Once upon a time in Nollywood, during the legendary VHS and home video era, sequels were as normal as one’s left hand. Few statement resonated with (or irked) Nigerians back then, like ‘Watch out for Part 2/3.’
While Nollywood sequels and franchises are still part of the equation in the present era of big screen releases and streaming, they are not as prominent as they once were. While this gulf can be attributed to a number of factors, predominantly the shortage of funds to sustain multiple releases and the critical/commercial let-downs of potential franchise launch pads at the box office, Nollywood should be doing a whole lot more as one of the biggest movie industries in the world.
Popular Nollywood movies from back in the day which had equally renowned sequels include Living In Bondage, Mr. Ibu, Games Men Play, Games Women Play, The Snake Girl, Jenifa and Jelili. Interestingly, some of these movies have gone on to get homage sequels/soft reboots in the current era: 2011’s The Return Of Jenifa, as well as 2019’s Survival Of Jelili and Living In Bondage: Breaking Free.
Solid examples of modern-era Nollywood movies (read: Nollywood from the year 2010 upwards) which got follow-ups include the record-breaking, 2016 hit, The Wedding Party, which currently stands as the highest grossing Nollywood movie of all time (or at least, of the 2010s). It is closely followed by its sequel, The Wedding Party: Destination Dubai, which was released a year later in 2017. The general consensus on the sequel is that it was arguably less favorable than its predecessor. Still, it was widely and grudgingly speculated that a third movie, once again focusing on the love story of two more supporting characters, would be greenlit. That was not to be the case, and The Wedding Party fell to the sword of a different kind of the ‘Third Movie Curse’.
Other popular Nollywood franchises that appear to have met a similar fate include: When Love Happens (2014) & When Love Happens Again (2016), Wives On Strike (2016) & Wives On Strike: The Revolution (2017) and Hire A Man (2017) & Hire A Woman (2019). However, it must be noted that the jury is still out on each of these franchises, as well the more recent Merry Men: The Real Yoruba Demons (2018) & Merry Men 2: Another Mission (2019).
Franchises have been a staple part of Hollywood for decades. As opposed to original movies, movies affiliated to a franchise either as a main entry, a sequel or a reboot stand a far greater chance of making a billion dollars, when viewed from a Hollywood perspective. A billion dollars, because the standard has been elevated by franchise movies.
As of the time of writing, sixteen of the twenty highest-grossing movies of all time are franchise entries, two are remakes and two are original movies. In fact, a sequel to one of the original movies, the 2009 hit Avatar, has wrapped filming, with three more sequels in development.
Definitely, original movies will always win big at niche awards like the Oscars, but they will scarcely ever come close to the financial success of movies from franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Star Wars and Fast & Furious. Arguments may be made against franchises on the grounds of same overstaying their welcome and churning out subpar or mid cash cows, but everybody loves a good saga. And the money generated from franchises is good money.
Coming back home, franchises have not been a staple part of modern-era Nollywood. There are quite a few, and they can be hilarious to mention or ruminate over. The most popular in recent times has to be the loosely-connected trilogy (as it stands) of [romantic] comedies where comedian and actor, AY Makun plays the lead role of Akpos: 2014’s 30 Days In Atlanta, 2016’s A Trip To Jamaica and 2017’s 10 Days In Sun City. Many may have forgotten, but 30 Days In Atlanta was the highest-grossing Nigerian movie of all time when it was released. So was A Trip To Jamaica, but it was unseated (obliterated, maybe) by The Wedding Party a few months after. This franchise is probably underrated and could easily form the crux of a separate article.
Many Hollywood franchises cannot boast of a TV presence, but we have Jenifa, a franchise whose titular character has been played by Funke Akindele-Bello for over a decade. Following a string of Jenifa movies in 2008 released on home video, 2011 saw the literal return of Jenifa in the soft reboot The Return of Jenifa—a project which set the tone for the start of the series, Jenifa’s Diary in 2014, which has somehow churned out a supernatural (pun intended) nineteen seasons. Nobody could have predicted that the Jenifa franchise would survive beyond 2008 and on any medium. Due to the sustained success of Jenifa’s Diary, it is highly unlikely that we would see another Jenifa movie, either on the big or small screen. On a streaming site like Iroko TV or Netflix? Just maybe.
Another notable Nollywood franchise is the Alakada franchise (Alakada (2009) & Alakada 2 (2013), Alakada Reloaded (2017) & Fate Of Alakada (2020), spearheaded by actress Toyin Abraham. Again, given the addition of 2019’s Living In Bondage: Breaking Free to the original Living In Bondage movies which were released in 1992 & 1993, the entire mix can as well be regarded as a franchise.
It is too extreme to conclude that the rise in the popularity of streaming in the wake of COVID-19 has effectively put an end to cinema, both locally and internationally. Besides being beloved by many, the cinematic experience remains a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of urban life, so it should still be viable in the near future.
That being said, Nigerian filmmakers can look into sequels and franchises, not just as a means of raking in more money, but as an avenue for more epic, episodic storytelling. It is definitely easier said than done, but with a solid outline (as opposed to improvisations) and the right sponsors, the success of one franchise movie would organically draw in more sponsors for subsequent entries. The success of global franchises, as well as the success of AY, Funke Akindele-Bello and Toyin Abraham can be further studied by filmmakers and referenced in pitches to potential sponsors and investors.
Nollywood sequels and franchises may never reach the level of the MCU, Star Wars, Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, but they could be good templates for even greater things to come.