Saudi Arabia will open its first new cinemas in 35 years. The Islamic kingdom had some in the 1970s but clerics closed them due to influence from hardliner religious beliefs. But that’s about to change as the nation’s first new cinemas are set to open on the 18th of April in the capital Riyadh after agreeing with AMC Holdings to open up to 40 in the next five years.
Surprisingly, unlike most public spaces, movie theatres are not going to be segregated by gender. The country imposes strict restrictions (particularly on women) on intermingling between the sexes.
In 2017, the government pledged to lift the ban on cinemas as part of a series of economic and social reforms which include allowing women to drive. These changes are being pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is currently touring the US to seek investments that hope to lessen the kingdom’s dependence on oil and broaden the economy.
“The restoration of cinemas will … help boost the local economy by increasing household spending on entertainment while supporting job creation” culture minister Awwad Alawwad said. “Hollywood has long ago dealt with the sensitivities of the Middle East and have adjusted film product accordingly,” he said.
With 32 million people, most of whom are under-30, Saudi Arabia wants to open 350 cinemas with over 2,500 screens by 2030 and hopes to attract up to $1 billion in box office sales.