The unprecedented growth in Saudi Arabian cinema over the past year led to the country being recognised with the Emerging Market Spotlight award at CinemaCon 2022, this week.
The event, which brings together major global players in the motion picture theatre industry from more than 80 countries, is being hosted at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas from Monday, April 25, to Thursday, April 28.
Recognising the pandemic-defying successes at the Saudi box office throughout 2021, it was revealed the kingdom had posted $239 in box office receipts over the past year.
Experts have predicted the Saudi box office will pass $1 billion in revenue by the end of the decade.
“This is the very definition of what an emerging market looks like,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at media research company Comscore.
“The trajectory is incredibly impressive even with the impact of pandemic landing in these growth years.”
Since the 35-year ban on movie screenings was lifted in 2018, Saudis have been able to watch films at the cinema, and the kingdom now boasts 456 cinema screens across 54 movie theatres.
With two thirds of Saudi Arabia’s 35 million population under 30, cinema in the country looks set to expand further as film and theatre target the young demographic.
From banned to ‘Black Panther’
In the 1970s, there were many movie theatres in Saudi Arabia playing mostly Egyptian, Turkish and Indian films, and the medium was not considered to be un-Islamic. They were closed at the behest of religious conservatives in the early 80s, and subsequently all cinemas and theatres were shut down.
Throughout the ban, the only cinema in the kingdom was an IMAX screen in Khobar at the Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Science and Technology Centre, which showed educational documentaries.
On December 11, 2017, the Saudi Arabian Minister of Culture and Information announced that public movie theatres would be allowed the following year. The first public film screening was Marvel’s Black Panther on April 18, 2018, followed by Avengers: Infinity War the following week.
In May, 2018, UAE company Vox Cinemas, opened the first four-screen multiplex in Saudi Arabia in 35 years.
In 2021, the top five grossing films in the kingdom were the Egyptian comedy Waafet Reggala (A Stand Worthy of Men), followed by Spider-Man: No Way Home, Cruella, Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man, and Egyptian comedy Mesh Ana (Not Me), featuring Tamer Hosny.