Published: Sun, April 22, 2018
Medicine | By Melba Vasquez

Saudi Arabia's first cinema in 35 years opens with Black Panther screening

Saudi Arabia's first cinema in 35 years opens with Black Panther screening

AMC will face stiff competition from heavyweights such as Dubai-based VOX Cinemas, which had yesterday announced it had also secured a government license to operate in Saudi Arabia and would open the kingdom's first IMAX theatre in the coming days.

Awwad Al-Awwad, opened the first cinema screening in Saudi Arabia on Thursday evening, operated by the world's largest cinema operator and developer AMC Theatres, after almost 35 years of complete cinema shutdown in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia lifted a decades-long ban on cinemas previous year as part of a far-reaching modernisation drive, with AMC Entertainment granted the first licence to operate movie theatres.

"The return of cinema to Saudi Arabia marks an important moment in the Kingdom's modern day history and cultural life, as well as in the development of the Kingdom's entertainment industry", said Saudi Arabia's Minister of Culture and Information, Dr. Awwad Alawwad, following the launch.

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The lifted ban is just a part of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's efforts to create a more "open and moderate Islam" for the country.

There are plans for opening about 350 cinemas - 2,500 screens - by 2030, generating an expected $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) in annual box office receipts and making the kingdom the 11th largest theatrical exhibition market in the world. The goal over the coming years is to reduce Saudi's economic reliance on oil.

Majid Al Futtaim will be exclusive distributor of 20th Century Fox content to cinemas across Saudi Arabia. In 2018, the company is planning to release such films as The Darkest Minds, The Predator and the James Cameron-produced Alita: Battle Angel.

The invitation-only gala event in a converted Riyadh concert hall on Wednesday was the first in a series of test screenings after a ban on cinemas was lifted previous year.

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AMC Entertainment signed a non-binding agreement in December to build and operate cinemas across the kingdom.

Bejjani added, "Majid Al Futtaim is proud to be one of the largest private-sector investors in the Kingdom and Vision 2030, with an investment commitment now increasing to SAR 16 billion".

Despite the lifting of a 35-year ban on cinemas, movies in Saudi Arabia can expect strong censorship, particularly around scenes which feature sex, LGBT representation, and religious issues. Both concepts combine fine dining with a VIP cinema experience.

Majid Al Futtaim has had a significant presence in Saudi Arabia for more than 14 years through Carrefour, operating 16 hypermarkets and supermarkets with more than 7,000 employees.

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Clutching prized tickets for what AMC said was a sold-out showing of Hollywood blockbuster action film "Black Panther", men and women walked into the movie hall with tubs of popcorn and fizzy drinks.

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