Remakes of Nollywood classics breath life into $6.4bn industry

The success of Ramsey Nouah’s 2019, Living in Bondage: Breaking free has led to the remakes of other Nollywood classics from the 90s.

It is also a resurgence of deep storytelling that older Nollywood directors used to keep audiences captivated. three movies after, producers in the $6.4 billion industry are now jostling for the next big remake. In June, Glamour Girls, another classic released in 1994 which made actresses such as Eucharia Anunobi who played the lead character very popular in Nigeria will be released exclusively on Netflix.

So far, Living in Bondage: Breaking Free has generated over N160 million from its cinema run and won seven awards at the 2020 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA), the highest accolades by a classic.

It features Kenneth Okonkwo, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Enyinna Nwigwe, and Muna Abii, with Swanky JKA playing the lead character. Ramsey plays the main villain.

In his debut remake, Nouah was able to effortlessly transit the story from where Chris Obi Rapu the director of the 1992 classic left off telling a well-blended story of wanton greed, peer pressure, and betrayal.

The 1992 classic, ‘Living in Bondage’ follows the story of an ambitious young man Andy Okeke (played by Kenneth Okonkwo) who sacrificed his wife to become wealthy. The consequences of his actions later haunt him as the spirit of his dead wife sorts justice. The film delved into burning issues such as ‘blood money of that era.

Nouah’s 2019 remake shifts focus to Andy’s son, Nnamdi, who like his father is toeing the same line of greed and flamboyance.

Living in Bondage: Breaking free was not only the most successful remake so far, but it is also the best debut by a first-time director. It ranked 11th overall on the list of highest-grossing Nigerian films of all time at the end of its theatrical run.

Buoyed by the success of ‘Break free’ Nouah went on to direct Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story, another Nollywood classic released in 1995 and directed by Amaka Igwe.

Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story, tells the story of Ahanna Okolo, a young man who decides to get the life he always wanted. He assembles a group of men with various skills, carrying out a series of spectacular heists. But when their biggest heist takes an unexpectedly deadly turn, the gang suddenly finds themselves with bitter enemies on both sides of the law.

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The film stars Stan Nze, Chiwetalu Agu, Osas Ighodaro, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde and Ayo Makun in the lead roles. It received mixed reviews from critics and ranked 24th overall on the list of highest-grossing Nigerian films at the end of its theatrical run and won five awards at the 2022 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA).

“Not every film is being remade, but they are remaking some of the most popular films from the past, the ones that made it to the market and piqued people’s interest,” said Daniel Dumebi who is also known as Mc Obeleife. “I believe one of the reasons directors are reloading it is to add some glamor. If you look closely, you will notice that the director is not the same as the director of the film’s remake.”

The 2020 remake of the classic Nollywood movie Nneka the Pretty Serpent was directed by Zeb Ejiro and produced by Okechukwu Ogunjiofor.

The film featured the likes of Ndidi Obi, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, and Rita Nzelu, the remake, was directed by Tosin Igho.

The story tells a young Nneka who loses both her parents after they are murdered on her mother’s 32nd birthday which also happens to be the eve of her mother’s anticipated transition into the role of eze-nwanyi. She and her husband are killed off while Nneka manages to escape.

A few years later, Nneka acted by Ndidi Obi is a frustrated young lady barely managing to make ends meet and until she is overtaken by the spirit of the serpent. Ndidi’s character soon sends her on a revenge mission to kill off the people who are responsible for her parent’s death.

These Nollywood classics have stayed popular due to their unique original storytelling, creativity, and accessibility.

With distribution through cinema chains largely non-existent in the early 1990s, films were released straight to DVD and VCD with producers at significant risk of seeing their margins wiped out due to rampant piracy. As such, the popularity of Nollywood classics did not always translate to profits for producers.

Movie makers are also responding with bigger budget films, a departure from an era when Nollywood was primarily defined mainly by low-cost and high-volume productions.

Today, the reality is much different with a stronger cinema distribution model and culture offering the promise of open-ended profits from cinema runs. Remakes of Nollywood classics are now reviving earnings for the old films.

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