encompasses information that has been scooped from cultural sources, including both ancient and urban myths and legends. Jay Franklyn-Jitubor capitalizes on the existing urban legend of Madam Koi-Koi in his two-episode Netflix Original horror series, The Origin: Madam Koi-Koi. In African stories, Madam Koi-Koi is said to be a ghost that operates in boarding schools at night, haunting dormitories, hallways and other areas of the boarding facilities. The ghost is represented as a fashionable female teacher whose shoes produce the koi koi sound during movement. Set between 1971 and 1991, the film tells the story of a vengeful spirit that returns to the surroundings of a college where it embarks on a killing spree, with the ultimate aim of harming one of the college students, Amanda, whose father has a past of sexual violence.
Release Date: August 18, 2023
Director: Niyi Akinmolayan
Children fantasy dramas aren’t a common thing in Nollywood, so when Niyi Akinmolayan fearlessly undertakes the quest together with his production team at Anthill Studios, he does it with a huge sense of ingenuity and responsibility. Mikolo follows the story of two inquisitive and adventurous children who spend the holiday at their grandmother’s home where they form a special relationship with a secretly discovered magical creature. Combining elements of fantasy and realism, the film makes a suitable watch for kids of any age.
- Gangs of Lagos
Release Date: April 7, 2023
Director: Jadesola Osiberu
The wait for a film that aptly captures the living conditions and gang culture of people in Isale Eko comes to an end as we welcome Jadesola Osiberu’s Gangs of Lagos. In this riveting crime thriller, the filmmaker projects issues of love, treachery, crime, gangsterism and power tussle, and the story is narrated through Obalola (Tobi Bakre), son of a slain gangster and one of three friends (the other two being Ify and Gift) . The three friends all grow into adults in the local neighborhood where they are used as political thugs and have no choice than to work for Kazeem (Olarotimi Fakunle), an overambitious man that is later revealed as their worst enemy.
- I Do Not Come To You By Chance
Release Date: September 7, 2023
Director: Ishaya Bako
An adaptation of Adaobi Tricia’s 2009 award-winning novel of the same title, I Do Not Come To You By Chance delves into the world of cybercrime, one of the prominent social problems in modern society. Cheers to another wonderful performance of Blossom Chukwujekwu who takes on the role of Cash Daddy, a charismatic and wealthy uncle that lures his poor, job-seeking nephew, Kingsley, into his criminal empire. Within a short period of working for his uncle, Kingsley masters the tricks of the scam network and his fortune increases. A dilemma then arises, as he must choose between his unyielding mother and potentially vicious uncle.
- The House of Secrets
Release Date: June 30, 2023
Director: Niyi Akinmolayan
As culture critic, Michael Aromolaran, rightly says, “the best way to watch this movie is to accept its illogicalities as part of the package, to see them as part of the movie’s hot date with surrealism”. Akinmolayan’s The House Of Secrets is a daring aesthetic experimentation that explores the psychological state of Sarah as she is kept in a secret house by a group of strangers to remember details of her past and give up a document believed to be in her possession. Fantasy meets nostalgia in this quasi-spy narrative that unapologetically tests the waters in modern Nigerian cinema.
- Jagun Jagun
Release Date: August 10, 2023
Director: Adebayo Tijani and Tope Adebayo
Clearly the most outstanding Yoruba epic film of the year, Jagun Jagun is the story of a feared warlord, Ogundiji (Femi Adebayo), who feels threatened when one of his men, Gbotija (Lateef Adedimeji), becomes loved and respected among his peers for his heroics. In a bid to maintain absolute power over his soldiers, he tries but fails to kill Gbotija and ultimately sets himself up for destruction. Highlighting issues of power tussle and political hegemony, Jagun Jagun ends in grand style, its resolution suggesting a call for revolution against systemic oppression.
- War: Wrath and Revenge
Release Date: December 28, 2023
Director: Dimbo Atiya
War: Wrath and Revenge is a spin-off from political thriller Sons of the Caliphate which ran from 2016-2018. An EbonyLife production, the series is based on political tensions in a fictional state in Northern Nigeria. Exploring love, relationships, deceit, betrayal, crime, corruption and state-sponsored terrorism, War: Wrath and Revenge focuses on Nuhu Bala’s gubernatorial ambition and the shocking discovery of his wife’s malevolent ploys. The film series stars an ensemble of Kannywood (Hausa language cinema) and Nollywood actors, including Mofe Duncan, Rahama Sadau, Ifeanyi Kalu, Theresa Edem-Isemin and Yakubu Olawale.
- Mami Wata
Release Date: September 8, 2023 (Nigeria)
Director: C. J. Obasi
From its black-and-white monochrome to myth-based storyline, surreal art and other visual niceties, C.J. Obasi’s Mami Wata proves itself as an exemplum of artistic excellence. All the ambitious shots are credited to cinematographer Lílis Soares, who won the Best Cinematography prize at the 2023 African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA). The production taps inspiration from the West African belief in the river goddess, Mami Wata. Set in a fictional seaside village that is reluctant to yield to modern civilization, the film reveals a matriarchal society in which the Mami Wata priestess, Mama Efe (Rita Edochie), struggles to reclaim her waning influence over her people. As the village comes under a new control, her daughter Zinwe and protégé Prisca feel obligated to save their people and restore the honor of Mami Wata to Iyi. The most important theme of the film is the conflict between tradition and modernity, but the film suspends commonplace plausibility as it finds fulfillment in its own internal logic.
- Blood Vessel
Release Date: December 8, 2023
Director: Moses Inwang
When there is civil unrest in the local community, fate brings together six escaping Niger Delta youths as stowaways on a South America-bound ship. There are a young couple seeking to defy tradition and live together, two brothers in search of greener pastures, and two militants on the run for their involvement in the violent protests. But their hopes of restarting their lives abroad are thwarted when they are discovered on the ship, and then things turn messy and bloody. A crime thriller set against the backdrop of oil-related concerns in Southern Nigeria, Blood Vessel delivers love, drama and violence, all in one filmic breath.
- A Tribe Called Judah
Release Date: December 15, 2023
Director: Funke Akindele and Adeoluwa Owu
Funke Akindele returns from her success on 2022 project Battle On Buka Street with yet another record-breaking artistic masterpiece, A Tribe Called Judah. Her latest comedy drama follows the story of a single mother, Jedidah Judah, with her five children from different fathers and tribes. When their mother falls ill, the children unite and decide to steal from the eldest son Emeka’s former boss— a plan that is thwarted by another shocking discovery. A Tribe of Judah holds the record of the highest grossing Nollywood film ever made, with an unprecedented box office revenue of over a billion naira.
- Breath of Life
Release Date: November 15, 2023
Director: BB Sasore
Breath of Life first appeared at AFRIFF 2023. The narrator of the film, Elijah, tells the story of Reverend Timi whose life spirals down into one of aloofness and irreligion following the murder of his wife and daughter. But when Elijah meets an aging Timi and becomes a pivotal part of his life, problems arise, which then reawakens Timi to the purpose of his existence. BB Sasore’s faith-based film thus projects the futility of existence, the purpose of life, and redemption while also appealing to the secular hemisphere with relatable characters, exquisite visuals and pragmatic representations of love and death.