#YNaijaFilm100: Charles Okpaleke, Zainab Balogun, Funke Akindele, Baba Agba…Here are the 100 Most Influential Nigerians in Film

YNaija Film 100 List

Editor’s note:

In an incredibly difficult year defined by the coronavirus pandemic, the Nigerian film industry entered a new paradigm with global streaming giant Netflix to tell our stories to the world. Stories shape thoughts, perceptions, inform, and in a year that also saw nationwide protests to end police violence, it was a reminder that anyone can wield the power of storytelling.

Nollywood has never been more poised to wield this power, and that’s why this year’s #YNaijaFilm100 seeks to recognise the persons steering the industry in this direction, to tell stories that have stayed under the radar, the ones that have made us uncomfortable, stories about repressed experiences. This list also acknowledges the contributions from persons who are barely in the spotlight, but are just as passionate and driven about the industry.

It is with great honour to reckon with the industry luminaries who made Nollywood thrive without streaming platforms and big studios, but we must also make space for the young talents, voices, and new players. With a new year on the horizon and Nollywood’s new found mandate, the time has never been better to tell new stories.

Film Actors

YNaija Film List
Film Actors

Shaffy Bello: If you love Shaffy Bello – and why won’t you? – you would have noticed how she has been the typecast for beautiful female ravishment. A role she has grossly embodied long before even landing a feat in Nollywood – Shaffy was the voice behind the popular song ‘Love me Jeje’ by Seyi Sodiumu. Scoring a leading role in Africa Magic soap, Battleground, positioned her as an actor ready to put in the act. She has since landed both comic and dramatic characters and has delivered with unforgettable performances – Who can forget Shaffy in hit movies like Chief Daddy (2018), Elevator Baby (2019) or in Omoni Oboli’s political drama installation, Love is War (2019)

Rita Dominic: If you want to talk about influence in Nollywood, a few names come to mind. Names like Rita Dominic. Rita has been a huge personality on Nigeria TV since the late 90s. She is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable faces in Nollywood till date. Interestingly, Rita started acting as early as her primary school days and has bagged hundreds of acting credits to her name – maybe in primary school too, who knows? The seasoned actress is also an Africa Movie Academy Awards Best Actress winner (twice, with even with more nominations). In 2013, Rita Dominic proved that she not only can be an actress with her debut feat as a producer in The Meeting, 2013. Since then, Rita has maintained a steady influence in Nollywood and has lent her platform for advocacy on women’s right and conversations against social injustices.  

Swanky JKA: Jideofor Kenechukwu Achufusi, popularly called Swanky JKA, is an actor who entertained Nigerians with amazing acting in 2019. Swanky made his acting debut for a leading role with his portrayal of Nnamdi Okeke in the 2019 sequel to 90’s movie Living in Bondage. Swanky, however, is not new to the acting scene. The model-turned-actor has held minor roles in Nollywood films like Poka Messiah, Black Rose, Pretty Little Thing, Ofu Obi and A Lonely Lane. In 2020, Swanky made a breakthrough which earned him a Best Actor nomination and a Trailblazer Award, both at the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards in 2020.  

Bisola Aiyeola: Acting for Bisola is another feat the seasoned entertainer showed Nigerians that she can pull off. Bisola started out pursuing a career in showbiz music with her appearance at the 2008 season of MTN Project Fame. She came fifth and Iyanyan, emerged winner. From that point to her appearance at the Big Brother Naija house in 2017, Bisola has steadily built a name for herself in Nollywood as one of the most in-demand actors in Nollywood today. Mostly cast for comic roles, Bisola delivers quite excellently with each movie she has been a part of. Who can really forget the Sugar sister making a red-bottom shoe at the opening of Kayode Kasum-directed movie, Sugar Rush, 2019

Tina Mba: When we want to talk about actresses in Nollywood that has proven countlessly to be vastly talented, Tina Mbah is not short to mind. The celebrated Nollywood actress with avid experience in acting has many acting credits to her name. Tina has landed a number of awards for her acting – including an Africa Movie Academy Award, AMAA, for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Where she was earlier mostly typecasted as the typical African mother or urbanised wife, Tina has, in recent times proven that she has what it takes to take on even more challenging roles as we saw in her unforgettable feat in 2019 Niyi Akinmolayan-directed film, The Setup. 

