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13 Extraordinary Movies Set In South Africa That Will Inspire You To Visit!

13 Extraordinary Movies Set In South Africa That Will Inspire You To Visit!

South Africa, the Rainbow Nation, has a lot to offer both national and international filmmakers with exquisite natural and urban landscapes, a rich cultural heritage – and a generous film tax credits and incentives program. So it will come as no surprise that there are so many unforgettable movies set in South Africa. 

Watching a good movie is the best way to get inspired and choose your next destination. It is the reason we have assembled various lists of the best films shot in some of our all-time favorite travel destinations: Turkey, Afghanistan, Oregon, Thailand, Barcelona and Dubai.

There are things that a photo alone can’t capture. We are human, and we need movement: the waves crashing against a sandy beach, the sun setting against the savannah horizon, and people walking side by side through an imposing urban environment. These are things that are better experienced with movement. These are things that belong in movies. And these things are South Africa.

For a long time, both foreign and native directors have captured on film some of the most stunning sights and landmarks of the country. The local South African cinema industry might be young but is certainly full of life. Its directors bring to the screen daring stories set in one of the most unique places in the country full of old wonders and some of the most diverse people in the world.

After all, minds from Africa, Asia, and Europe have all come together in this coastal country.

Movies set in South Africa - Best South African films

It is also the motherland of some of the smartest and kindest people: Nelson Mandela, Christian Barnard, Desmond Tutu. It’s a country where wisdom abounds. And through its movies, these little pieces of that wisdom are often conveyed since they all have unique perspectives, whether they touch on transcendental subjects or present us with an entertainment piece. Each of them has something to say and something to inspire us with.

The films in this list of movies set in South Africa paint a picture of a complex country filled with gorgeous sights and diverse voices. With this, we hope to help audiences step into the often-contradictory world of South Africa and experience the scenery, subcultures, and different dynamics that make South Africa what it is today.

These South African films frequently boast narratives that rely on their settings as much as their main protagonists, and as a result, spectators get a glimpse of South Africa through the director’s eyes. Be forewarned that not all of these films are happy – tragedies and misery are as unavoidable in cinema as they are in life – be we promise that each one provides panoramic vistas and thought-provoking narratives from this tantalizing country…

Wondering where to watch? It depends on where you live in the world and which streaming services you have. We link to the streaming service we watch on in each case - be it Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, or elsewhere.

You can get one month free of Amazon Prime (or a 6-month trial for students) of Amazon Prime and also get immediate access to FREE Two Day shipping, Amazon Video, and Music. While you won't be charged for your free trial, you'll be upgraded to a paid membership plan automatically at the end of the trial period - though if you have already binged all these, you could just cancel before the trial ends.

Apple TV+ also has a one-week trial, and Hulu has a one-month trial (which can be bundled with Disney!). Another option might be using a VPN to access Netflix titles locked to other regions. Netflix is now available in more than 190 countries worldwide and each country has a different library and availability. US Netflix is (understandably) one of the best. 

While we wish everything could just be in one place - for now, it seems these are the best streaming platforms to watch on.

Movies set in South Africa - Best South African films
Movies set in South Africa - Best South African films
Movies set in South Africa - Best South African films

Ayanda (2015)

Ayanda (2015), by Sara Blecher, is a coming-of-age film set in Yeoville, a suburb in Johannesburg. It tells the story of the titular Ayanda (played by Fulu Mugovhani), a young mechanic who inherited her father’s workshop. Even though the bills are always due, she loves being a mechanic and will give her most to keep the memory of her father alive. In this emotional story, we see her re-discover herself as she tries to repair her father’s vintage car.

This film is a great starting point to get to know the people of South Africa. This vibrant nation is known for being home to several cultures: those who come from the early European pioneers (known as Afrikaners) and British industrialists, the descendants of multiple African tribes, as well as lots of folks from India (both Hindu and Muslim). With this many groups of people living in one nation, South Africa is one of the most diverse countries in the world.

Ayanda shows just that in its portrayal of Johannesburg. Known as the “City of Gold,” Johannesburg is the largest city in the country, and it harbors several communities within its bounds. The suburb where Ayanda’s workshop is located, Yeoville, is only a fraction of what the city has to offer. Yet it still manages to capture its essence: the movie shows a community of migrants from all over Africa working to make their home a better place, little by little.

