Expanding Middle East indie film distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment has forged a joint venture with Saudi Arabian exhibition chain Muvi Cinemas to launch Front Row Arabia, with ambitious plans to cash in on Saudi’s current theatrical boom.

The new distribution and exhibition company will be releasing English, Arabic, Japanese anime and alternative content across Saudi which — bucking the global downward trend — in 2020 became the Middle East’s top theatrical market, worth an estimated $120 million last year. Muvi Cinemas is the first home-grown exhibition chain to operate in Saudi.

Besides being probably the world’s only film market to have grown despite the pandemic, analysts now expect moviegoing in the kingdom to continue to escalate in 2021 en route to Saudi becoming a billion dollar market in 3 to 5 years.

Dubai-based Front Row currently acquires roughly 100 titles a year for the Middle East and North Africa, 45 of which are distributed theatrically in the region, it said in a statement. Its other titles go out digitally.

Just before lockdown, Front Row, in collaboration with exhibitor Kuwait National Cinema Company, released the Arabic-language blockbuster “El Folos,” which is currently the highest grossing Arabic film of all time in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf.

The joint venture with Muvi Cinemas replicates the successful business model adopted between Front Row and Kuwait National Cinema Company, which currently controls 86% of the Kuwait theatrical market share, the joint statement said.

Front Row’s upcoming Middle East releases include Liam Neeson thriller “The Marksman,” which will be Front Row Arabia’s first official Saudi release on Jan. 21. Its other titles comprise Florian Zeller’s “The Father”; Sean Penn’s “Flag Day”; Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter”; Ari Folman’s long-gestating feature animation “Where is Anne Frank?”; and Japanese Studio Ghibli’s “Earwig and the Witch.”  

Headquartered in Riyadh, Muvi Cinemas currently operates 10 multiplexes in 6 cities, including a state-of-the-art 18-screener in the port city of Dharan, a major oil industry hub, for a current total of 103 screens. The business plans to expand their reach to more than 600 screens in more Saudi cities by 2025, according to the statement.

“We have been monitoring Front Row’s activity for quite a while and their diversity, innovative business model, and future plans are very much aligned with our vision, which includes distribution of Hollywood, local language” and other content, Muvi Cinemas CEO Sultain Alhokair said in the statement.

“Saudi Arabia is the growing market of the region and we are happy to add another valuable piece to our distribution network through this joint venture with Muvi Cinemas,” said Front Row CEO Gianluca Chakra, who added that “the partnership will offer our current and future partners the most efficient and complete all-rights distribution set up in the Middle East.”