The hope, while it lasted, saw an inflow of content from series to feature films with the goal of not just positioning star power but rising to the demand of both cinema and streaming platform demands.
Nollywood film lovers will agree that the year also saw the rise of non-A-Listers bringing about the much-desired balance.
If you enjoyed Nollywood content this year, then this list will come as no surprise as it features actors with the most memorable performances.
1. Lateef Adedimeji in ‘Ayinla’
One of the toughest jobs to do in acting is the credible portrayal of a real-life character. It requires attention to detail, time, and money which are all very scarce commodities in Nollywood.
Only a few filmmakers have been able to explore this form of art, and in 2021, veteran filmmaker, Tunde Kelani, gave it his best shot with ‘Ayinla’, a film based on the final months of Apala crooner, Ayinla Omowura.
In the lead role, and might we add a non-comedic role as the iconic singer, is actor Lateef Adedimeji.
As Ayinla, Adedimeji does not get a 100% score for his ability to disappear into the character but he stole the hearts of his audience by delivering his famous onscreen charm that guarantees a chuckle here and applause there.
2. Sola Sobowale in ‘King of Boys: Return of the King’
Once upon a time, Sobowale was the vivacious Toyin Tomato. Decades later, she has become Oba.
Sobowale’s artistic evolution over the years hints at her acting technique that is worth understudying. The actress does quite the opposite when it comes to immersing herself in a character.
It appears that more often than not, what the audience sees on screen is a character possessed by the actress so much that it becomes hard to tell them apart.
This is what we see in the Kemi Adetiba directed Netflix series ‘KOB: Return of the King’. Of course, it’s Sobowale we see on screen. Her mannerisms are no different in real life but for the duration of the series, Eniola Salami is Sobowale’s puppet to manipulate as she desires.
3. Ijeoma Grace Agu in ‘Swallow’ & ‘10 Songs for Charity’
Agu has been in the industry for a while but 2021 turned out to be the breakthrough year for the actress with key roles in Netflix’s ‘Swallow’ by Kunle Afolayan and in Karin Junger’s musical ‘10 Songs for Charity’.
That Agu is talented is not in doubt so it comes as no surprise that the actor is finally getting her much deserved accolade.
This year, she won AFRIFF’s ‘Best Actress’ category for her performance in ‘10 Songs for Charity’ and unarguably stole hearts in Afolayan’s ‘Swallow’.
4. Jude Akuwudike in ‘Eyimofe’
Akuwudike might not be your popular Nollywood face but his acting portfolio is a dream and he delivers a gripping performance in the lead role as Mofe in the Chuko and Arie Esiri directed ‘Eyimofe’ (This is My Desire). The role earned him multiple accolades including an AMAA 2021 nomination.
The British trained actor is also notable for starring in the Cary Joji Fukunaga directed ‘Beast of No Nation’ as Supreme Commander Dada Goodblood.
5. Kelechi Udegbe in ‘Collision Course’
What better way to announce a successful year than winning both an AMAA and an AFRIFF award? Udegbe is one talent that continues to blossom and it is impressive to finally see him smell his flowers.
In Bolanle Austen-Peters’ End SARS inspired film ‘Collision Course’, Udegbe delivers a memorable performance as a police officer down on his luck and desperate to make money.
6. Nse Ikpe-Etim in ‘King of Boys: Return of the King’
The legendary actor made a full circle return to Nollywood this year with a number of productions including Seyi Babatope’s ‘Sanitation Day’ and of course, Kemi Adetiba’s ‘KOB: The Return of the King’.
In the Netflix Original limited series, Ikpe-Etim delivers her most memorable performance of the year as Mrs Randle.
The ‘The Voice Nigeria’ alumnus made a spotlight worthy appearance this year with his performance in the Mildred Okwo and Rita Dominic co-produced ‘La Femme Anjola’.
Bassey’s AMAA-recognised performance saw him play a young stock broker who becomes entwined in the sexual manipulation of a femme fatale.
8. Ade Laoye in ‘Ayinla’
Laoye is rightfully one of the biggest television stars in Nollywood but this year, she gave some of that electrifying energy to film with features in some of the biggest productions of the year including Kelani’s ‘Ayinla’ and Afolayan’s ‘A Naija Christmas’.
9. Nengi Adoki in ‘Juju Stories’
Fans of Red TV’s ‘The Men’s Club’ web series will agree that Adoki is an on-screen stunner.
But if you think you have seen all there is to this actor, you need to see her in one part of CJ Obasi, Michael Omonua and Abba T. Makama’s anthology film ‘Juju Stories.’
10. Mr Macaroni in ‘Ayinla’
Debo Adedayo aka Mr Macaroni is one of the Nigerian comedians influencing the film industry.
This year, Macaroni made a number of noteworthy appearances in productions including Kayode Kasum’s ‘Ponzi’ and in Kelani’s ‘Ayinla’ where he delivers a gripping performance as Omowura’s right hand man and antagonist.
A notable mention is Funke Akindele-Bello’s performance in her 2020 box office record breaker ‘Omo Ghetto- The Saga’.
The Bellos’ directed sequel had quite the influence in 2021 after it shattered a four-year box office record and emerged as the highest-grossing movie ever released in Nigerian cinemas.
In the lead role in the hit film is Akindele who impeccably plays the dual role of twin sisters Lefty and Ayomide. Playing a dual role is distinctively tasking but in the drama, the actress effortlessly delivers whilst multitasking as co-producer and co-director.