Last December, Saudi Arabia lifted its decades-long ban on public cinemas. AMC Theatres was the first exhibitor to get a cinema license in the Middle Eastern country, and things kicked off last month, when Black Panther became the first movie to play at the AMC Theater in the capital city of Riyadh. That is just the beginning though, as hundreds of theaters are expected to open in the country over the next decade. Now, following AMC, another of the most recognizable brands in cinema has struck a deal to make its way into the Kingdom. The people of Saudi Arabia will soon be able to enjoy the most premium of formats when IMAX opens theaters there.
IMAX has struck a multi-theater deal with Vox Cinemas to bring the premium-screening format to the country, becoming the second theater chain there after AMC. Vox Cinemas, which is the largest exhibitor in the region, is planning to open 600 screens in the country over the next five years at the cost of over $500 million. This deal will see Vox and IMAX partner on at least four commercial theaters, four IMAX screens will be installed at Vox cineplexes in Riyadh and other cineplexes owned by Vox’s parent company, Majid Al Futtaim. One of the IMAX theaters that is a part of this deal is already up and running at the Riyadh Park Mall.
Although this new deal brings IMAX screens to commercial, feature film releases, IMAX actually already had a presence in Saudi Arabia. According to The Wrap, the only public theater in Saudi Arabia prior to the lifting of the ban in December was an IMAX screen in a science center that screened documentaries. IMAX is hoping the name recognition from that venue will have audiences turning out for big-budget event films like Avengers: Infinity War. IMAX is also talking with AMC about putting IMAX screens in that chain’s locations in the country.
The untapped potential of the Saudi Arabian market has the industry excited. This is a population that is thirsting for Hollywood entertainment and used to having to leave their country. Ticket sales in Saudi Arabia are expected to reach $1 billion annually by 2030. Adding in premium formats like IMAX will only spur that growth as like here, audiences will crave the immersive format. With demand for movie tickets in Saudi Arabia potentially raising prices to $35 a pop, who knows how much of a premium the IMAX format will command.
It is cool to see that a country where people have been deprived of the theatrical experience for so long is seeing such rapid growth of movie theaters, including the immersive IMAX format. While attendance is in decline domestically, burgeoning and new markets like Saudi Arabia will play a bigger role going forward. For everything you can see in theaters this year, and maybe even in IMAX, check out our release schedule.