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Our favourite movies set in Africa

The continent's top cinema classics

With the imminent release of the Lion King, we’ve started thinking about some of our other favourite movies set in Africa. There are so many cinema classics that were made on (and around) the continent, but we’ve managed to narrow them down to just ten. These films instantly transport us to the plains of Africa, and we dare you not to be inspired to visit yourself after watching…

Famous movies filmed in Africa - angama mara
Credit: Angama Mara Lodge

1. Out of Africa

We’re starting with the classics and it doesn’t get more iconic than the 1985 epic, Out of Africa. Set against the sumptuous backdrop of 1900s Kenya, we’re certain this sweeping romance has inspired more than its fair share of African adventures. An all-star cast (hello Hollywood legends, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford) tell the true story of Danish author Karen Blixen who followed her fiance to Kenya as he established a coffee plantation. The film traces the couple’s journey as they face the encroaching First World War in British East Africa, mounting issues with the business and infidelity. It’s a story of romance, heartbreak and the resilience of the human spirit, and the story of a love affair between a woman and her true destiny, Africa.

If you want to start your own love affair with the continent, and specifically with Kenya, then a stay at Angama Mara is a must! It’s situated in the very spot where Streep and Redford gazed longingly at each other and the views are beautiful. You remember the infamous scene that was immortalised on the film poster? Right there. You really couldn’t be closer to the glamour.

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Famous movies filmed in Africa - gorillas in the mist
Credit: Sanctuary gorilla forest camp

2. Gorillas in the mist

Based on the true story of primatologist and conservationist Dian Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist follows its protagonist as she moves from America’s midwest to Africa in order to study the gorillas of Rwanda and Uganda. The film follows Fossey’s journey as she forms bonds with the primates she’s researching and the understanding she comes to over the fragility of their existence at the hands of poachers. Emotive and haunting, it’s a great showcase of humanity’s connection to animals and nature, as well as a cry to protect the endangered species of our planet. A rollercoaster of emotions for sure, but set against the stunning backdrop of Uganda and Rwanda and focused on these beautiful beasts, it’s a film you can’t fail to fall in love with.

Critically endangered and numbering less than 1,000 in the wild, a trekking safari to see these magnificent apes is a unique experience. For a true ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ adventure, we’d recommend our ‘Gorillas in Rwanda and Wildlife in Uganda’ trip that will take you to both Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to spot the gentle giants. We’ve also written this handy guide on the best places to spot gorillas so if you fancy, have a go at creating your very own itinerary.

Famous movies filmed in Africa - fugitives drift
Credit: Fugitive’s Drift Lodge

3. Zulu

The year is 1879, the scene is the first of South Africa’s infamous Zulu Wars. The British have just suffered a devastating defeat at Isandlwana and retreat to a nearby hospital in an attempt to reconsolidate their army. What follows is an epic battle (which in reality lasted 12 hours) between 150 British soldiers and a descending Zulu army of nearly 4,000. It’s a classic for a reason and the film is no less emotive or awe-inspiring fifty years on from its original release. Whilst most movies that are based on historical events can take liberties with the truth, Zulu is fairly accurate in its retelling (with a few Hollywood flashes here and there).

To stand on KwaZulu-Natal’s earth is to stand amongst history, but to look at the rolling hills, it’s hard to imagine they could be home to some of the bloodiest battles of the country’s past. Our ‘South Africa for Culture Vultures’ self-drive trip will introduce you to the KwaZulu-Natal region, and combines some time at the battlefields with the beautiful landscapes of the Midlands and a spot of safari.

Famous movies filmed in Africa - invictus
4. Invictus

The 1995 Rugby World Cup final is seared acutely into the memories of many a sports fan. The epic showdown between South Africa and New Zealand was fought at a time when South Africa was experiencing major political change under the watchful eyes of the world. Mandela had been elected to power a year previously and despite the official end to apartheid taking place only a few months before, there were still serious racial divisions within South Africa. Mandela sought to unite his people through their love of sport, meeting with the Springboks captain, Francois Pienaar, and setting him on a mission to win the world cup. Under the directorship of Clint Eastwood, Invictus is a powerful and moving story of both racial divide and unity, with an all-star cast to boot!

The rugby match that made history and was watched around the world was played in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium. Most people think that Joburg is just a city to pass through but we think, even if you’re just stopping for a moment, you should try and get under it’s skin. We are guaranteed you won’t be bored!

Famous movies filmed in Africa - sugarman
5. Searching for Sugarman

A slight change from the epic Hollywood classic here, and onto a surprise hit documentary that had everybody talking. Searching for Sugarman follows two South Africans who set out  to find the mysterious musical marvel from their childhoods and a man whose voice gripped the whole of South Africa. Rodriguez, an American folk singer, was a mythical legend across the country and his song, ‘I Wonder’, became a huge anti-apartheid anthem. He was arguably as big as The Rolling Stones or Elvis, but with one small difference – no one had ever watched him perform or knew where he was. Love of the singer and his music was passed by word of mouth, whilst rumours frantically swirled about the fate of this mystifying performer. This documentary seeks to uncover the truth and find out what really happened to Rodriguez.