Tsotsi (2005)

Tsotsi (2005), by Gavin Hood, is a drama film set in Alexandra, a slum in Johannesburg. The movie tells the story of David (Presley Cweneyagae), a young boy who runs away from his home only to end up living a life of crime. One night, he steals a woman’s car and, as he drives away, he finds that a baby is sitting alone in the back seat. This incident will put him and his criminal friends to the test. 

The film offers a different point-of-view of Johannesburg, one complementary to Ayanda’s. Instead of seeing the city through the eyes of those in a suburb, we see it from the perspective of those living in the slum. The circumstances are completely different, yet the people are not: the characters in Tsotsi are all trying to find a better life.

The soundtrack for this movie is also of note. It’s mostly composed of Kwaito, a genre of music born in Johannesburg, but it also has some Afro-Pop songs and spoken word segments. If you are interested in South African music, you owe it to yourself to give it a listen. 

Tsotsi tells a moving story that is bound to leave you with many questions. It’s one of the greatest pieces of art made in South Africa. In fact, it’s the only South African film to have won the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film. Watching this movie will tell you a lot about the emotions and sensitivities of the people from this country.

District 9 (2009)

District 9 (2009), by Neill Blomkamp is one of the most well-known South African films in recent years. It’s a science fiction action thriller set in an alternative timeline Johannesburg; one where, in 1982, an alien spaceship suddenly appeared in the sky and stood still. After the initial shock, people entered the ship and found a whole population of sick insectoid aliens.

The movie follows Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a bureaucrat working for a weapon manufacturer is tasked to aid with the relocation of the aliens to a new camp away from the city. There he meets Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope), an alien who is trying to create fuel for his people to go back to their planet. The life of Wikus will change after his meeting with the alien.

District 9 is a must-watch for any science fiction fan. Like most good sci-fi, it touches on human philosophical and political themes. In this case, social segregation and xenophobia: the response of the alternative South African government is to include these aliens in the apartheid politics and put them as far as possible from white humans. The titular District 9 is the region where they are forced to live.

Yesterday (2004)

Yesterday (2004) is a drama film by South Africa’s most prolific film director, Darrell James Roodt. It was the first feature-length movie to be produced entirely in Zulu, the language of the Zulu people, who inhabit the northern region of South Africa. With TsosiYesterday was the only other South African movie to be nominated for an Academy Award. Even though it didn’t win the Oscar it was nominated for, it was thoroughly lauded and is considered one of the best movies made in the country.

The film tells the story of Yesterday (played by Leleti Khumalo), a Zulu farmer who discovers she has AIDS. The news surprises her since all she does every day is work on her farm to feed her daughter, Beauty (Lihle Mvelase).

It turns out that the one who infected her was her husband, who works in a mine far from their home. She travels there to confront him, but he doesn’t care about her and gets angry at her recriminations. Yesterday decides to fight the disease alone and vows to be there for her daughter’s first day of school.

This inspiring story takes place in Zululand, one of the northern regions of South Africa. As seen in the movie, this region is the home of the Zulu people, who have managed to keep their traditions alive and well. This land is known for its big forested mounts, golden rivers of sweet water, and charming homes built on red rock. One of the most intact parts of the country, Zululand offers some postcard-worthy sights.

Otelo Burning (2011)

Otelo Burning (2011) was the first film by Sara Bleacher, the director Ayanda. This acclaimed movie is a retelling of Othello, the 1603 tragedy by William Shakespeare. Instead of telling the same story in a different setting, Bleacher chose to reinterpret several of the plot points in Othello. She workshopped the script with the help of surfers and lifeguards that attended the Lamontville town pool (shown in the movie).

The film stars Jafta Mamabolo as Otelo Buthelezi, a poor Zulu teenager who visits the coast of Durban and discovers his passion for surfing. But he also discovers a life very different from his own, that of the political turmoil that took place during the last years of the apartheid. Set in 1989, Otelo Burning tells the story of this young boy as he dedicates his life to surfing together within the unstable country he lives in.

While being a compelling drama, Otelo Burning succeeds at showing the beauty of the ocean on the South African coast. The movie is set mostly in Lamontville, a little township near the city of Durban. This gorgeous city stands by the Indian Ocean, overlooking the vast blue expanse. The very name of the city, Durban, means “the port” in Zulu. Known for its idyllic beaches and delicious food, it’s a great place to visit if you get the chance.