Daniel Etim Effiong: Beyond being an actor, Daniel is a storyteller and his stories will sweep you off your feet. Kaduna-born actor and producer, Daniel, is one of the few names in Nollywood who has the knack for telling stories that are not only original but resonates well with the audience. At the 2019 Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Award, AMVCA, Daniel was among one of the actors selected to be watched out for. He has also bagged a nomination in the Best Actor in a Comedy (Movie or TV Series) category for his outstanding performance in his movie, ‘Plan B’ – Definitely, one to watch out for. 

Omoni Oboli: Oboli is not just a Nollywood actress but also an individual who is involved in several aspects of the film making industry. Omoni is vastly talented in scriptwriting, acting, and also producing. With an educational background from the New York Film Academy, Omoli brings a certain style to Nollywood that is distinctive and yet original to the Nigerian audience – it definitely also adds to her portfolio. Oboli started acting in 1996 and has since won several awards to her name. When she is away from the spotlight, Oboli spends time helping others through her charity organization, “The Omoni Oboli Foundation” 

Odunlade Adekola: Odunlade is more than just a Nollywood actor. Mostly profiled as the comic relief to most movies he’s been featured in, Odunlade has exquisitely delivered on each passing role. He has also saliently grown to become a face for memes and stickers which just goes on to show how well-received his role in the industry is. Odunlade has bagged a few awards to his name including The City People Award for Yoruba Movies, Nigeria Entertainment Award for Best Actor and a host of other international recognition.

Joke Silva: The list of individuals who influence Nollywood will undoubtedly be incomplete if we fail to recognise Joke Silva. Joke Silva is more than just a Nollywood actress. She has become one of the few veteran actresses in Nollywood that has successfully maintained relevance both in film and in society. The talented actress is a recipient of the Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Actress in a leading role. Joke is also a national treasure with her Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR) title. The actress, in recent time, spend most of her time in mentoring, training and social advocacy.

YNaija Film 100
Film Actors

Funke Akindele-Bello: If there is a crown for consistency in a distinct and original performance, Funke Akindele-Bello should wear it. For the most part, Funke is widely recognised as Jenifa from the 2008 movie of the same name. She has so maintained that character that it almost never appears old but progressive. Funke, or Jenifa – if you must – began her acting career in the late 90s when she starred in the Nigerian sitcom “I Need to Know” which ran from 1998 to 2002. However, it was not till 2008 with Jinifa, that her career skyrocketed. The movie has a spin-off series, “Jenifa’s diary”. And Over the years, her proficiency in the media space has gained her much recognition, awards and endorsements. Funke Akindele-Bello also showed that she was in it for the long haul with the creation of her own Film production studio/company – SceneOne, which host projects she is widely featured on. 

Richard Mofe-Damijo: The men with influence in Nollywood are wide enough and Richard Mofe-Damijo is part of them. Popularly known as RMD, he is a lawyer and Nollywood actor with a degree in Theatre Arts. Interestingly, his Theater arts degree was followed up with a degree in Law from the University of Lagos. RMD began his acting career with a role he played in a soap opera called “Ripples” which aired during the late ’80s. He has since bagged a number of acting credits to his name. During the wave of ‘New-Age’ actors and contents, RMD still proved his relevance in the industry by landing leading and supporting roles in blockbuster movies from 2018 till date – who can forget cheating Chief Felix Onwuka (RMD) in The Wedding Party, or his brutal role in ghetto-themed 2019 movie, Seven

Genevieve Nnaji: Need no introduction! If you enjoy watching Nollywood roles with a sassy and classy character? then you must be remarkably familiar with Genevieve Nnaji. Genevieve is a well-known Nollywood actress with a name and influence known both locally and internationally. She began her acting career at an incredibly young age of 8 in the Nigerian soap opera “Ripples” and has since then put Nigeria on the global map through her acting range and has gained several international and local awards. In 2018, Genevieve made her directorial debut for the Chinny-produced film, Lionheart which was later acquired by the streaming giant, Netflix – further placing her as an in-demand actor and powerful influence in Nollywood. In 2020, Genevieve landed a position as a member of the Oscar Academy.

Sola Sobowale: If you are looking for energy-driven acting, Sola Sobowale’s got you covered. Known for the energy she brings to each role she plays, Shobowale is a name with as much influence today as in her 2001 Super Story role, Toyin Tomatoe. Sola, however, began her acting career in the late 90s and has since been featured in several movies and even produced some of them herself. Her arduous work has earned her multiple nominations and awards in the movie industry including the award she received for her role in the 2018 movie “King of Boys”. 

