Ramadan was once a quiet time for cinemas in the UAE: distributors and exhibitors agreed that the holy month was a period when people wanted to be at home with their families, and the common practice was to hold back films that released in other markets during the month until Eid weekend or beyond. Cinema release schedules during the month would be peppered with old, unheard of or unloved movies that distributors would drop into cinemas to clear their shelves or meet contractual agreements.
Then, in 2016, Disney decided to take a chance when it experimented by releasing the Pixar animation Finding Dory during Ramadan, at the same time as the rest of the world. The results were emphatic – Finding Dory smashed box office projections, attracting double the audience the major chains had predicted and comfortably topped the box office for the month.
The studios took note, and last year a trickle of big ticket films, including Wonder Woman and The Mummy, released during Ramadan, pulling in the crowds, and this year the floodgates have opened, with big blockbuster releases almost every weekend. Here's our rundown of some of the biggest releases to look forward to. Bear in mind that release dates can change at short notice, so check local listings before heading out.
1. Deadpool 2 – May 17
Ryan Reynolds returns as the wisecracking anti-hero Deadpool in the sequel to the 2016 original, which became the highest-grossing R-rated film ever. Thanks to a first-of-its kind collaboration between studio Fox Searchlight and the UAE’s National Media Council, which saw members of the NMC viewing the movie while it was still in post-production, fans of the loveable rogue are promised that they’ll be able to see the full original version of the movie, in its entirety, at exactly the same time as the rest of the world.
2. A Wrinkle in Time – May 17
A belated release for Disney's astral travelling sci-fi adventure, which released in March in most markets. The film, which tells the story of a young girl's intergalactic journey to find her missing father, was something of a disappointment at the global box office, but there's no doubting the movie's blockbuster status. An all-star cast includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine, while director Ava DuVernay (Selma) became the first African-American woman to direct a film with a nine-figure budget – the movie's total budget, including marketing, is believed to be in the region of $250 million (Dh18 million).
3. Solo: A Star Wars Story – May 24
We're back to the Star Wars Universe for probably the biggest release of the month, with Ron Howard's take on the origin story of one of the franchise's most popular characters, reluctant hero Han Solo. Alden Ehrenreich takes on the role first popularised by Harrison Ford in the original 1977 film, and in this backstory of the young Solo, we look set to learn about his early ambitions to be an imperial pilot, his journey into intergalactic smuggling, and his first meeting with his much-loved sidekick, the Wookie Chewbacca.
4. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – June 7
Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas-Howard and Jeff Goldblum reprise their roles in this sequel to 2015's Jurassic World, and the fifth film in the Jurassic Park series. The UAE is getting a rare early release for the latest in the rampaging dinosaur action franchise, alongside India and the major European markets, some two weeks before it lands in cinemas in the US. This time around, we're told our heroes are trying to save the dinosaurs in the now-closed theme park from an impending volcanic eruption, but it's a safe bet they'll be terrorised by a marauding giant lizard or two while they're at it.
5. Ocean’s Eight – June 7
An all-star cast including Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter and Rihanna team up for this female-fronted spin off from Stephen Soderbergh's Oceans Trilogy of heist movies. Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, sister of George Clooney's Danny from the first three films, and having evidently entered into the family business herself, she assembles a crack team to pull off the heist of the century at New York's Met Ball. Cameos include Matt Damon and Carl Reiner reprising their roles from the first movie, tennis players Maria Sharipova and Serena Williams, fashionistas Anna Wintour and Alexander Wang, pop star Zayn Malik, and Instagrammers Kim Kardashian and Kyle Jenner.
6. The Incredibles 2 – June 14
An animated sequel to the hit 2004 caper about a family of super heroes. The main cast including Holly Hunter and Samuel L Jackson reprise their roles more than a decade on, once again squaring up against John Ratzenberger's The Underminer, as well as a new villain, the mysterious Screenslaver. Other new cast members include Better Call Saul's Bob Odenkirk, who plays superhero fan Winston Deavor and Isabella Rossellini's The Ambassador.
7. Loving Pablo – June 14
Another belated UAE release, this time for Fernando Léon de Aranoa's biopic Loving Pablo, which tells the story of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar (Javier Bardem) from the perspective of his long-term mistress Virginia Vallejo (Penelope Cruz) – the movie is based on Vallejo's memoirs. De Aronoa is a brave, or possibly foolish, man to choose to make his version of Escobar's story in a couple of hours so soon after Narcos did so with huge success over more than 30 hours, but he does a reasonable job, with Bardem and Cruz's performances of particular note.