A Thing On Nollywood Cinema Hits

Introduction

So what do you know, two posts in one week. I wonder if pigs are flying somewhere in Lagos. Anyway let us begin.

So the genesis of this article is a conversation on twitter about what changes King of Boys would have on the Nigerian cinema landscape. Whether or not KOB as it is fondly known changed the game?

Here’s why the question came up:

King of Boys hit the Nigerian Cinema like a tsunami. The film is selling out screens and earning rave reviews, whilst also establishing Kemi Adetiba as the second person (AY is the first natch) who can open a film to blockbuster box office success on the strength of their name alone.

So did KOB change the game?

Before I’d answer that, walk with me for a second. We need to discuss a few things first about making films for cinema in Nigeria first.

  1. It’s Fun To Make A Blockbuster

The first point is that everybody loves to make a blockbuster. Any producer who says that they don’t is lying. I’ve made two of them and I can tell you that it feels great — even the one that received mixed negative reviews.

For the purposes of this article I’m defining blockbuster to be anything that grosses over N100m at the Nigeria/Ghana box office. There are currently 7 such Nollywood blockbusters :

  1. The Wedding Party (2016)— Elfike (Ebonylife/FilmOne/Inkblot/Koga)
  2. The Wedding Party 2 (2017)— Elfike (Ebonylife/FilmOne/Inkblot/Koga)
  3. Merry Men (2018)— Corporate World aka AY
  4. 10 Days in Sun City (2017) — Corporate World
  5. A Trip to Jamaica (2016)— Corporate World
  6. 30 Days in Atlanta (2014)— Corporate World
  7. King of Boys (2018)— Kemi Adetiba Visuals

So technically KOB hasn’t officially crossed, but given where it apparently was after ten days and the red hot word of mouth, crossing is a formality. In fact it is even possible that KOB could surpass the reported N163m total of 30 Days in Atlanta, but lets wait and see until then.

Also, apparently if you add private screenings Isoken is the 8th, but that’s a decision for you the reader to make as to whether to include it or not.

Anyway so those are the blockbusters. I’ve included the production companies by the side and it will make sense as we go along.

So the first point that KOB reinforces is that you should try and make blockbusters. There’s no better feeling in the world as a creative than making a critically acclaimed blockbuster.

2. It is Hard To Make a Blockbuster

The other honest truth is that it is very hard to make a blockbuster. We’ve released over 200 films into the cinema since 2010 and only 7 have made N100m. That’s less than 5%.

And if you take the top roughly 10% of Nollywood films released over that time period from a box office perspective — say the Top 20 films. You end up with the 20th film being Ije/Half of a Yellow Sun at N60m

So the rest of the Top 20 hits are as follows:

8. Isoken (2017)— Trybe 85

9. Okafor’s Law (2017)— Dioni Visions aka Omoni Oboli

10. Fifty (2015)— Ebonylife films

11. Ghost and the Tout (2018) — Toyin Abraham Production Company

12. Alakada Reloaded (2017)— Toyin Abraham Production Company

13. 76 the movie (2016) — Adonis Productions/Princewill’s Trust

14. My Wife and I (2017)— Inkblot/FilmOne

15. Wives on Strike (2016)— Dioni Visions

16. Moms at War (2018) — Inkblot/Dioni Visions/FilmOne

17. The CEO (2016) — Golden Effects

18. Banana Island Ghost (2017) — Biola Alabi Media/Nemsia Films

19. Ije (2010) — Xandria Productions

20. Half of a Yellow Sun (2014)— Shareman Media/Slate Films

These figures aren’t adjusted for inflation etc, and there’s also an argument to be made that Ije making N60m on 8 or so screens means that it would have made well over N200m in today’s environment.

However the figures are what they are, so manage them like that. However more importantly what they represent is that making blockbuster status as a Nollywood film is a total well done sah kind of moment.

It also shows that if you made N60m you also deserve a very well done.

There are also a few other things that looking at the top twenty shows you:

3. The Nollywood cinema audience is very selective

So just like only 7 movies of the 200 released between 2010 and 2018 made over N100m, only an additional 16 have made over N60m. And this is in this same time frame that Nollywood has grown from less than 5% of the total box office to around 25% to 35% of the box office.

Yes more people are coming to watch Nollywood in cinema but they tend to mainly watch the big films. They also tend to spend a lot of money on the big films. If you look at the top ten films of all time in Nigerian cinema 6 of them are Nigerian films.

