In New Nollywood, there seems to be a renaissance for action flicks among contemporary filmmakers. This interest stems from the recent injection of resources into the industry, the alluring patronage…
●6th December 2022
The film industry in Nigeria, popularly called Nollywood, is a thriving and booming sector that has caught the eye of the world. From its humble roots in the traveling theatre tradition of Hubert Ogunde and his cohorts, Nollywood has risen to the pinnacle of African entertainment, which has placed a global demand for Nigerian content. In the past, the Nigerian film industry gained recognition mainly for the number of films released annually, with an estimated one thousand movies produced yearly during the video boom era. Since then, Nigerian cinema has grown exponentially in visual storytelling, overall production quality, and aesthetic value, with a reported worth of $6.4 billion in 2021. “New Nollywood,” as it is fondly called, is now widely considered the largest film industry in Africa and one of the largest in the world in terms of value, volume, revenue, and popularity.
With an estimated 68 cinemas across the country and access to streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube, Nigerian cinema is enjoying its most successful patronage since its inception. Nollywood has experienced remarkable success in recent years due to increased funding, strategic local and international partnerships, and the emergence of global distribution channels. Gone and forgotten are the days when low-budget films were released on video cassettes and compact discs (CDs) to be sold at Iweka Road and Idumota. Today, a good deal of Nigerian movies are commissioned and funded by foreign investors, packaged for theatrical release in the cinema, or distributed on video-on-demand (VOD) platforms. This development has inspired Nollywood filmmakers to explore more technical movie genres aside from customary comedy, drama, and romance that appeal to a diverse and global demographic.
Recently, action films have become a popular choice for Nigerian moviegoers in the cinema. An action flick is a genre of film that involves fast-paced activities like fight scenes, car chase sequences, incredible stunts, violence, and swift camera movements. It is a high-octane movie that prioritizes the plot’s execution with cinematic devices like slow motion, continuity editing, and a salad of brisk-moving shots. Action films are most common and lucrative in Hollywood, with franchises like Fast and Furious, James Bond, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe raking in big bucks at the box office. In Nigeria, foreign action films are the highest-earning movie genre in the cinema. According to Insightful Cinema, Nigerian moviegoers paid a whopping 2.3 billion Naira in 2021 to watch action flicks in the movie theatre. That figure is expected to rise this year with blockbusters like The Woman King, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and Brotherhood hitting the big screen a few weeks ago.
Nigerian action movies paled in the past compared to those produced in Hollywood and Bollywood because they lacked the genre’s essential elements, such as visual and sound effects, motion graphics, and computer-generated imagery (CGI). Although some of these films struggled with predictable plots, poor continuity, and terrible special effects, they were still welcomed and celebrated in Nigeria. “Old Nollywood” action thrillers such as State of Emergency, Wanted Alive, and Isakaba gave birth to actors like Hanks Anuku, Sam Dede, and Saint Obi, who went on to become household names in the country. In New Nollywood, there seems to be a renaissance for action flicks among contemporary filmmakers. This interest stems from the recent injection of resources into the industry, the alluring patronage of foreign action films, and the potential of competing in a global market. So far, Nollywood has produced a handful of action flicks, including Mamba’s Diamond, Devil in Agbada, The Setup, Rattle Snake: The Ahanna Story, BananaIsland Ghost, and Merry Men that are enjoying rave reviews home and abroad, but, obviously, all that glitters is not gold.
Among the new crop of action movies released in Nollywood, only a few are worthy of mention. Tosin Igho’s crime action thriller Seven makes that list in terms of cheek and effort. The acclaimed film, which stars Efa Iwara alongside industry veterans like Richard Mofe-Damijo, Bimbo Manuel, and Daddy Showkey, was released in 2019 and is now streaming on Netflix. Set in the heart of Ajegunle, Seven is the story of Kolade, a wealthy brat who aims to fulfill his father’s dying wish by surviving in the ghetto on his own. The film is memorable for many reasons, including a relatable plot and the execution of some well-choreographed stunts and fight scenes. The most impressive scene in Seven is a riveting and pulsating car chase sequence that puts the viewer on the edge of their seat. With cars drifting and swerving at high speeds never witnessed before in Nollywood, Igho arguably raised the bar for action flicks in Nigeria.
Another popular action film that failed to live up to expectations is Rattle Snake: the Ahanna Story, directed by Ramsey Nouah. Originally released in 1995 by the late Amaka Igwe, Rattle Snake was a commercial success in Nigeria despite its financial and technical restraints. The 2020 remake, however, struggles to rattle even with a famous director and stellar cast comprising Stan Nze, Osas Igodharo, and Buchi Franklin. As a heist film, the moviedazzles and entertains but lacks emotional depth, genuine character development, and cultural nuance. Some of these elements are also missing in The Set Up 1 and 2, directed by Niyi Akinmolayan and Naz Onuzo, respectively. The first installment of the movie franchise suffers from glaring plot holes and pointless flashbacks, while the sequel is riddled with poor visual effects and continuity errors. Despite the flaws, Rattle Snake and The Set Up excel in acting, cinematography, and sound design.
Action films cost a fortune to produce, but that does not guarantee their success at the box office. As the makers of Eagle Wings, a war action film about Nigeria’s regional conflicts, discovered recently, big risks do not always equal big rewards. The movie, which cost a reported 145 million naira, grossed only N8.9 million in 2021 after its release. This flop came as a massive surprise because leaked behind-the-scenes pictures of the film stirred a lot of buzz and anticipation on social media. It is unclear why this big-budget movie flopped, however judging by the warm reception of Omo Ghetto: The Saga, For Maria: Ebun Pataki, and the Yoruba epic blockbuster, Agesinkole: King of Thieves, it is evident that Nigerian moviegoers are willing to patronize any genre of film, as long as it is good. Although most of the action films produced so far have missed the mark, Nollywood filmmakers should be commended for showing the cojones to expand the bandwidth of storytelling in Nigerian cinema. Their efforts represent a quantum leap in the right direction to diversify the content produced in Africa’s most valuable film industry.