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Focus on film – a list of the best movies from South Africa

By December 3, 2015October 10th, 2023South African Expats

Focus on film – a list of the best movies from South Africa

December 3, 2015

South Africa is well known for our picturesque landscapes, political history, nobel prize laureates, our sport and our anthropological heritage. But most people don’t think of movies when they think of South Africa.

There have, however, been quite a few remarkable cinematographic gems from, or about, South Africa. We’ve put together a list of some of the most memorable movies from the rainbow nation.

Top 20 South African films

  1. Paljas

    Director: Katinka Heyns
    Cast: Marius Weyers, Ian Roberts, Aletta Bezuidenhout
    Release date: 1998
    IMDb rating: 7,2
    Why we love it: Paljas sees a circus visiting the town of Toorwater in the Karoo leave behind one of their performers – a clown. What we enjoyed about this story is the way unconventional occurrences heal a broken and estranged family and the idea that a stranger can swoop into people’s lives and teach them more about each other than they’d ever known.

  2. Tsotsi

    Director: Gavin Hood
    Cast: Presley Chweneyagae, Mothusi Magano, Israel Makoe
    Release date: 2005
    IMDb rating: 7,3
    Why we love it: Tsotsi is an undeniably human film. It speaks of the realities of life on the street and gang culture driven by poverty. It tells a tale of good people doing bad things as well as bad people doing good things and how this is mostly a grey area. The protagonist, Tsotsi, is redeemed at the end through taking responsibility for his actions and facing incarceration. The film also represented South Africa at the Academy Awards, winning an Oscar for best foreign film.

  3. Jock of the Bushveld

    Director: Gray Hofmeyr
    Cast: Jocelyn Broderick, Michael Brunner, Wilson Dunster
    Release date: 1986
    IMDb rating: 7,5
    Why we love it: Who doesn’t like dogs? And there’s so much more to like and love when the story you are watching is based on the life of a true dog hero – a runt who was saved only to become the saviour and inspiration for his owner, and generations of South Africans.

  4. District 9

    Director: Neill Blomkamp
    Cast: Sharlto Copley, David James, Jason Cope
    Release date: 2009
    IMDb rating: 8
    Why we love it: What we love about Neill Blomkamp’s creation is the subtle, yet unmistakable, way in which he draws parallels to South Africa’s history in this science fiction blockbuster. Sharlto Copley gives a remarkable performance as a ‘prawn-hating’ government agent out to oppress the quite literally illegal aliens and due to unforeseen circumstances has to change his stance and realise the real threat is the human race.

  5. Invictus

    Director: Clint Eastwood
    Cast: Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Tony Kgoroge
    Release date: 2009
    IMDb rating: 7,4
    Why we love it: There’s hardly a South African out there who doesn’t remember exactly where they were when South Africa took on the world in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. But many South Africans were unaware of the back-story, of a leader who aimed to unite a broken nation by tapping into the pride and the love of the Afrikaner culture and showing all South Africans that unity requires respect for those things that matter to all South African cultures.

  6. The Gods Must Be Crazy

    Director: Jamie Uys
    Cast: Marius Weyers, Sandra Prinsloo, N!xau
    Release date: 1980
    IMDb rating: 7,3
    Why we love it: Cited as the most successful release in South African film history, we simply cannot fault this film. Uys’s remarkable way at exploring how different cultures and their beliefs affect each other tells a deep tale in such a witty way that we can examine serious issues through our fits of laughter.

  7. Stander

    Director: Bronwen Hughes
    Cast: At Botha, Thomas Jane, Marius Weyers, Deborah Kara Unger
    Release date: 2003
    IMDb rating: 7,3
    Why we love it: Stander is South Africa’s very own Bonnie and Clyde. It’s not often that films allow viewers to endear themselves to the ‘bad guy’, but Stander does exactly this. The fact that the film is based on true events makes is even more surreal, thought-provoking and tragic.

  8. Sarafina!

    Director: Darrell Roodt
    Cast: Whoopi Goldberg, Miriam Makeba, Leleti Khumalo
    Release date: 1992
    IMDb rating: 6,4
    Why we love it: 1992 was a tumultuous time in South Africa’s history, and it’s quite remarkable that Sarafina! made it onto the South African silver screen during this time. We like it simply because it’s honest, it’s light-hearted and spirited as well as thought-provoking, and it tells a tale of South Africa from the perspective of a black girl – something which is often neglected in the narrative of South Africa’s history.

  9. Beautiful People

    Director: Jamie Uys
    Cast: Animals
    Release date: 1974
    IMDb rating: 8,3
    Why we love it: One word – animals! As with The Gods Must Be Crazy, Uys takes the viewers on an unconventional journey through Southern African nature. Narrator Paddy O’Byrne describes the daily lives and antics of animals in the Namib desert, showing Sir David Attenborough how it’s done in South Africa.

  10. The Bang Bang Club

    Director: Steven Silver
    Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Malin Akerman, Taylor Kitsch, Frank Rautenbach
    Release date: 2010
    IMDb rating: 7
    Why we love it: This film puts the viewer in cahoots with the photojournalism ‘gang’ operating at the end of the apartheid era in South Africa, called the Bang Bang Club. Based on true events, the film gives us a unique perspective on the people behind the pictures which made international headline news and their internal struggles with morality which lead to the suicide of photojournalist, Kevin Carter.