Zainab Balogun-Nwachukwu: Zainab is a TV host and Nollywood actress. In a surprisingly fleeting time, Zainab has marked off more career milestones than many in the industry. From her early days co-hosting one of the most popular shows on Ebony Life, The Spot, Balogun built a following to become one of the most vibrant influencers working, alongside a stellar modelling career. Since her hilarious and unforgettable debut turn as the permanently flustered wedding planner in The Wedding Party, Zainab’s choice of roles continues to prove her commitment to growth and versatility. 

Gabriel Afolayan: Gabriel does not just limit himself to the Nollywood film making space as he is also a singer and songwriter popularly known as “G-Fresh” – a very deserved stage name. Gabriel is from an entertainment background as his siblings are also involved in filmmaking and acting. He studied Theatre Arts from the University of Ibadan and that has much influenced his skill and prowess in the media space. Over the years, Gabriel has successfully garnered a number of nominations and awards. 

Osas Ighodaro: Since her breakout role in Killa Season and Conviction (2016, respectively), Osas has proved that she is not in the film industry for jokes. Consistently dishing stellar performances in a number of movies she has been featured in, Osas has silently groomed herself as one of the in-demand actresses in Nollywood. It is no wonder she has consistently bagged four outstanding roles in 2020 alone. The actress and beauty queen is not just for the screens alone as she has also shown remarkable performances in a number of stage plays – who can forget the elegance of Osas in ‘For Coloured Girls (Nigerian adaptation). Osas has also been celebrated for her creativity with a number of awards, nominations and recognitions.

Toyin Abraham: If you are a lover and an avid follower of Yoruba movies, then you must have definitely seen Toyin on your screen a countless number of times. Toyin began acting in 2003 and has since then taken the Nollywood space by storm with her groundbreaking projects “Alakada”. The seasoned actress immediately became a media sensation for her iconic role in the movie. She has also featured in a number of movies and also produced some movies herself. Toyin has, over the years, won several awards and bagged quite a number of endorsement deals. 

Ini Edo: Ini is one of Nollywood’s sweetheart. Starting off her career in 2003 in her debut role in Thick Madam, Ini has successfully created a name for herself in the industry. Ini has starred in over 100 movies. 2018 was also an excellent year for Ini for landing a role in the critically acclaimed movie, Chief Daddy which was officially named as the most streamed Nigerian movie on Netflix as well as Heaven on my mind, winning the Best Narrative Feature award at the 2019 African Women Arts Film Festival.

YNaija Film List
Film Actors

Adesua Etomi: Adesua is a popular Nollywood actress well known for her proficiency in the film industry. She has won several international and local awards for her works. Some of her recent works include her roles in movies like Muna, Up North and the MTV series, Shuga. Adesua has often been compared to star actresses like Genevieve for her outstanding performances in several movies she has featured in. 

Broda Shaggi: Not many might understand Broda Shaggi’s mystique but it is hard to ignore the star power he brings to the projects he works on. One of the new waves of actors who started their careers as comedians/influencers on Instagram and made the jump to the big and small screens, Broda Shaggi’s commitment to his stage persona and his willingness to reach to unconventional depths in service of the character has made him a fan favourite on several Nollywood films as well as Funke Akindele’s new television series Ayetoro Town. 

Dakore Akande: Dakore is likely one of the most consistent faces on screen in Nollywood history. She is quite the quintessential Nollywood star. Being part of the few actors ushering the second crop of Nollywood stars to find an audience in the ’90s, Dakore position herself as ready to help launch the era of Nollywood consumed with documenting university life, and all that is involved in young adulthood. She was also one of the first actresses to transition into New Nollywood, moving from her early triumphs in Silent Tears to help steer modern favourites like EbonyLife’s Fifty, 2015, Jade Osiberu’s critically acclaimed directorial debut Isoken, 2017 and all-time blockbuster hit Chief Daddy, 2018 to critical success. 

Mercy Johnson: If you are reading this and you watched Nollywood movies during the early 2000s up till now, then you would be familiar with this film icon. Mercy is a Nollywood actress with several awards and endorsements to her name. Her work and influence in the industry speak for itself. Although her presence declined over the years, Mercy has made a few comebacks with features like Seven and a Half Dates, 2018, and her producer-debut movie in 2020, The Legend of Inikpi which shed light to a historic event in ancient Igala and Bini kingdoms. 

Femi Jacobs: Femi is another Nollywood actor that isn’t backing out anytime soon. He came into prominence for his role as Makinde Esho in the popular blockbuster film, The Meeting, 2012 which also starred powerhouses like Rita Dominic and Jide Kosoko. In that year, he also landed the nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 9th Africa Movie Academy Awards. Femi’s act spans across dramatic and comedy and he’s never short to deliver. In 2015, Femi won the award for Best Actor in a Comedy at the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA).

