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AMC to open first commercial cinema in Saudi Arabia in 35 years

AMC to open first commercial cinema in Saudi Arabia in 35 years

April 05
20:44 2018

Chinese-owned AMC Entertainment will this month open the first commercial cinema on Saudi Arabian soil in 35 years.

The kingdom closed its cinemas in the early 1980s following a revival of hardline Islamic sentiment, but late last year announced reform measures pursued by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Ministry of Culture and Information broke the 35-year ban this week, awarding a cinema operating licence to a subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. AMC, which is owned by Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda, has signed an agreement with the investment fund to open and operate the cinemas, the first of which is expected to open on April 18 in the capital, Riyadh.

A press release from the company showed pictures of a colourful theatre atrium in the King Abdullah financial district, part of a new development zone in Riyadh.

AMC aims to open up to 40 cinemas in 15 cities in the kingdom over the next five years, it said. By 2030, it plans to have between 50 and 100 cinemas in operation in 25 cities.

“The decision is part of Saudi Arabia’s social and economic reform programme under Vision 2030, spearheaded by His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is on an official visit to the United States,” AMC said on Wednesday.

As part of a charm offensive directed at the US, Prince Mohammed met people such as media entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg and Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein in New York last week.

The 32-year-old prince has rapidly consolidated power over the past year, launching a sweeping purge of rival princes and tycoons while also leading a devastating war against Shia rebels in neighbouring Yemen.

However, he has also launched social and economic reforms at home aimed at breaking with some conservative laws while also attempting to wean the kingdom off of its oil-based economy.

He recently lifted a ban on women driving in the country. For the first time in decades, the Saudi government is promoting concerts and cultural events to broaden entertainment options for the Saudi people, two-thirds of whom are under the age of 30.

The government hopes the reopening of cinemas will play a part in boosting domestic entertainment spending. It anticipates 300 theatres showing movies will open by 2030, contributing $24bn to the economy and creating 30,000 jobs.

AMC was bought by Dalian Wanda for $2.6bn in 2012. The Chinese property and entertainment group, controlled by tycoon Wang Jianlin, went on to buy other major US assets, including Legendary Entertainment for $3.5bn, but has since come under Chinese government pressure to divest many of its assets.

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