IMAX has signed a deal with Middle Eastern exhibitor Vox Cinemas to partner on at least four IMAX venues in Saudi Arabia, which last month opened its first movie theaters after the lifting of a 35-year-old religiously based ban.
The IMAX theaters will be added to multiplexes operated by Vox in the Saudi capital of Riyadh and in other locations in shopping malls, some of which are owned by Vox Cinemas’ parent company, Majid Al Futtaim, a leading mall and hotel developer in the region.
Vox, the region’s largest exhibitor, is among companies that have been granted a license to operate cinemas in Saudi Arabia. They currently have a four-screen multiplex up and running in the Riyadh Park Mall, one of which is an IMAX theater that is part of this deal.
Vox’s stated plan is to invest more than $500 million to open 600 screens in Saudi Arabia over the next five years.
In Cannes, IMAX announced a non-binding agreement to jointly seek opportunities to identify and develop local IMAX-format films in the kingdom.
IMAX had previously been present in Saudi Arabia with the IMAX dome theater of the Sultan Bin Abdul Science Center in Al-Khobar, which was built in 2005, but not for screening movies.
In a statement, IMAX CEO Richard L. Gelfond said Saudi Arabia “presents an exciting and sizable new growth opportunity” for IMAX and noted that the agreement with “our longtime partners [at Vox] marks an important first step in our efforts to capitalize on this untapped market.”
Speaking about Saudi Arabia to Variety at Cannes last week, Gelfond said he expected to have “20 to 30 theaters there in three to five years, which would be our biggest territory in the Middle East.” He also put the size of the Saudi market, which experts have estimated could produce $1 billion in revenue in three years, into perspective. “People are talking about the opportunity in Saudi [Arabia], and it’s a great one, but it’s not going to be a China-sized opportunity,” he said.
IMAX already has a substantial footprint in the Middle East, partly in tandem with Vox, with which it has partnered on sites such as the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, the City Centre Qurum in Oman, and the City Centre Beirut in Lebanon. IMAX currently has a total of 32 contracted theaters in the region, including the Saudi agreement, of which 20 are currently open.
“We’re thrilled to bring IMAX to commercial theaters in [Saudi Arabia] for the first time,” said Cameron Mitchell, CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Cinemas, which operates more than 300 Vox Cinema screens across the Middle East.
“We thank the Saudi government for the faith they have placed in us, and we look forward to contributing to the Saudi Vision 2030 as we support the growth of their new cinema sector.”
Stewart Clarke contributed to this report.