Iyabo Ojo: Iyabo is a popular Nollywood actress with a presence in over 150 films, most of which are Yoruba movies. She has had an interest in the entertainment industry right from her secondary school days. Her career began in 1998 in an English movie, “Satanic”. Iyabo has since then featured in many more movies and even produced some. She has won several awards for her hard work in the media space. In 2020 however, during the lockdown, Iyabo brought out a whole new package with a number of creative TikTok videos which made staying at home easier and more fun. 

Film Directors

YNaija Film List
Film Directors

CJ Obasi: CJ Obasi is a renowned movie director in Nollywood. As one of the few that started out early Obasi has built quite a remarkable and interesting filmography. And also sharing accolades and special recognition with the vast of multi-talented writers, editors, directors and producers in the industry. From his award-winning horror debut, Ojuju, (2014) to co-writing the Netflix Nollywood hit, Lionheart, Obasi’s work is distinguished by respect and devotion to the cinematic craft. In 2018, CJ boarded on the adaptation of acclaimed writer Nnedi Okorafor’s story Hello Moto. In 2019, the director alongside Nicole Asinugo wrote the screenplay for Living in Bondage: Breaking Free, a sequel to the 1992 horror classic. The movie also bagged a number of awards at the AMVCA 2020.

Abba Makama: Abba is a Nollywood film director with quite some impact in the entertainment industry. He is the founder of Osiris which is a creative group for traditional and digital media. Makama is well-celebrated for his diverse talent. In 2010, he scored a feat with the acclaimed comedy skit, “Amebo at Four” with a colleague, Bolaji Kekere. In 2020, Abba further showed the importance of telling authentic and original story with ‘The Lost Okoroshi’ which largely talked about the mass infusion of western culture and modernity has complicated the identity of the average Nigerian.

Ramsey Nouah: Ramsey Nouah is a Nollywood actor who made his directorial debut in 2019 with the sequel to 1992 Nollywood classic, Living in Bondage. Ramsey spent a good number of years in front of the camera to know how it’s done behind it. In the 2019 installation of Living in Bondage, Ramsey did not only direct the movie but also played a major role as the ring leader to an occult group. The movie was largely a success and garnered a number of positive reviews and of course awards. Ramsey also landed the Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Award for Best Director in the 2020 award ceremony.

Desmond Ovibiagele: If you need to hear a motivation to pursue whatever it is you want to pursue in life at any point, Desmond Ovibiagele’s story is all you need to hear. The former investment banker took on Nollywood with his debut directorial feat in 2014 hit movie, Render to Ceaser. With the movie, Desmond proved that he has taken a few notes from Nollywood by watching from the outside before he fully followed his passion as a movie producer and director. In 2020, Desmond’s Fulani-themed movie, The Milkmaid has also been selected as Nigeria’s entry to the International awards community.

Kayode Kasum: Kayode is a Nollywood Director and producer known for hit movies like Oga Bolaji (2018), Dognapped (2017), Sugar Rush (2019) and Kambili: The Whole 30 Yards (2020). Kasum is quite a force to reckon with in Nollywood and has proven countless times just how talented he is at what he does. Steadily staying relevant in his craft, Kasum has become an on-demand Nollywood film director.

Kenneth Gyang: In 2019 alone, Kenneth Gyang bagged the nominee for the Africa Movie Academy Award for best director and winner of the Nollywood award for best director. The ace director has been the creative life force behind some of the most authoritative and original portrayals of the average Nigerian. From directing episodes of the classic BBC series Wetin Dey, internationally, Kenneth’s work has been honoured in South Africa, New York, Germany and the United Kingdom. Kenneth is also the director for 2020 movie about sex and human trafficking, Oloture. His interest in shooting detailed stories that resonate with the Nigerian audience is quite commendable.

Emma Edosio: Emma was chiefly influenced by Music Video Director, Clarence Peters – Only a few people know this. Under his direction, Edosio honed her craft making music videos, and growing increasingly concerned at the lack of filmmakers of any genre in the Nigerian film and media industry. Edosio sought to change that, first creating content for the BBC while she shot a series of critically acclaimed web series that centred the gritty and controversial lives on secondary school age and Nigerian teenagers. Eventually, it was time and Ema marshalled the resources she had and the experience she gained and poured it all into her debut indie film, Kasala. The movie automatically paved way for Ema who was profiled by OkayAfrica as one of the women pushing Nollywood to new heights.

