Dubai's VOX wins licence to operate Saudi cinemas

Saudis currently splurge billions of dollars annually to see films and visit amusement parks in neighbouring tourist hubs like Dubai and Bahrain. Credit AFP

VOX to open multiplex in Riyadh soon

Saudi Arabia has ended a 35-year ban on movie theaters with a screening of "Black Panther".

Cinemas, owned by Dubai's Majid Al Futtaim, said on Thursday it had received a license to operate cinemas in Saudi Arabia and would open a four-screen multiplex theater in Riyadh "in the coming days".

Saudi Arabia launched its first commercial movie theater on Wednesday, ending a almost 40-year ban on cinemas under a push by the crown prince to modernize the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.

The invitation-only gala event comes after the conservative kingdom lifted the ban on cinemas a year ago as part of a far-reaching liberalisation drive, with United States giant AMC Entertainment granted the first licence to operate movie theatres. This marks a major cultural shift in Saudi Arabia, where movie theaters were closed following an ultraconservative wave of Islam in the 1980s. It will include the first IMAX screen to exhibit movies and VOX KIDS, the concept designed especially for young movie fans.

Reopening movie theatres is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambitious reform drive as he seeks to balance unpopular subsidy cuts in an era of low oil prices with more entertainment options - despite the risk of riling hardliners. "VOX Cinemas will join a growing stable of Majid Al Futtaim's leading retail, leisure and entertainment brands operating across the Kingdom".

Saudi Arabia said a year ago that movies "will be subject to censorship according to media policy standards of the Kingdom", to ensure they comply with Saudi values and principles and do not contradict Sharia, or Islamic, law.

The gala opening was limited to about 500 invited guests, executives and officials, but public screenings of the movie will begin soon, AMC said.

The coming months would see three more screens planned. But, generally movie theaters will not be gender segregated with "family sections" for women and related men and separate "single sections" for male-only crowds as is customary at restaurants and cafes.

Saudi Arabian public movie theaters began shutting down in the late 1970s after the country adopted ultraconservative Islamic law.

"Welcome to the era when movies can be watched by Saudis not in Bahrain, not in Dubai, not in London. but inside the kingdom", he said before the screening of "Black Panther".

"The restoration of cinemas will ... help boost the local economy by increasing household spending on entertainment while supporting job creation in the Kingdom", Culture and Information Minister Awwad Alawwad said in a statement.

Films screened in Saudi theaters will still be subject to approval by government authorities, as is done in other Muslim countries.

Latest News