5 Must See South African Movies to Watch Before you Travel

With the favourable exchange rate Soyuth Africa has become a favorite filming destination for both British and American companies. Blood Diamond, Judge Dredd, Age of Ultron and Safe House just to mention a few, but did you know that South Africa has a proud tradition of cinema with some real gems.I set the criteria at being made in, and all about, South Africa. They are all true to the unique culture, humour and drama that makes South Africa such a special place. 

Here are my Top 5 Movies to watch before you travel to South Africa.

5) Invictus (2009)

A feel good biographical sports-drama about a nation uniting. Starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.

Normally I steer clear from Hollywood-style films based in Africa which star American actors. But, Invictus is a feel good story about the rugby world cup in 1995 that united the nation, is just too good to resist. It gives a real sense of the drama and political backdrop of our fledgling democracy, a moment that set the tone for years to come.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film looks at a just released Nelson Mandela and his efforts to unite the Rainbow Nation by inspiring the rugby team to win the world cup. It all boils down to that magic moment when Madiba steps onto the pitch at Ellis Park wearing the no.6 jersey of captain Francois Pienaar. Expect plenty of goose bumps and the occasional tear. The only surprise is that it took them more than ten years to turn this story into a block buster!

4) Zulu (1964)

Zulu -

A historical war movie starring Stanley Baker and introducing Michael Caine

In 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu war, a British garrison of some 400 men was attacked during the Battle of Rorke’s Drift. Located on the Buffalo River – the then border separating Zulu Kingdom from the British colony of Natal – this mission station was the site of an unlikely victory for the British troops.

Zulu is an EPIC war film. The garrison of about 150 British soldiers, many of whom were sick and wounded, successfully holds off an 11 hour attack by a Zulu force of between 3000 and 4000 warriors.

The film is a largely accurate historical account with the odd tweak and embellishment added for dramatic effect. Filmed with Ampetheatre of the Drakensburg mountains as a back drop, the setting is stunning. All in all it is high drama and captures a bit of those early days and the tensions of the frontier, a very important part of South African history.

Zulu warriors -

3) White Wedding (2009)

South African romantic comedy starring Kenneth Nkosi and Rapulana Seiphemo.

White wedding -

For a bit of a break from the heavy politics and interesting history of our beautiful country, White Wedding combines two of my favourite things. A road trip and a happy ending. The groom must drive to Durban to pick up his best man and then to Cape Town via the Eastern Cape. Needless to say the pre-wedding jitters and hilarity ensue as the trip brings them into contact with a host of eccentric characters.

White Wedding is definitely a feel-good film about relationships, intimacy, commitment and love in the new South Africa. There are plenty of obstacles to overcome and the film is by degrees hilarious and uplifting. An interesting take on the Rainbow nation which is at its core, honest and heart-warming.

2) District 9 (2009)

District 9 -

Science Fiction film set in Johannesburg. Directed by South African Neil Blomkamp and starring Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope and David James.

District 9 bought science fiction to Africa. Not only is it based in my home town of Johannesburg but it also happens to be original, exciting and well made. The actors are all South African and it has a real South African Highveld flavour.

District 9 still -

The movie takes a found-footage approach which includes fictional interviews, news footage and video from surveillance cameras. The themes, title and premise are taken from events in District 6, Cape Town, during the apartheid era.

What makes the movie so engaging is that it puts a spin on the whole alien invasion theme. The aliens that arrive in their space ship in Jozi are not here to invade but rather stranded. It examines all sorts of highly charged subjects from migration and xenophobia to humanity and love. This film is a must see.

1) The God’s Must be Crazy (1980)

There are certain movies that define an era. For me and a generation of South African’s, that movie was the God’s must be Crazy. Every few years I revisit this comedy and still find my ribs aching with laughter. Set against the arid kalahari desert there are plenty of gags and loads of interesting characters.

The Gods must be Crazy -

The plot is simple enough. A coke bottle is the cause of all sorts of trouble for a remote tribe of Bushmen who have no knowledge of the outside world. Xi is elected to return the bottle to the gods and he sets off on a journey to the end of the world. On the way he meets a PhD student studying poo, a school teacher and a band of incompetant rebels. 

Film critic Roger Ebert has this to say “It might be easy to make a farce about screwball happenings in the desert, but it's a lot harder to create a funny interaction between nature and human nature. This movie's a nice little treasure”.

The proof is in the pudding right? Well, to date The Gods must be Crazy is the most commercially successful film every released in the history of South African cinema.

The gods must be crazy -

Now, that was my personal list. Let’s see what the African Budget Safari team has to say:

Terry Murphy

  1. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)
  2. Sarafina (1992)

Sarafina -

Debbie Bryson

  1. e Lollipop (1976)
  2. Invictus (2009)
  3. The gods must be Crazy (1980)

Daniel De Lapelin Dumont

  1. District 9 (2009)
  2. Lipstick Dipstick (1994)
  3. Jock of the Bushveld (1986)
  4. The Bang Bang Club (2010)

Jock of the bushveld -

Clare Monson

  1. Power of One! (1992)
  2. Tsotsi (2005)
  3. Sarafina (1992)

The Power of One -

Harriet Purser

  1. NOT the Lion King!!!!


Tsotsi -

  1. Shaka Zulu (1986)
  2. Jock of the Bushveld (1986)
  3. Sarafina (1992)
  4. Blood Diamond (2006)
  5. Cry Freedom (1987)

Cry Freedom -

Any movies we’ve left off the list? Add them in the comments below...

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