  11. Die Storie van Klara Viljee

    Director: Katinka Heyns
    Cast: Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Regardt van den Bergh, Trix Pienaar, Gavin van den Berg
    Release date: 1992
    IMDb rating: 7,9
    Why we love it: Reminiscent of French dramas, Die Storie van Klara Viljee reminds us of the girl next door – the small town woman dealing with loss and hardship in a private and somewhat incomprehensible fashion. But this tale delves deeper into the psyche of the viewer, leading us to question the pain and unforgiveness we carry around with us, and the way we deal with others trying to cope.

  12. Leading Lady

    Director: Henk Pretorius
    Cast: Bok van Blerk, Katie McGrath, Gil Bellows
    Release date: 2014
    IMDb rating: 5,8
    Why we love it: Quite simply, we love Leading Lady for its simplicity and light-heartedness. It does not try to be anything it is not. It shows that ‘plattelandse’ ideals aren’t any less worthy than British high-street ideals, that love can be found in the most unlikely of places, and how small town South Africa pulls together to celebrate our unique heritage.

  13. Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema

    Director: Ralph Ziman
    Cast: Rapulana Seiphemo, Jeffrey Zekele, Ronnie Nyakale
    Release date: 2008
    IMDb rating: 7.8
    Why we love it: Hillbrow in South Africa has become synonymous with crime and violence. It’s a place which most people wouldn’t dare visit. Ziman himself stated how he wanted the film to underline the continued sense of hope found on the streets amid carnage and chaos. What makes it even more profound is the limited budget film-makers had for the movie, which was eventually submitted to the Academy Awards for consideration. Ziman stated that he’d spent less on production than most music videos and shorts he’d ever shot.

  14. Cry, the Beloved Country

    Director: Darrell Roodt
    Cast: Richard Harris, James Earl Jones, Vusi Kunene
    Release date: 1995
    IMDb rating: 6,9
    Why we love it: Based on a novel by Alan Paton from 1948, Cry, the Beloved Country takes an astounding and thought-provoking journey into the hearts of two fathers of different races who both have to deal with their own prejudices and understanding of their culture and their country amid the turmoil of personal loss and tragedy.

  15. Semi-Soet

    Director: Joshua Rous
    Cast: Anel Alexander, Nico Panagiotopoulos, Sandra Vaughn
    Release date: 2012
    IMDb rating: 7,2
    Why we love it: Semi-Soet puts a South African spin on a Hollywood-esque love story – the classic tale of lovers who aren’t meant to be, but come together despite adversity. It also explores the traditional and business roles of men and women, and the standards set for each to excel at business and reach success.

  16. Chappie

    Director: Neill Blomkamp
    Cast: Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Sharlto Copley, Brandon Auret, Yolandi Visser
    Release date: 2015
    IMDb rating: 6,9
    Why we love it: In classic Blomkamp fashion, Chappie explores the rules of what qualifies us as being human, and how that humanity can so easily become jaded and questionable. The film seamlessly combines everyday South African life with futuristic technology and urban decay and blends science-fiction into normal life in a way which makes it 100% believable.

  17. Disgrace

    Director: Steve Jacobs
    Cast: John Malkovich, Natalie Becker, Jessica Haines
    Release date: 2008
    IMDb rating: 6,6
    Why we love it: Disgrace explores our human flaws and the way we process humiliation and tragedy. It is not an everyday tale, yet the characters are people we can related to, in a setting and environment which all South Africans can grasp. It leads us to question our own shortcomings and the judgement we pass on others, as well as the diverse coping-mechanisms of individuals when facing adversity.

  18. Fiela se Kind

    Director: Katinka Heyns
    Cast: Shaleen Surtie-Richards, Dawid Minnaar, Lida Botha
    Release date: 1998
    IMDb rating: 6,8
    Why we love it: Fiela se Kind is a dramatic and heart-felt exposé of the meaning of family. Set in the beautiful Knysna forests, there is hardly a person who won’t be touched by this tale which makes us all question the true meaning of family and race. Based on one of Dalene Matthee’s forest books, the story is so uniquely South African and has found its way into most South African homes and book shelves.

  19. Spud

    Director: Donovan Marsh
    Cast: John Cleese, Troye Sivan, Jamie Royal
    Release date: 2010
    IMDb rating: 6,7
    Why we love it: For the first time since Trompie can South Africans take a glimpse into the mind of the South African adolescent boy, but this time we see the perspective of the boarding school teen. It chronicles the unlikely friendship between a misunderstood boy and his teacher and the way they both reach into each other’s lives to elicit positive change.

  20. Fanie Fourie’s Lobola

    Director: Henk Pretorius
    Cast: Eduan van Jaarsveldt, Zethu Dlomo, Jerry Mofokeng
    Release date: 2013
    IMDb rating: 6,5
    Why we love it: Fanie Fourie’s Lobola explores the hazards of cross-cultural relationships. What starts out as a dare and a mutual agreement between lead characters Fanie and Dinky quickly escalates to a romantic relationship, much to the surprise of the characters themselves, and their families and friends. But these relationships aren’t without their trials – what ensues is a romantic tale filled with hilarity and outrage which takes a jab at our pre-conceived notions of culture and romance.

We’re sure you have a few more South African greats in your movie collection, we surely have. Why not get some popcorn and invite your fellow safas over for a showcase of South African cinematic amazement.

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