×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

AMC to Open Saudi Arabia’s First Movie Theater

AMC is putting an important marker down in Saudi Arabia. The world’s largest movie theater chain has been granted the first license to operate movie theaters in the Middle Eastern nation. The first of these theaters will open in Riyadh in two weeks on April 18.

Saudi Arabia’s decision to lift a 35-year ban on cinemas has inspired a land rush as theater chains jockey to be among the first to break into the market. AMC chief Adam Aron has been particularly aggressive, journeying to the country to try to win over Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“It is big news with global significance,” Aron said on a call with journalists following the announcement. He said the initial theater is in a former symphony space and predicted it will be “the prettiest movie theater in the world.”

The deal is with the Development and Investment Entertainment Company, a subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. AMC expects to open up to 40 cinemas in Saudi Arabia within five years and up to 100 theaters in Saudi Arabia by the year 2030. With a population of 32 million, 70% of whom are under the age of 30, and a relatively affluent citizenry, some analysts expect that Saudi Arabia could eventually produce $1 billion in revenues and be among the top 10 markets for theatrical revenues. AMC and the Development and Investment Entertainment Company said their goal is to achieve approximately a 50% market share of the Saudi Arabian movie theater industry.

“Where else are you going to find a movie market that does not exist today that could be a billion dollars three or five years from now?” Aron asked.

AMC has struggled of late. The company positioned itself to be the beneficiary of consolidation in the exhibition space, spending big to acquire Carmike and Odeon. It has also invested heavily in improvements to its facilities, outfitting numerous locations with recliner seats. But all these changes have left it with high debt leverage ratios. That balance sheet combined with a roller coaster box office year in 2017 was a drag on the stock. Shares of AMC have lost roughly half their value over the past 12 months.

AMC isn’t alone in its efforts to break into Saudi Arabia. Empire, Vue, iPic, CJ CGV, and Cinepolis are among the companies that have announced plans to have bases of operation in the country.

Saudi Arabia is a culturally conservative country — women didn’t get the right to drive cars until 2017 — but the crown prince has been leading an effort to liberalize the nation and to diversify its oil-based economy. On the conference call, Aron positioned the opening of theaters as part of that larger effort. Despite the culture, AMC does not expect the theaters to be segregated based on gender, but it may offer special showtimes for just women or men.

“Saudi society is changing,” Aron said. “I’m sure this will be a trial and error situation as the ministry takes the temperature of the populous. Currently it is our view the theaters will not be segregated.”

The AMC chief would not reveal which Hollywood films will play when theaters open in two weeks, but he predicted that a “broad array” of pictures will score releases. Ultimately, the films hitting screens could emerge from local filmmakers.

“I expect to see a Saudi film industry emerge out of this,” he said.

More Film

  • Atlantics

    Emerging Talent From Gallic Cinema

    Variety is teaming with Unifrance, an agency that promotes French cinema around the world, to focus attention on four emerging talents in the French movie industry as part of Unifrance’s “New Faces of French Cinema” program. Here Variety profiles the rising filmmakers: Justine Triet, Eléa Gobbé-Mévellec, Hafsia Herzi and Mati Diop. Mati Diop Born to [...]

  • John Hannah Reunites With ‘The Mummy’

    John Hannah Reunites With ‘The Mummy’ Actors for Horror Pic ‘Lair’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    John Hannah, Corey Johnson and Oded Fehr will star in “Lair,” billed as a socially conscious horror movie about an LGBT family embroiled in one man’s attempt to prove the existence of the supernatural. The trio all appeared in the successful franchise “The Mummy,” and their new picture goes into production later this year. Katarina [...]

  • Loving Vincent Animation Oscars

    Adult Audience Animation: Cannes Panel Talks Big-Screen Strategy

    CANNES–A panel of leading animation industry executives gathered during the Cannes Film Market on Sunday to shed light on their strategies for the theatrical release of adult-oriented animated features. It was a timely conversation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Five of the 28 animated projects in the Marché du Film are adult audience-focused, including [...]

  • Lea Drucker poses with the Best

    French Filmmaker Axelle Ropert Readies 'Petite Solange' With MK2 Films (EXCLUSIVE)

    French writer/director Axelle Ropert is set to direct “Petite Solange,” a film that will star Léa Drucker and Philippe Katerine, who won the best acting nods at this year’s Cesar Awards for their performances in “Custody” and “Sink or Swim,” respectively. MK2 films will handle international sales. Haut et Court has acquired rights for French [...]

  • Dutch FilmWorks Moves into International Sales

    Dutch Film Works Moves into International Sales (EXCLUSIVE)

    A major new international sales outfit is coming to market. Dutch Film Works (DFW), one of the largest movie distributors in the Benelux region, is moving into film and TV sales. DFW general manager Angela Pruijssers will spearhead the sales effort alongside Charlotte Henskens, who will join from Amsterdam-based Fortissimo Films, where she is director [...]

  • Gullane Taps The Match Factory, Bitters

    Gullane Taps Match Factory, Bitters End for Karim Ainouz’s ‘Neon River’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Gullane, the Brazilian producer of Marco Bellocchio’s Cannes competition player “The Traitor,” has linked with production partners for anticipated projects by two of Brazil’s highest-profile auteurs: Karim Ainouz and Fernando Coimbra. In further news, Luiz Bolognesi, writer-director of Annecy winner “Rio 2096,” is leading “Senna,” Gullane’s biggest movie project to date, a live-action biopic of [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Harvey Weinstein Feature Documentary ‘Untouchable’ Bought by Hulu (EXCLUSIVE)

    Hulu has snagged the U.S. rights to “Untouchable,” the feature doc about disgraced media mogul Harvey Weinstein, in a seven-figure deal, Variety has learned. The film, directed by Ursula Macfarlane, had its premiere at Sundance. It offers the inside track on the rise of Weinstein and his subsequent fall, amid allegations in the U.S. and Europe [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content