Barakat (2020)

Barakat (2020), by Amy Jephta, is a comedy-drama film set in Cape Town. It tells the story of Aisha Davids (Vinette Ebrahim), a strong single mother who raised four sons by herself. Now in her sixties, Aisha receives a marriage proposal from her boyfriend Albertus (Lesley Fong) and accepts. There’s one problem: she will have to tell her sons, who have all grown angry and distanced.

This movie does a great job of showcasing the multicultural aspect of South Africa. It gives us a look at the day-to-day of a Muslim South African family: we see what they eat, how they dress, and where they worship. We even get to appreciate the Eid al-Fitr (“Feast of Breaking the Fast”), one of the most important holidays celebrated by Muslims. 

Barakat is spoken entirely in Afrikaans, the third most spoken in South Africa. It was born due to the influx of Dutch settlers that moved to the country from Holland. It’s mostly composed of Dutch words, although it also integrates German words and words from the Khoisan languages (the indigenous languages from Africa). Barakat will give you a chance to listen and get used to this peculiar tongue before you visit the country.

Keeping Up With The Kandasamys (2017)

Keeping Up With The Kandasamys (2017), by Jayan Moodley, is a comedy film set in Durban. The film tells the story of two Indo-South African neighbors, Shanti Naidoo (Maeshni Naicker) and Jennifer Kandasamy (Jailoshini Naidoo), who can’t stand each other. When they realize that Jennifer’s daughter is in love with Shanti’s son, they team up to break them up.

Like BarakatKeeping Up with The Kandasamys offers a look at one of the least represented South African cultures: the Hindu Indians. One of the funniest scenes in the movie takes place during a wedding. There we can see one of the most iconic Indian traditions, Hindu weddings, take place in a modernized South African fashion. The movie is full of little details that show how the Indian community still keeps its traditions alive.

This hilarious comedy will leave you wanting more of South African humor. Luckily, Keeping Up with The Kandasamys was very successful, becoming the best-selling South African film of the year. So two sequels have been made after the success of this first installment: Kandansamys: The Wedding (2019) and Trippin’ with the Kandansamys (2021).

White Wedding (2009)

White Wedding (2009), by Jann Turner, is both a romantic comedy and a road trip film. It stars South African actor and comedian Kenneth Nkosi (who can also be seen in Tsotsi and Otello Burning) as Elvis, a young man who is about to get married. Together with his friend Tumi (Rapulana Seiphemo), he will travel from Johannesburg native to Cape Town, where his soon-to-be wife Ayanda (Zandile Msutwana) lives.

What’s great about good road trip films is that they capture the very spirit of traveling. White Wedding is no exception. Traveling changes lives; the places we visit and the people we meet change us. The movie shows that sometimes we change them. As Elvis and Tumi travel through South Africa, we see some of the charismatic characters that the country has to offer, paired with great shots of Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, and the rural areas in between.

One of the best things about White Wedding is the way it pokes fun at the animosity between different South African groups. The apartheid is a very big part of the history of the country, and it didn’t take place that long ago: some of its consequences are still being felt today. In the movie, Elvis meets a prejudiced Afrikaner. As they talk, a very touching moment takes place. It is in these little moments of humanity that White Wedding shines best.

Fanie Fourie’s Lobola (2013)

Fanie Fourie’s Lobola (2013), by Henk Pretorius, is an adaptation of the homonymous romantic comedy novel by Nape ‘a Montana. The title refers to the lobola, or “bride wealth,” a still-standing African tradition dating from 300 BC.

When an African marriage is about to take place, the would-be husband gifts the family of the would-be bride a certain amount of livestock in thanks for letting him marry their daughter. While this practice has changed in the last few years, it’s still customary in several African countries, including South Africa.

The film tells the story of Fanie Foura (played by Eduan van Jaarsveldt), an Afrikaners custom car artisan. His friend Sarel (Chris Chameleon) is about to get married and, during his bachelor party, dares Fanie to invite a Zulu woman named as his date. The woman, Dinky (Zethu Dlomo), agrees, but only on the condition that he pretends to be her boyfriend, so her family stops trying to get her to marry. As usually happens in romcoms, this façade will soon start to get real. 

