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 After 35 Years, First Cinema to Reopen in Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia’s first movie theater in more than 35 years will open on April 18 in the capital Riyadh.

AMC Entertainment, the world’s largest movie theater chain, said Wednesday it has been granted the license to open up to 40 theaters in 15 Saudi cities over the next five years. 

The deeply conservative Muslim kingdom had some cinemas in the 1970s but its powerful clerics managed to force them to close. 

The theaters won’t initially be segregated by gender like most Saudi public spaces, AMC’s chief executive officer Adam Aron said. But there might be some show times set aside exclusively for single gender audiences. 

The move to reopen cinemas is part of a modernization drive by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmon, who is seeking to boost domestic spending in an era of low oil prices.

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.

To serve a population of more than 32 million, the majority of whom are under the age of 30, Saudi Arabia wants to set up around 350 movie theaters with more than 2,500 screens by 2030, which it hopes will attract nearly $1 billion in annual box office sales.