Top 10 Greatest South African Movies


In recent years, the South African film industry has emerged as a dynamic and creative movement, ready to compete with the giants of the film industry on a global scale. With Nigeria spearheading the drive – their low-budget, sometimes low-quality films have amassed a cult-following – the industry, dubbed ‘Nollywood’, currently has an estimated turnover of $250m.

Facilitated by the cheaper, more accessible digital film landscape, in recent years, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa have joined in, assembling a wealth of titles renowned for quality, grit and compassionate flair against a striking South African backdrop.

And as the nation begins to find its voice, South African films are quickly gaining popularity, with more titles released every year. In fact, 2009 saw 13 titles released locally, a figure which had doubled by 2012, and continues to grow at a staggering rate.


1. District 9 (2009)

A sub-class of aliens have been forced to live in the slums of Johannesburg for the past 28 years in Neill Blomkamp’s action packed sci-fi, District 9.

Forced to live in squalor, the aliens are confined and exploited by humans. That is until they find an unlikely cohort in a government agent who is exposed to their biotechnology and is forced to rely on the help of his new extra-terrestrial friends.

Blomkamp’s picture grossed $115.6m in the worldwide box office, and was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture.


2. Yesterday (2004)

One of South Africa’s most renowned works, Oscar-nominated ‘Yesterday’ is the austere tale of a mother who discovers she is HIV positive. With a husband in denial, Yesterday sets a goal to live long enough to see her daughter, Beauty, to go to school the following year.


3. Tsotsi (2005)

Considered by many to be the jewel in the industry’s crown, Tsotsi follows the captivating story of hardened teenage criminal, whose life is altered inexorably after he hijacks a car, which, unbeknown to him, contains a baby.

A gripping coming-of-age story, this Academy Award Winning title leads the viewer on an emotional journey over following six days, as the baby is taken back to the slums where Tsotsi lives whilst he figures out what to do next.


4. The Gods Must be Crazy (1980)

When Xixo from the Kalahari Desert encounters technology for the first time in the form of a glass Coca Cola bottle, he takes it back to his people who mistake this unfamiliar phenomenon for a gift from God. Amazed by the marvel, they find a number of uses for it, but when he finds they start fighting over it, Xixo embarks on a mission to return it to the Gods he believes sent it.


5. The Gods Must be Crazy II (1989)

In the sequel, released in 1989, Xixo is back again, and this time must set out to rescue his children, who have stowed away on a fast-moving poachers’ truck and can’t get off. He encounters a number of strange and wonderful new people along the way, giving way to a series of entertaining scenarios.

The pair amassed a combined worldwide box-office gross of just over $43.9m.


6. Invictus (2009)

Starring Morgan Freeman and Leonardo Di Caprio, Invictus tells the true story of Nelson Mandela’s relationship with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, as they help to unite their racially and economically divided country. Bringing the country together through sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s rugby team as they make their historic run to the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship match.

Invictus grossed just under $40m in the worldwide box office.


7. Schuks Tshabalala’s Survival Guide to South Africa (2010)

Schuks Tshabalala’s Survival Guide is a tongue-in-cheek comedy, written as a spoof guide to the region, to coincide with the influx of 2010 FIFA World Cup travelling fans. The film features tourists from a number of worldwide countries, including Germany, Ireland, India and France, on a tour of South Africa through the eyes of Tshabalala.

The film grossed $10.3m in the worldwide box office.


8. Catch a Fire (2006)

Catch A Fire is a real-life political thriller following the plight of a South African’s journey to freedom during the country’s turbulent and divided times in the 1980s. An apolitical oil refinery foreman and soccer coach is forced into action against his country’s oppressive reigning system when he and his wife are unjustly jailed.

The film was released in 2006 and amassed $5.7m in the worldwide box office.


9. Goodbye Bafana (2007)

Released just a year later, Goodbye Bafana is another political thriller following the true story of a white South African racist whose moral outlook is profoundly altered by a black prisoner he guarded for twenty years. The prisoner’s name is Nelson Mandela.

Goodbye Bafana performed less well that Catch A Fire, grossing just $2.7m.


10. Spud (2010)

Starring John Cleese, this touching coming-of-age story follows the life of Spud Milton, a first-year pupil at an elite boys-only private boarding school in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.

The year is 1990 and Nelson Mandela is about to be released. Spud has his hands full trying to adapt to his new home, cursed with eccentric parents and a senile granny. Armed with only his wits and his diary, he also invites the audience into the mind of a pre-pubescent boy adapting to a strange new world.

Upcoming Films

South Africa’s diverse and colourful landscape has attracted a string of successful big budget motion pictures, most recently Hollywood’s Mad Max: Fury Road, which is set for release in 2014.

All images used courtesy of and

Author bio: Jennifer Bowden, a specialist film and entertainment writer and blogger. Currently covering a range of topics on behalf of in-flight entertainment providers, IFE Services.

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