A Definitive Ranking of Kunle Afoloyan's Best Movies.
Featuring The Tribunal, Omugwo, Phone Swap and more.
With a long family history in the movie industry, Kunle Afolayan is a part of what might be the world's most interesting imaginary sandbox as he walks his way to becoming one of Africa's most successful film directors. His unbridled talent behind the camera has elevated many and has allowed viewers to witness breathtaking performances like Ademola Adedoyin's in the critically acclaimed cultural film October 1, Wale Ojo and Nse Ikpe Etim in Phone Swap, and a maturing insight into his new historical film Anikulapo featuring Kunle Remi in a new light.
Sure, his movies transcend generations as he has been an ever-present figure in the Nigerian film industry for decades, constantly telling daring stories and championing a new narrative. Storyteller by nature, he usually focuses on Yoruba cultures, families, and nationalism, with a more recent romantic comedy centered around family values.
Afolayan’s projects are constantly dotted with patriotism, but he isn't all about it. His interests include drama-filled narratives and painting portraits of the average man trying to surmount tumultuous circumstances. The constant has been Kunle Afolayan’s dedication to presenting craft as excellently as possible. Below, we’ve carefully put together a list of some of his best films and the themes that they are generally centered on.
This is easily one of Kunle Afolayan’s most relatable films. The trouble of mothers-in-law is multiplied when two mothers-in-law from different cultural backgrounds meet in the home of a young couple who’s just had a newborn baby. Questions are asked, and answers are presented, but how they are answered is the true journey.
It is Kunle Afolayan's genius to showcase cultural unification in his films to such an extent that, even if his viewers don't speak Nigerians' native languages, the audience from any continent would be captivated by the way each scene portrays and interprets it.
4. The Tribunal
The Tribunal introduces us to a down-on-his-luck charge and bail lawyer, Jimi Disu (Funso Adeolu) who practices literally out of his car. Whilst positioned strategically in court awaiting the arrival of suspects due for arraignment, he is approached by chirpy new wig Tanimowo (Ade Laoye) who offers him a wrongful termination brief.
In one way or another, you’re able to read Kunle Afolayan’s fascination with the process of directing through the kinds of stories he enjoys telling. Like his 2020 film, Citation, he favors the underdog going against the system. The theme centers on specific system flaws and his intentions were clearly to show the general public what those systemic issues are through storytelling. He tries to do the same In The Tribunal where a man is convinced his employment was terminated because he is an albino. He charges them to court in what turns out to be an intriguing lawsuit.
3. Phone Swap
Written by Kemi Adesoye, the romantic comedy Phone Swap is one of Kunle Afolayan’s forays into mild comedy. A warm and sensitive film about love and all the incredulous places, it stars the brilliant Nse Ikpe Etim and Wale Ojo as leads.
The storyline follows the two protagonists from very different walks of life and with contrasting personalities. Both of them switch their phones in an unexpected accident at the airport and must now live the lives of each other until the phones are rightfully returned. The film received critical acclaim and was highly successful at the box office. It received 4 nominations at the 8th Africa Movie Academy Awards which includes the category Best Nigerian Film and it also won the award for Achievement in Production Design.
2. October 1
As far as Kunle Afolayan's authority as a lead Nigerian director is concerned, October 1 is one of his finest works. There are several things about this film that make it ambitious: its narrative scope, the questions it asks, the film qualities, and the techniques it uses.
Set in the last months of colonial Nigeria in 1960, the dark psychological thriller film is a cultural-themed storyline written by Tunde Babalola and it tells the story of a serial killer on the loose some weeks before Nigeria’s Independence. The disturbing series of deaths suddenly cast questions about whether the emerging country can rule itself adequately. The onus is on Danladi, an old-timer detective, to capture the killer and stop the killings before independence day. What he finds will question the very notion of independence.
1. The Figurine
Kunle Afolayan's reintroduction to the industry as a director was made possible by Irapada, but his rise to be a household name was cemented by The Figurine.
And, deservedly, it makes the top of this list. The cultural-themed project starring Ramsey Nouah and Kunle Afolayan himself is about two friends who come across a sculpture with diabolical impressions. It grants them seven years of goodwill and seven years of bad luck. The mastery of this film is how slowly it unravels itself.
The movie narrates the story of two friends who find a mystical sculpture in an abandoned shrine in the forest while serving at a National Youth Service Corps camp, and one of them decides to take the artwork home. Unknown to them, the sculpture is from the goddess 'Araromire' which bestows seven years of good luck on anyone who encounters it, and after the seven years have expired, seven years of bad luck follow. The lives of the two friends begin to change for good, as they become successful and wealthy businessmen. However, after seven years, things start to change for the worse.
The film was first released at the 2009 Rotterdam International Film Festival and was met with widespread critical acclaim. It received ten nominations and won five awards at the 6th Africa Movie Academy Awards, including the awards for Best Picture, Heart of Africa, Achievement in Cinematography, and Achievement in Visual Effects.
When it comes to directing movies, Kunle Afolayan consciously distorts his work from the usual fare Nollywood offers. There are certain thematic tropes that Nollywood directors tend to explore in their movies, such as ritual, witchcraft, gaudy costumes, and village epics, that are big on silly but low on actual comedy.
Afolayan, however, always goes in a different direction with movies that show a more systematic, cerebral approach than generically perfunctory. In collaboration with Netflix, he is releasing his most recent film Anikulapo on the streaming service on September 30th. With Anikulapo, Kunle continues to push the African narrative into the global arena with his dexterity as a filmmaker.