Mildred Okwo: For those in the know, Mildred Okwo is more than just a Nollywood commentator mentoring young critics and speaking truth to power, she is also a trained lawyer, a student of theatre arts, a legendary director and producer and one of the most interesting voices on social media from the Nigerian film industry. Mildred’s filmography includes Thirty Days, The Meeting and Suru L’ere. She has been was honoured by Elle magazine as one of the fifty women shaping Africa and has won Africa Magic Viewer Choice Awards, African Movie Academy Awards and the Publix du Prix at the Nollywood festival in Paris. Mildred is also on the Nigerian Oscars Selection committee. In their capacity which has been approved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, they will screen all potential Nigerian contenders hoping to secure a nomination and win for the Academy Award for a best foreign movie.

Mike-Steve Adeleye: Mike is a Nollywood film director. He describes himself as a passionate filmmaker with a mindset that “if it can be imagined, then it can be shot”. Mike has worked both on home soil and abroad with certain projects like “Phone Swap” “Okafor’s Law” and “October 1st”. He has also gained much recognition and awards for his works.

YNaija Film List
Film Directors

Niyi Akinmolayan: Find you a director that has an unparallel range? Niyi Akinmolayan is the man. The director is one of the few Nollywood directors to have made comedies, dramas, sci-fi and animated features that were all critically acclaimed and commercially bankable. Boasting the most films on Netflix by a Nigerian director, Niyi has helmed two of the most successful comedies ever in Nollywood. The crowd-pleasing sequel The Wedding Party 2, and the hilarious Chief Daddy. The interesting thing about Niyi is his passion to stretch beyond his repertoire. Niyi is also the founder of Anthill Studios which recently was expanded into an animation studio, and responsible for creating a number of high-profile animated films and series for private clients and public consumption. Niyi is a true gift to the industry.

Ishaya Bako: Ishaya is a director whose film credits speak for themselves. He has also been positioned as one of the most consistent and bankable directors in the Nollywood. A graduate of the prestigious London Film School, Ishaya has collected accolades from home and abroad. From the African Movie Academy Award wins for short and feature-length films, to his selection as a global shaper by the World Economic Forum, Bako’s renown continues to grow. Ishaya has made films that have run the spectrum of human interest. From Fueling Poverty, 2012, to the luxurious romance, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel, 2017, to his most recent film 4th Republic, 2019, that explores the rampant rigging and violence that often plagues Nigeria during the election cycle, Bako is another treasure in the industry.

Newton Aduaka: Aduaka’s biography speaks for itself. A graduate of the London International film school, his debut feature film Rage, became the first wholly independently financed film by a black filmmaker in the history of British cinema. His follow up feature, Ezra is regarded among critics as the best film made by a Nigerian filmmaker. The film collected the Grand Jury Prize all the way from Durban, South Africa to Amiens, Blafon and, Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, FESPACO, even screening at Sundance and Cannes. That’s not all, he is a TED speaker and his array of shorts have received equal acclaim globally. For the past three years, he has been the artistic director of Africa International Film Festival, AFRIFF.

Tope Alake: Tope is a Nollywood film director who has been involved in several projects in the industry. Tope has featured in well over 30 movies and over 1500 episodes of TV shows as a director. For his work, he has also been celebrated and has won the City People Movie Award for Movie Director of the Year (English). More recently, Tope is spending most of his time establishing and creating startup business that curate contents for film and the processes involved in making it a success.

Kabat Esosa Egbon: Kabat Esosa is a Nollywood film director who gotten quite some recognition, nominations and awards for his work. He has been involved in movies such as “Separate lives”. He has also had several other features on other projects along the years. In 2018, his feature film, Queen of Queens snagged four awards at the prestigious Best of Nollywood, BON Awards.

Akin Omotoso: Akin comes from a family of creative writers as both his sister and father are writers. He is a Nollywood film director who began working in the media space since the early 90s. He has directed many movies and a couple of series as well. Series like Jacob’s cross, 2017, showed how important and creative Akin is. But movies like The Ghost and the House of Truth, 2019, further stamps Omotosho’s creative prowess in the industry. The film director has also won awards for his creativity and several nominations and recognition for his features.

Tade Ogidan: Tade is a Nollywood film director and screenwriter. He began his career in the film industry in the early ’90s with films like “Owo Blow”. Tade owns a company called OGD pictures which have been involved in projects such as movies and even TV commercials.

ICYMI: YNaijaArt99: Peju Alatise, David Uzochukwu, Ayobola Kekere-Ekun| The 99 Most Influential Nigerians in Art

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