Netflix original From the Ashes is Saudi Arabia's biggest global hit yet

Directed by Khalid Fahad, the film has trended in 37 countries in five continents in its first three weeks of release

The Saudi film From the Ashes is inspired by a real-life story that revolves around a fire that sparks in the basement of an all-girls school. Photo: Netflix
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Netflix original From the Ashes, which hit the popular streaming platform last month, is officially the most globally resonant film that Saudi Arabia has produced since launching its industry, The National can confirm.

In its first weeks of release, the movie reached the Netflix non-English top 10 films list in 37 countries worldwide, doing particularly well in Latin America. In its second week, the film trended across Mexico, and nearly all of central and South America.

The film has also reached weekly top 10 lists in Jamaica, Luxembourg, Spain, Egypt, Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago, proving its popularity across five continents.

Accumulating 7.6 million views and 11.6 million hours viewed as of February 4, the film outpaces the platform's other hits from Saudi Arabia according to public records, though may not have yet passed those films in total views, as each had sustained popularity within the kingdom in the months after release.

From the Ashes was made by Saudi filmmaker Khalid Fahad, who also directed 2023’s theatrical release Valley Road, a family adventure film.

Speaking to The National about the film’s success, Fahad says: “I think people around the world want to see Saudi culture.”

“These stories come from our hidden culture,” he says. “Many people don’t know what our lives are like here, so the basic stories about our regular life or what’s happened to us before now is something people want to know. This proves that there’s global curiosity to know about our culture, about our stories, about our people.”

Fahad had thus far been amazed by the attention he has received, with people reaching out to him from countries around the world.

“I had someone from Korea telling me he watched it and heard people talking about it, and have heard the same from friends in Spain. It also shows the power of Netflix, much like La Casa de Papel went far beyond Spain,” he says.

“I’ve learnt a lot from this experience. People don’t just want stories that are related to them, and their local audience isn’t as insular as they think. People from across the world want to learn about different people, and hear new stories. That makes me so happy, because here in Saudi Arabia, we still have lots of stories we want to tell to the world.”

Faisal Baltyuor, the film's producer and the former head of the Saudi Film Council (now Saudi Film Commission), has also been and deeply proud of the film's success, echoing Khalid's belief that the film's cultural authenticity has attracted international viewers, as well as its blend of genre.

"I am grateful for all the team’s hard work including the film crew and cast who made this happen, and Netflix for their support. Having our film on Netflix allowed us to reach a global audience and gave the film a strong push from the beginning," Baltyuor tells The National.

Inside Saudi Arabia's growing film industry

It’s been nearly six years since Saudi Arabia announced its intentions to start a home-grown industry, and in that time, the country has already produced a wide crop of emerging talent, as well as an ever-growing number of successful projects.

Netflix has been producing original content in the region since 2019’s Jordan-set series Jinn, but has put strong priority on the Gulf in recent years.

The last year alone has seen the platform take strong advantage of Saudi’s burgeoning industry, with original films including Khallat+ and Naga, both from pioneering Saudi production company Telfaz11, and Head to Head from Sirb Productions, made with the team behind animated hit Masameer.

Each of the three films has been successful on the platform, with all hitting the Netflix global top 10 for non-English language films.

Their latest release, From The Ashes, has outpaced each of those in its first three weeks of release, particularly abroad.

On traditional platforms, Saudi films have also experienced domestic success in terms of sustained box office performance. Sattar, for example, also from Telfaz11, sold nearly a million tickets last year becoming the third best-selling film in the country’s history, behind Top Gun: Maverick and Spider-Man: No Way Home. It did not repeat that success outside of the kingdom, possibly because part of the draw was it contained characters familiar from years of YouTube sketches.

Haifaa Al Mansour’s Wadjda, released in 2012, was a box office hit at the time globally, taking in $6.5 million. Its biggest markets were Germany, where it brought in nearly $1.8 million, and the US, where it brought in more than $1.3 million. Based on average prices at the time, this equates to roughly 800,000 tickets sold.

That film, like From the Ashes, also featured a young female cast. Speaking to The National in 2021, the filmmaker highlighted how powerful that Saudi's film industry has been in empowering the nation's women.

“Cinema gave me my voice,” she said. “As a woman, I grew up in Saudi at a time when women and culture were not at the centre. Now we are at the centre. It is a new page, we will lead the country.”

Updated: February 13, 2024, 1:48 PM