Nollywood has proved once again that it has the power to impress Nigerian audiences at the domestic Box Office. And this is great news from a business perspective. Which means it’s also great news for investors. Happy audiences. Happy investors. And this in my opinion is a win for Nollywood. Yes. And it’s a great start. I’ll explain why I used the word “start” later.
Now, let’s look at some numbers. Not to make an apology for an industry that’s still heavily, and oftentimes harshly critiqued despite making giant commercial strides. But to encourage its critics to hope for better representation in the near future. Art is dynamic. And like wine, it gets better with age…literally.
Critics, and even myself, have often alluded to a certain viewer apathy for Nollywood films, but clearly this was a premature assessment. Numbers don’t lie. It’s true that we may have erroneously believed that Nigerian audiences are wont to prefer Hollywood blockbusters for their production values – it’s easy to think or believe this, but that is just not an accurate assessment of the figures. Because the paying audiences have proven that they actually prefer Nollywood films in the cinemas. Contrary to the banter and speculation you may likely find online. Don’t quote me on this. Don’t even believe what I’m saying. Just look at the numbers, and you’d agree with me that the paying audiences have a lot of faith in Nollywood films, and are eager to support these films. Is there room for improvement – hell yes, we have plenty room for improvement. But before you run with that, consider what we have to work with and the Goliaths we go against every day in the cinemas, and still emerge without too many bruises.
Your Excellency, Merry Men 2, Living in Bondage, Sugar Rush are some of the Nigerian films that are currently in the cinemas, during this highly coveted Christmas holiday release window. And no matter how much you try to hype a Nigerian film, your hype will never meet up to 5% of the hype the average Hollywood movie pours into their marketing and promotions. You all watch TV, you can attest to this. They bombard you with premium TV spots, billboards, hit you on the news – and literally occupy E, BET, CNN, BBC, and all the top talk shows, magazines, and blogs. Nollywood films rely on social media, a few outdoor spots, some TV spots, and word of mouth. Nollywood cannot afford to roll out a 50M USD advertising campaign. We cannot afford a Super Bowl spot for our trailers – the cost alone will shoot like 10 Nollywood films. What I’m saying is that we cannot yet match Hollywood in terms of funding for promotion and certainly we cannot match them in terms of production budget. But here we are competing against them at home, and actually doing better. Some popular football clubs are even famous for losing in their own home turf. Yet Nollywood wins at home.
Look at these numbers. Your Excellency, Merry Men 2 crossed the N100m mark in the cinemas in their second week in the cinemas. Sugar Rush had an opening weekend of N57m. Living in Bondage has crossed the N150m naira mark.
In Nigerian cinemas!
In Nigerian cinemas, Jumanji has made N165m in three weeks. Not bad. But Jumanji had a production budget of N43bn. All the films released in Nigerian cinemas this year – if you combine all their production budgets, the figure will still be less than Jumanji’s budget.
Star Wars Episode 4 has only managed to make a measly N21m after two weeks in Nigeria – Sugar Rush made double that in less than three days. So, even with all the art and loyal fan base of the Star Wars franchise and all the George Lucas groupies, only N21m in two weeks. And it was shot with N99bn. 99 billion naira with a B.
Frozen, the charming Disney family film has made N107m in six weeks. Living in Bondage has made almost twice that in the same time. Your Excellency and Merry Men surpassed these figures in two weeks. And Merry Men and Your Excellency did not have a production budget of N54bn. Frozen did. For an animated film! Let me be uncouth and look for small trouble by calling it cartoon – Hollywood shot cartoon with N54bn. It’s okay. There is God!
21 Bridges, another major Hollywood blockbuster – starring Mr. Black Panther aka Chadwick Boseman has made N69m only in six weeks. Six weeks. Yet, Your Excellency and Merry Men almost doubled this figure in just two weeks. So, what do Nigerian audiences want? Perhaps we’ll find out soon. Oh, and 21 Bridges was shot with N10bn.
My point is, Nollywood is grinding. Struggling and still making us proud. At this point it may be nice to point out that I don’t think any of the Nigerian films in the Box Office today was shot with up to N1bn. I don’t think they were shot with even half that. So, from a business point of view, Nollywood has proved that it can hold its own against its foreign counterparts in our domestic Box Office. So, what do we need now – more investment in infrastructure to provide more cinemas; more investment in production, to improve production values; more investment in training, to develop more skilled practitioners; more faith in Nollywood from critics. And we cannot ask for more love from the audiences, we already have more than we deserve from the audiences. All we can say is “thank you” for supporting our films, and we promise to provide you with better, bigger spectacle in 2020.
Happy New Year.
James Amuta is a critically-acclaimed and award-winning documentary filmmaker. Follow @jamesamuta on Instagram