Like White Wedding, Fanie Fourie’s Lobola depicts the racial prejudices that are still alive in South Africa in a humorous way. The clash of cultures is constant: Fanie’s Afrikaner family is deeply prejudicial against black South Africans, and, of course, Dinky’s Zulu family has no love for white South Africans either. The movie does a great job of showing how people can put aside their preconceptions once they get to know the person on the other side. It’s an emotional and hilarious film.

Sarafina! (1992)

Sarafina! (1992) is one of the best movies by Darrell James Roodt. The movie is set in 1976 and is based on the events that took place during the Soweto Uprising, where students all over South Africa rallied against the imposition of Afrikaans as the obligatory language for teaching. It’s an adaptation of a 1987 musical of the same name.

The titular Sarafina (played by Leleti Khumalo) is a fictional student who can’t stand by the way the country treats her people, especially her mother (Miriam Makeba). When her teacher Mary Masombuka (Whoopi Goldberg), is imprisoned, she and the other students stage an uprising. While the movie was being filmed, Nelson Mandela was released, and the apartheid was abolished, so the movie was changed to contain a more hopeful message for the future of the country. 

The film uses the comedic theatrics of musicals to tell this inspiring story set in dark times: the musical numbers are joyful and full of color. The music was composed around several South African styles and themes. All in all, Sarafina! is an excellent musical vindication of this moment in history where the youngest stood up against the injustice of a whole system.

Mandela: The Long Walk To Freedom (2013)

Mandela: The Long Walk To Freedom (2013), by Justin Chadwick, is a biographical film depicting the life of Nelson Mandela. It stars Idris Elba as the titular character and Naomie Harris as his second wife, Winnie Madikzela. It’s directly adapted from Mandela’s autobiographic book from 1995.

This is a great movie to watch if you want to understand the influence that Nelson Mandela had in South Africa and in the human rights movement in general. Born in 1918 in the small village of Mvezo, he traveled to Johannesburg to get his education and became a lawyer. While there, he became part of the anti-colonialist movement. Back then, South Africa was known as the Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion of the British Empire established after World War I.

Independence from Britain was achieved, but at a great cost. In 1948, a minority of white Afrikaner nationalists withheld the power of the state and started developing a system of institutionalized racial segregation. This was apartheid, which translates to “separatedness.” His fight continued on, even after being imprisoned, and culminated with his release in 1990 and the abolishment of this heinous system in 1993. In 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first president of the Republic of South Africa.

Amandla!: A Revolution In Four-Part Harmony (2002)

Amandla!: A Revolution In Four-Part Harmony (2002), by Lee Hirsch, is a documentary film that tells the story of the South African musicians, poets, and playwrights who fought against the injustices of the apartheid. The word amandla is Nguni for “power.”

It was a common freedom cry in the anti-apartheid protests (as can be seen in Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom). It won several awards all over the world, including the Freedom of Expression Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

This film offers a great complementary view of how the people of South Africa fought against apartheid. Artists play a crucial part in every anti-authoritarian movement, and it wasn’t different in this movement. The anti-apartheid fight wouldn’t have been the same without the likes of Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, and Miriam Makeba, who all appear in this documentary.

Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony puts into perspective the power that art has to unite people. A big part of this movement was the “freedom songs”: a particular set of choir-like songs that combined African styles with the hymns of Christianism. Being based on choirs, they must be sung in groups. The movie allows us to listen to these authentic songs and feel the power that they evoke.

Invictus (2009)

Invictus (2009) is a historical sports drama made by renowned director Clint Eastwood. Set in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, it tells the story of Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), his first term as president and his meeting with François Pienaar (Matt Damon), the captain of the Springboks, a bad-performing yet high-level rugby team.

During this meeting, Mandela subtly asked Pienaar to win the World Cup in order to show that South Africa was a strong and united country. It’s based on the 2008 historical book by Josh Carlin: Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation

This is a great movie for anyone interested in Nelson Mandela and the struggles he had to go through after he became the president of South Africa. After having fought so much, after twenty-seven years in jail, Mandela found himself facing a whole other kind of challenge: that of ruling a country torn apart by racial segregation policies. Invictus offers the rare chance of seeing a politician making history with thoughtful decisions. The scene where he meets with Pienaar is a clear example of the smart and cunning mind of the man.

But it also is a must-watch for anyone interested in sports, particularly in rugby. The underdog story of the Springboks during the World Cup, paired with their commitment to the dream of a united South Africa, is truly inspiring. Their clash with the New Zealand All Blacks is the stuff of legends made real.