AMC First In Line As Kingdom Allows Movie Theaters

As Saudi Arabia seeks to create a modern economy, entertainment is one of the industries being promoted as a replacement for oil.

AMC Entertainment, the largest movie-theater chain in the US, is drooling at the prospect of opening sleek new multiplexes with automatic reclining seats in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom announced in December that, beginning in March, it would allow cinemas for the first time in 35 years.

Hours later, the massive Saudi sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), announced an agreement with China’s Dalian Wanda (AMC’s owner) to “explore theatrical exhibition and related investment and partnership opportunities in Saudi Arabia.”

Adam Aron, CEO of Leawood, Kansas–based AMC, described the announcement as “a tremendous opportunity to connect AMC’s movie products with the [kingdom’s] more than 30 million citizens, many of whom we know are movie fans based on their regular visits to cinemas in neighboring countries.”

The Ministry of Culture and Information said the plan is to install 2,000 screens in more than 300 cinemas by 2030. The ministry expects the industry to contribute about $24 billion to the economy and add more than 30,000 full-time jobs.

The decision didn’t come as a complete surprise. Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) announced Saudi Vision 2030 in April 2016. “We are well aware that the cultural and entertainment opportunities currently available do not reflect the rising aspirations of our citizens and residents, nor are they in harmony with our prosperous economy,” that document states, in outlining the government’s goals. “We intend to enhance the role of government funds, while also attracting local and international investors, creating partnerships with international entertainment corporations.”

As Saudi Arabia seeks to create a modern economy, entertainment is one of the industries being promoted as a replacement for oil. But it remains to be seen what kinds of restrictions and censorship will be imposed. Movies must comply with the kingdom’s moral values and interpretation of Islamic law. Any Hollywood content would likely be heavily edited.

Most forms of public entertainment were banned in the kingdom after militants attacked the Grand Mosque in Mecca while worshippers gathered there for the annual Hajj pilgrimage in 1979.

Still, Vision 2030 says, “We consider culture and entertainment indispensable to our quality of life.”