A scene from The Wedding Party
Nigeria’s widely acclaimed film The Wedding Party has doubled the previous record of the most tickets sold by a Nigerian movie and keeps going, netting over N400m at the box office.
In December 2016, the Nollywood box-office record stood at N178.5 million and looked likely to remain for some time, especially in the midst of the current recession. However, when the ELFIKE Collective released its romantic comedy, The Wedding Party, on 16th December, the film racked up N203 million in just two weeks, to top the Nigerian box office for 2016 and become the highest-grossing Nollywood film in history.
For the first time, a Nigerian film beat all Hollywood contenders at the Nigerian box office, including ‘Batman vs. Superman’ (N140m), ‘Captain America’ (N119m) and ‘Suicide Squad’ (N116m). In an amazing year for Nigerian movies, ‘A Trip to Jamaica’ (N178.5m) and ‘76’ (N72 million) joined ‘The Wedding Party’ in the Top 10 chart at no.2 and no.10 respectively. Other top Nollywood money-makers included ‘Wives on Strike’ and ‘The CEO’, which helped locally-made films to increase their share of Nigerian cinema takings to 30% in 2016, compared with 15% in 2015
2017 has begun as 2016 ended, with ‘The Wedding Party’ being the highest-grossing movie of the year so far, with another N200 million in the bag and N405 million in total. This sets a very high bar for the Nigerian film industry and wins an argument that has raged for years in Nollywood – whether Nigerian movie fans would support Nigerian films in the cinema, as they have always done for Hollywood blockbusters.
According to Mo Abudu, Executive Producer of the movie, it has always been a question of quality. “We set out, quite deliberately, to make a high-quality film that any Nigerian would be proud of and would be happy to spend their hard-earned money on. This is a process we started with ‘Fifty’, the debut feature from EbonyLife Films, which was one of the highest-grossing movies of 2015 and the only Nigerian title screened at the BFI London Film Festival that year. The music industry has proved already that if our creative products are good enough, Nigerians will buy them in preference to foreign imports and make international stars out of our artistes.”
At a recent entertainment industry roundtable forum, filmmakers appeared to be optimistic about the future of Nollywood despite numerous challenges, including a lack of funding. In part, they were inspired by ‘The Wedding Party’ and pondered the lessons that might be gleaned from its unprecedented performance. One producer, while reserving his thoughts on some creative aspects of the film, was forthright in his praise of its universally appealing story, stellar cast and comprehensive marketing campaign – a formula he felt Nollywood had neglected in the past.
‘The Wedding Party’ has become a Nigerian phenomenon, with movie-goers returning to cinemas to watch the film for a third, fourth or even fifth time, taking family, friends and work colleagues with them. Enthusiastic fans give multiple reasons for the film’s appeal, but they all seem to agree on a few key ingredients: a good script, a romantic storyline, strong family themes, beautiful sets, gorgeous costumes, lots of laughs, and characters that they can relate to. Moreover, everyone identifies with the lavish Nigerian wedding, contentious relatives and almost-chaotic proceedings that defy even the most careful planning.
What goes almost unnoticed is how ‘The Wedding Party’ avoids the technical glitches that affect most local productions, in terms of continuity, editing, cinematography and the soundtrack, thereby increasing its appeal to filmgoers who tend to avoid Nollywood movies at the cinema.
The director, Kemi Adetiba, is careful to avoid the over-acting that is so prevalent in local movies and guides the cast to superb performances. Relative newcomers like Banky W and Adesua Etomi, look comfortable alongside veteran actors Richard Mofe-Damijo and Ireti Doyle, while the comedy genius of Sola Sobowale, Ali Baba and AY shine through.
Moses Babatope, COO of FilmOne Distribution, believes that this is just the start of a genuine renaissance for his industry. “This has been an amazing year for Nigeria, with new cinemas increasing the number of screens to 135 and box-office returns approaching N3.5 billion. With ticket sales of over N400 million, ‘The Wedding Party’ has shown that the best Nollywood movies can beat the Hollywood blockbusters in their home territory.
Rogue One, part of the Star Wars franchise, has made more than $1 billion (N315 billion) worldwide, but was out-performed by ‘The Wedding Party’ right from their opening weekend and throughout the Christmas/New Year holidays. For the first time, Nollywood is competing with Hollywood at the Nigerian box-office and winning.”