A visit to Africa isn’t exactly a simple jaunt for those living elsewhere – and even given the luxury of leisure time plus appropriate budget, how much of the massive, multi-cultured continent can one see in one go?
The truth is that most of us will formulate own inner pictures of Africa through popular media, particularly at the movies; just be aware about the ratio of truth-to-BS in the given flick if interested in learning about African cultures and history.
Presented below is a list of 10 Movies about Africa, along with their Rotten Tomatoes scores, culled from the past half-century or so. Please note that this list is pretty much randomly chosen and in no way represents a “top 10” of the subgenre.
Zulu (1964) – This epic historical drama of the short-lived by bloody Anglo-Zulu war of the 19th century launched the career of Michael Caine. Kinda like the typical World War II drama produced out of Hollywood and England in the 1950s and 60s, the setting is the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, in which some 150 British soldiers fought off 4,000 or so Zulu warriors, taking only 11 casualties in the process. RottenTomatoes scores: 94% by critics, 91% by audiences.
Born Free (1966) – Some things are purely a matter of scale. If you were introduced to Born Free with the description, “It’s about a married couple and their cat,” you’d think “ho hum.” But the cat featuring in this flick is a full-on lioness. And they live in Kenya. This feel-good movie is still notable for its excellent cinematography which nicely captures the natural beauty of its locations. RottenTomatoes scores: 94% by critics, 87% by audiences.
Out of Africa (1985) – You’ve probably heard your mother waxing rhapsodic about this drippingly romantic flick, starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep at points in their storied careers in which each appeared frequently as love interests. Based on the novel by Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa: The Movie is vaguely biographical and tells the story of upper class Danes settling in British East Africa. RottenTomatoes scores: 53% by critics, 83% by audiences.
Cry Freedom (1987) – A very young Denzel Washington plays South African activist Stephen Biko, a powerful voice in end-apartheid movement of the late 1970s. Events unfold more or less through the viewpoint of American journalist Donald Woods (Kevin Kline), and the final 20-30 minutes is devoted almost entirely to Woods’s escape “out of Africa,” so to speak, after spending the first hour or so building up a compelling portrait of Biko. RottenTomatoes scores: 81% by critics, 88% by audiences.
Congo (1995) – Though Michael Crichton Is now known as the author of pseudo-scientific stuff like Jurassic Park, we should never forget past pseudo-scientific schlock morphed into movies. You know, stuff like Sphere (1997) and Timeline (2003) – but always, always remember Congo. In this mess, a bunch of scientists travels to Africa (that’s what the characters say; we’ll assume it’s, you know, Congo) because a gorilla in a U.S. lab is having nightmares. Throw in a goofy-ass cameo by Tim Curry and “Killer Gorillas” (no, really) and you’ve got one serious pool of dreck to trawl through in Congo. RottenTomatoes scores: 24% by critics, 29% by audiences.
The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) – In 1898, two vastly overrated actors (Michael Douglas, Val Kilmer) travel to Kenya to kill the feared “Tsavo Man-Eaters,” whereupon each attempts to deliver dialogue about the white man’s place in Africa. So very 90s – both 19th and 20th century versions. RottenTomatoes scores: 50% by critics, 71% by audiences.
Blood Diamond (2006) – Intrigue, war, promises of instant wealth … All the elements of classic popular filmmaking grace the German-American co-production Blood Diamond which stars Oscar nominees Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou. The title refers to illegal diamond collecting carried out amidst a setting of war, civil rebellion and/or anarchy. In this one, a Rhodesian gun smuggler (DiCaprio) finds himself smack dab in the middle of the Sierra Leone civil war of the late 1990s/early 2000s. RottenTomatoes scores: 62% by critics, 90% by audiences.
The Last King of Scotland (2006) – Definitely one of the more bizarre biopics ever made, this one features Forrest Whitaker, in his grab for an Academy Award, playing Ugandan despotic megalomaniac dictator Idi Amin. Whitaker does his best in attempting to portray one of the 20th century’s most brutal criminals as relatable, this is no tearjerker or fist-pumper. Equal parts fascinating and disturbing. RottenTomatoes scores: 87% by critics, 89% by audiences.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008) – The Madagascar movies are particularly banal and nonsensical even by third-rate animated film standards. Hell, even the franchise’s name makes no sense: The first flick is set entirely in America, this uncleverly titled sequel takes places in “Africa” (You know that country, right?); the third’s in “Europe.” The stars/kiddies’ favorites are the penguins, whose native lands are well removed from Madagascar or New York or “Africa.” And don’t even get me started on the over-the-top, scream-every-line voice “acting.” Madagascar 2 makes Shrek 3 look like My Dinner with Andre. But you know, it doesn’t matter when any adult thinks as long as the wee ones have the last say over cinematic entertainment … RottenTomatoes scores: 64% by critics, 66% by audiences.
Invictus (2009) – Prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the sports event hosted on the African continent which drew the great international attention was clearly the 1995 Rugby World Cup hosted in South Africa. This Clint Eastwood-directed film tells the story of Nelson Mandela (who else but Morgan Freeman) and his presidential administration in tandem with that of the South African national team led by François Pienaar (a seriously ripped Matt Damon), all against a backdrop of a nation learning tolerance in the wake of apartheid’s demise. Great stuff for sports fans and non-sports fans alike. RottenTomatoes scores: 76% by critics, 74% by audiences.