We might not have a Rodriguez themed route but who needs an excuse to visit South Africa? Watching the documentary might just give you the nudge you need to plan a trip. Might we recommend our favourite ‘South Africa in a Nutshell’ trip – with a spot of culture, Cape Town, wine farms and safari, what more could you be looking for in a holiday? And if you do find yourself in the Mother City, be sure to pay a visit to what has to be the country’s most famous record shop (and that features in the film), Mabu Vinyl.

Famous movies filmed in Africa - district 9
Credit: CNN Travel

6. District 9

And onto a story that isn’t based on any true tales – well, not directly. District 9, a tale of an extraterrestrial race making their home in South Africa became a cult classic almost overnight. We come to the story 30 years after aliens have landed on earth, seeking refuge from their own dying planet, and the film focuses on the way we as humans handle their settlement. It might seem as though this far-retched storyline has no place alongside reality but it becomes obvious when watching that it’s a metaphor for South Africa’s troubled past. Whilst no direct mentions are made of apartheid, the film is written in such a way that it explores the issues of segregation and ‘otherness’. It’s also a celebration of South Africa, filmed on the streets of Johannesburg, with the director (who grew up in the city) stating that the movie was entirely inspired by the metropolis.

As we said above, we think Joburg is one city that’s worth getting to know. We’d recommend making a day of it if you’re passing through, taking in everything the city has to offer. Have a look at our 24 Hours in Johannesburg blog for some inspiration.

South Africa
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Famous movies filmed in Africa - black panther
7. Black Panther

Ok ok, we know that Wakanda isn’t a real place but how could we leave this smash-hit out? And Wakanda is meant to be in Africa so… This 2018 Marvel hit took the world by storm. Set in the fictional land of Wakanda, the heir to the throne must fight off a rival to protect both his family and his kingdom. Under the veneer of a superhero movie, this film challenged its audience to rethink racism, power dynamics and class, whilst still maintaining the clever wit and action-packed drama we’ve come to expect from Marvel. Sadly it wasn’t filmed in Africa but the lush green landscapes have us dreaming of Republic of the Congo and even of Reunion Island. The costumes and makeup also remind us of many indigenous African communities and there’s a reason for that. Marvel were very particular about honouring the many cultures represented across the continent and it really shines through in the film. You’ll spot Mursi and Surma lip plates, Zulu headdresses, Ndebele neck rings, Basotho blankets and many more nods to the people and traditions that enrich Africa.

Sadly we can’t send you to Wakanda but we can recommend an adventurous seven-day trek through the Republic of the Congo on our Odzala Odyssey, or a trip to tropical Reunion Island if you want to mix a bit of beach time with your jungle escape.

Reunion Island
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Famous movies filmed in Africa - hotel rwanda
Credit: Virunga Lodge

8. Hotel Rwanda

Rwanda has come a long way since the abhorrent genocide that tore the country apart in 1994 and the land, the people and the wildlife have spent the past 25 years regenerating. The history of the country is still felt today, however, and whilst Rwanda is working to heal, the past runs deep and the memories of those that were lost are widely commemorated. Hotel Rwanda seeks to honour those people and help its audience to understand what took place and how it affected both the country and her people. It tells the story of a hotel manager who used his property to shelter people of the Tutsi minority who were in danger of death due at the hands of the Hutu. In the face of this unspeakable adversity, an ordinary man manages to find the courage to stand against those who sought to tear his country apart. It’s moving, enthralling, educating and unmissable.

Today, the Rwandans are a united nation, full of open smiles and genuine warmth, and are keen to show off their beautiful country. Our trip ‘Rwanda the Full Works’ is the perfect place to start understanding this magnificent and awe-inspiring destination, and includes the chance to meet the people, wonder at the unique wildlife and take in the unmatched landscapes.

Famous movies filmed in Africa - mandela
Credit: Cape Town Tourism

9. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

It’s hard to say something about Nelson Mandela that hasn’t already been said, for this is a man who captured the minds and hearts of the world through his intelligence, his fortitude and his dignity. Before his ascent to power, the great leader was held as a political prisoner for 27 years on Robben Island yet still he drew the attention of the world to South Africa at a time when it was suffering at the hands of a state-sanctioned system of racial discrimination. The film charts the journey of this remarkable man, from his humble beginnings in a rural Eastern Cape village, to becoming the first democratically-elected president of South Africa.

You could truly visit anywhere in South Africa and feel the presence of Mandela, be it the Eastern Cape where he was raised, Cape Town where he was held prisoner (and also where he made some of his most famous speeches), or Johannesburg where you can learn about the country’s troubled past at the apartheid museum and come to understand how instrumental one man was in changing its fate.

Famous movies filmed in Africa - mad max
Credit: Dune Star

10. Mad Max

Another curveball but one we just had to include! This fantasy sci-fi has absolutely nothing to do with Africa in terms of its storyline but it has everything to do with Africa if we’re talking filming locations! Whilst none of the characters have a link to the continent, the unspoken additional role played by Namibia absolutely shines through. If you’re searching for an arid, barren, wasteland to film in, a place where the desert rolls as far as the eye can see, then the world’s oldest desert, the Namib, has to be an incredible starting point. And a fun fact for you: the film was actually scheduled to be shot in Australia (the same as the original) but the drought in the area broke just before filming started so the production was relocated around the world to Namibia.

A stirring, desert realm of vast horizons and startling contrasts with epic wildlife and culture too, we think Namibia should be on everyone’s must see list. And if we do say so ourselves, we think our ‘Classic Namibian self-drive journey’ is an excellent place to start.