Africa has long shifted from consuming mainly foreign movies to now valuing its own local productions. The new crop of African filmmakers are determined to tell authentic African stories for Africans, which can also be enjoyed, but not controlled, by foreigners. In many African countries, movies have become a way to celebrate African cultures and everyday life, while also providing quality entertainment.
On average, Africa produced 5,500 movies per year, according to a Statista study conducted between November 2020 and May 2021. The bulk of these movies came from West Africa and East Africa. This article explores countries with some of the biggest movie industries in Africa when it comes to the number of movies produced annually.
The top 5 countries with the biggest movie industries on the continent are:
1. Nigeria (2,599)
Entertainment and culture are arguably some of Nigeria’s most prominent exports. Whether in music, with Afrobeats, or in movies, with its local movie industry dubbed ‘Nollywood’, Nigeria has a lot to show to the rest of the world. Nollywood is the biggest film industry in Africa in terms of the volume of movies it produces yearly, as well as value, revenue and popularity. The term ‘Nollywood’ surfaced in the 2000s, but the Nigerian movie industry, with productions by Nigerians for Nigerians, existed since the 60’s.
In 2021, Nigeria accounted for 97% of the box office revenue in anglophone West Africa, making about 4.85 billion NGN (11.2 million USD). On a global scale, Nollywood beats Hollywood and is second only to India’s Bollywood in terms of the annual number of films produced. This is partly because of the many low-budget productions the industry churns out.
However, in more recent years, there has been a more notable switch to high-quality productions which garner international acclaim and have even been deemed fit to be featured on international movie streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. One movie that perhaps marked the start of this new era was EbonyLife’s ‘The Wedding Party’ which was released in 2016 and grossed over 450 million NGN at the box office (104,000 USD). This is not to say there were no high-quality productions before then.
2. Ghana (600)
Ghana’s Ghallywood comes in second with 600 films produced annually as of 2021. The West African country rakes in an estimated 1 million USD in box office revenue every year. As with many other things – except for the jollof wars of course – Ghana and its big sister Nigeria have collaborated a great deal of times in their respective movie industries, with many actors crossing over to either side. Ghanaian movies have also experienced a similar improvement in production quality.
However, the Ghanaian movie industry’s history is a bit more complex. The industry started out as the Gold Coast Film Unit and was used as a tool to control the narrative in favour of the British during the colonial era. Post-independence in 1957, the then president Kwame Nkrumah made it a mission to reclaim the industry, building on existing film infrastructures and empowering locals to make movies that actually painted Ghanaian culture and values in a positive light. He changed the Gold Coast Film Unit name to Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC). During this time, Ghana was said to make the most sophisticated films in Africa.
However, GFIC soon monopolised the Ghanaian film industry, only allowing certain movies to be funded and screened. Ghanaians then decided to take matters into their own hands by making independent films which portrayed the lives of everyday Ghanaians – pioneered by the making of William Akuffo’s Zinabu in 1987. This birthed the Ghallywood phase in the Ghanaian film industry.
3. Kenya & Tanzania (500)
The two East African countries don’t just share a border; they also share the third spot for the biggest movie industries in Africa, with an estimated 500 film productions annually as of 2021. However, Kenya has the larger box office revenue of the two – 4.9 million USD for Kenya and only 0.7 million USD for Tanzania, according to 2018 data. Kenya’s box office revenue is expected to grow to 6.4 million USD in 2023 while Tanzania’s is only expected to grow to 0.8 million USD.
Kenya’s Riverwood – named after the stretch of Nairobi’s River Road where the industry started – has seen immense growth in the last two decades. Due to the country’s picturesque landscape and abundant wildlife, Kenya has been a choice location for shooting numerous international documentaries. Locals would also often produce films documenting the poverty experienced by people in the main cities, however, there was a shift in the 2000s as Kenyan filmmakers started producing more feature films based on pop culture. The Kenyan film industry also served as a propaganda tool for the British during colonialism.
Tanzania’s Swahiliwood or Bongowood was established around 2001. Before then, the Tanzanian film industry was mostly government-run with films being used for instructional or educational purposes. Numerous nature documentaries had also been shot in Tanzania. The modern Tanzanian film industry mostly produces low-budget films with short schedules – called ‘Bongo films’ – in DVD format, however, a few high-quality movies are also released in the cinema yearly. Swahilihood scored a major win this year as the first-ever Tanzanian movie, titled ‘Binti’, landed on Netflix. The award-winning film has opened the door for more quality Swahiliwood productions to feature on the mega streaming platform.
5. Uganda (200)
Uganda’s Ugawood – sometimes called Kinauganda – is one of the fastest-growing movie industries in Africa and the fifth biggest movie industry by annual production volume. The 2005 film ‘Feelings Struggle’ is often credited as the first Ugawood movie. The Ugandan film industry is rather unconventional, with Video Jokers being an essential part of the cinema experience. These video jokers translate the dialogue of movies shown at video halls and add their own humorous commentary. Video clubs where people rent DVDs or watch films on prime-time are also a fixture in Ugawood.
Many of Ugawood’s films are low-budget productions made with DIY equipment, while some are funded by NGOs through cultural grants. Movies with impressive production quality have also emerged in more recent times.
Ugawood has a knack for telling thought-provoking African stories, with titles like ‘The Girl With the Yellow Jumper’ and the critically acclaimed ‘Queen of Katwe’ – although the latter was an American production which was based in Uganda and used mainly Ugandan acts. Uganda’s film industry still has a long way to go compared to its East African neighbours, but it is for sure well on its way to being a powerhouse on the continent.
With more support from Africans within and outside the continent, Africa’s local film industries could see astounding growth in the years to come.