4. Genre Matters, but not a lot

So broad strokes there are 13 comedies and 7 dramas on the list of top 20 films. The top 6 are all comedies. 7 of the top ten are comedies. So yes it goes without saying that the box office implies that Nigerians prefer comedies to dramas. However as KOB, Fifty and 76 proved you can have big blow out dramas that are event films. I think people need to be reminded of this every year, and hopefully KOB has reminded people for good.

KOB also has the honour of being the first drama blockbuster.

However I strongly believe that it won’t be the last. Drama works if it big, just like comedy works if it is big. The key thing for the film is that it is an event, not necessarily what genre it is. It proves what I always say, make what ever film you want, make it as big as you possibly can, and then market the hell out of it.

5. The Matthew Effect Exists in Nollywood Cinema aka Brands Matter

The Matthew Effect is based off the parable of the talents and it basically can be summed up as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Aka accumulated advantage.

It seems that way a bit when you look at the top 20 hits in Nollywood. AY has 4 films. Inkblot/Film One have 4 as well. Ebony Life and Dioni Visions have 3. Toyin has 2. It seems that audiences reward familiarity. The name you know and all that. That’s why we all have — the makers of XYZW on our trailers.

I should note that there should be an asterisk on Kunle Afolayan’s Golden Effects because if I had defined a hit as N50m and above, Golden Effects would have two more films on the list — Omugwo and October 1. So I’d argue that Golden Effects also benefits from the Matthew Principle.

The other obvious asterisk is King of Boys. Given the fact that Kemi Adetiba produced and directed KOB, she is totally getting the credit (as she should) for being the director of The Wedding Party.

However whilst the Matthew Effect is strong, Nigerian cinema audiences do welcome new voices in certain cases. The other five films on the list were all the first cinema release of the production companies in question.

I have a sneaking suspicion that it is sadly going to become even more of a closed shop (and the 2018 box office sort of bears that out), but I have to believe that there will always be space for new filmmakers and new production companies to emerge.

It will be a shame if the conditions that allowed us, Kemi and Jade (Trybe 85) to emerge go away forever.

6. It is very difficult to make a low budget hit

There are three films on this list of twenty that were rumoured to be made for around N10m — Alakada Reloaded, the Ghost and the Tout and Wives on Strike.

I’ve seen a lot of chatter about how to make low budget films that are hits, however the only thing those three films have in common is that they are star vehicles owned and produced by the stars. I’m not sure if this formula is replicable by anyone else. In my view, if you don’t have those unique sets of characteristics, if you want to make a box office hit, you’re going to have to spend that money.

However there is probably room for a low budget film to target making between N20m and N30m in box office, but even that is getting harder and harder to do these days as the larger films are crowding out the smaller ones.

7. Co-productions are bae /but Nigerian producers tend to be soloists

Clearly the fact that every Inkblot film on that list is a co-production tells you how seriously we take them. Or if you listen to our detractors we are experienced coat-tailists :-)

However the fact that 13 of the 20 were not co-productions shows that most of the other Filmmakers tend to take a different view of co-productions.

I’m defining co-production as creative input as opposed to just financial input to clarify the fact that production companies tend to raise third party capital for their projects.

Anyway back to the inkblot belief in co-productions. Let’s break out an old African proverb — If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.

It may not work for everyone, but for us it has been a key to our success. I’m proud of the fact that there are only 7 co-productions on that list and we made 4 of them.

Also another point to note is that production companies like Dioni Visions and Ebony Life are able to make hits both as co-pros and as stand-alones and that is a very valuable skill also.

Conclusion

The thing that should be most obvious once you take a look at the data, is how hard it has been to make a dent in the cinema landscape in Nigeria. That everybody who has put in one of those 200 plus films has worked to build the audience brick by brick.

There was work done by films that were big in their time that got eclipsed as the grosses grew. Kunle’s work in particular — The Figurine, Phone Swap, October 1. Omoni’s earlier work — Being Mrs. Elliot, The First Lady. The Emem Isong stuff — Weekend Get Away, Knocking on Heavens Door, Lagos Cougars. Buzzed about films like The Meeting, When Love Happens, and The Arbitration (shameless plug here).

All of these and more than I can name went a long way towards building the cinema culture we benefit from today.

So did KOB change the game. It depends on where you’re sitting. I’d say that from where I’m sitting it’s part of a tradition of pushing the envelope of what is possible that is a part and parcel of Nollywood cinema.

Aiight that’s me done.

Laters.