Saudi Arabia’s first cinema in more than 35 years will open on April 18 in Riyadh, the capital, the authorities said yesterday after agreeing with AMC Entertainment Holdings (AMC.N) to open up to 40 theatres over the next five years.
Movie theatres will not be segregated by gender like most other public places in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom, and the first screening will be Marvel’s superhero movie “Black Panther,” a source familiar with the matter has said.
Saudi Arabia had some cinemas in the 1970s but its powerful clerics closed them, reflecting rising Islamist influence throughout the Arab region at the time.
In 2017, the government said it would lift the ban as part of ambitious economic and social reforms pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He is currently touring the United States seeking investments to help broaden the economy and lessen its dependence on oil.
Saudi Arabians are avid consumers of Western media and culture. Despite the cinema ban, Hollywood films and recent television series are widely watched at home and discussed.
AMC’s first cinema will be located in the King Abdullah Financial District in a building originally intended to be a symphony concert hall, AMC Chief Executive Adam Aron said in an interview. The main theater will have about 500 leather seats, orchestra and balcony levels and marble bathrooms, he said.