A few hours ago I checked and “The Wedding Party 2” had hit 100 Million Naira at the box office. Today is it’s fifth day of running and it has already broken all records. That’s crazy right? I haven’t seen it but the consensus among most Nigerian reviewers is that it’s “an alright movie” at best. It’s over saturated with stars but it has its funny moments and its cute moments but really that’s about it.
So how is this mildly funny and mildly cute overly saturated movie breaking all box office records while the movies that really do “dare” to change things, can barely survive at the theatres on their opening weekends?
If you so much as touch anybody who is invested in Nigerian movie making, they’ll tell you this: “The Nigerian Audience Likes To Laugh”. And this is the simplest truth. They do not want to pay money to go to the theatre and watch a sad movie. They might as well just save their money and watch their lives because it’s sad enough.
Looking past TWP2, and just at the year in cinema releases, I have a list of 20 movies that I just randomly brainstormed (there’s possibly more that released this year), and 14 of them are inherently comedies. I am not even counting those that have elements of comedies intertwined within their more serious narratives – because that would bring us to about 99.9%. That is to say that on average approximately 70% of the cinema releases we have are straight up comedies.
So is there hope for any other genre of film in Nollywood?
We notice these days that everyone is sending their movies to the cinemas but dare I say that not all movies need to go to the cinemas? There are certain movies that could possibly make a killing on a different platform and would not do as well at the theatres, take for instance “Ovy’s Voice“. There is a very high possibility that if Ovy’s Voice released at the cinemas, it would not have been as much of a hit as it ended up becoming. It would have taken a lot more to sell it than it ended up needing on iRoko TV.
There are 3 different kinds of movies as far as viewing goes:
#1 Community Viewing Movies
I still remember when I went to see “Girl’s Trip” at the cinemas. As someone who actually likes to go to the movies alone, this was one that I had no desire to go alone for. Upon arrival, it was all we could do to even get seating together. There were hoards of people at the theatre and they all came in groups. This was the first weekend so it was before the word of mouth even started to circulate. The ladies were kitted from head to toe and they were ready to have a good time.
Girl’s Trip, like “The Wedding Party 2” is a classic community viewing type film. It’s an event film. You have no expectations that this movie is going to change the world but you expect to be thoroughly entertained. These movies are like a journey and it’s a journey that you want to go on with other people.
This category also includes movies in which the experience of watching it in the theatre is vastly different from the experience of watching it on your flat screen TV or on your laptop or on your phone. These are the Sci-Fi, these are the 3D movies, these are the action thrillers and everything in between. These are your “Lucy” type movies, your “Avengers”, or your “Justice League”.
This isn’t a hard and fast rule and there are exceptions to it. However, not every movie can be a community viewing movie, no matter how good the word of mouth is. To be fair, a community viewing movie doesn’t even have to be a good movie to kill at the box office. There’s a lot that is involved in going to the theatre to watch a movie, from getting ready to finding transportation etc., and not all movies are worth the stress.
#2. Family Viewing Movies
I once heard an actor on the promotion trail say some version of this: “I’m not really sure that all these interviews we do to promote a movie have any purpose. This is because after seeing a trailer 90% of people already know whether a) they want to see the movie when it opens b) they want to wait for it to come to DVD or to their TV before they see it, or c) they don’t even want to see it at all”.
If this isn’t the gospel truth, I don’t know what is. The reality is that there are some movies that you want to be on your couch for, that you want to watch with your family or those around you, but in your pajamas and with popcorn from your own microwave.
These movies are what I call the “rice and stew” type movies.
I don’t know about your family but growing up we would come home from church on Sunday, we’d make our rice and stew and we would eat it while watching a cute nollywood movie. That’s your “Backup Wife” type deal. They are sweet, they are cute and make you feel good and you can share it with people around you. They just don’t motivate you enough to wear makeup, put on them high-heels, find a cab and go to the cinemas.
#3 Individual viewing
As mentioned earlier, Nigerians like to laugh. However, every now and then you are feeling intellectual so you stumble on something on the inter-webs. These could be those short films that pinch at your heart or the full-length features that dare to go above and beyond. You could be stuck in traffic and just watch it on your phone to pass time, or on your bed scrolling away when you find it. You don’t necessarily want to watch these with someone else because these are very mood dependent kind of films. They are not the first thing you reach for when you are feeling ‘hype’.
Your individual type movies are your “King Invincible“, your “Boyhood” and the like. They don’t make you laugh but they connect deep within.
So it is not that Nigerians don’t watch anything that’s not funny but we need to better market our hard hitting movies to the right type of audience and push it on the right platform. This is also not a Nollywood only problem. That’s why we only hear of the action/adventure releases or the colorful awe-inspiring films at the theatres, but the deep heartfelt ones are left for the film-festivals. They are pushed here first and the word-of-mouth causes the rest of the audience to see it when it releases on DVD.