Saudi Arabia grants US firm first licence to operate cinemas

AMC to open first cinema in Saudi Arabia in two weeks

However, The Emoji Movie was shown on a projector in a makeshift theater, due to the lack of official movie theaters in Saudi Arabia immediately following the ban.

USA -based but Chinese-owned AMC Entertainment has officially scored the first cinema license in Saudi Arabia after the country lifted its ban on public movie theaters last December.

The film will be given a gala premiere on April 18 in Riyadh at the first AMC-branded cinema, which was announced Wednesday, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The cinema push is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's so-called Vision 2030, an ambitious package of social-economic reforms to lessen the conservative kingdom's dependence on oil and return the kingdom to "moderate Islam".

MBS, as he's known by his abbreviation, has been on a whirlwind USA tour drumming up American investment.

The first film the cinema will screen will be hit Marvel superhero flick Black Panther, a source added to Reuters.

Having emerged victorious and won the first license, AMC will open its first theater in Riyadh in two weeks time on April 18.

To serve a population of more than 32 million, most of whom are under the age of 30, Saudi Arabia wants to set up around 350 cinemas with over 2,500 screens by 2030, which it hopes will attract almost $1 billion United States in annual ticket sales.

Although Saudi Arabia had some theatres in the 1970s, they were closed down by Islamist clerics in the early '80s. This theater will not be segregated by gender, like many places in Saudi Arabia. Despite the cinema ban, Hollywood films are widely watched through other means.

The move for opening the movie theatres would open the local market with the yearly ticket sales of about $ 1 billion which is what that urges other leading movie chains eager to enter the Gulf region's largest market.

"We expect this to be a very lucrative opportunity for AMC", said AMC's Chief Executive Adam Aron in a conference call with Fox Business.

AMC will be working alongside the government's Development and Investment Entertainment Company, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth Public Investment Fund (PIF). Part of Vision 2030 will see several exhibitors, including AMC, build 350 theaters in the country by 2030.

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