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Italia Film, the prominent Middle East film distributor with close Hollywood ties, has reached more than two million admissions this year to date in Saudi Arabia, which it says marks a milestone.

The results provide fresh proof that moviegoing is booming in the region following the 2017 removal of its religion-related ban on cinema.

The Beirut-based company has longstanding exclusive relationships with major Hollywood studios and indies including Disney, STX Entertainment, and Lionsgate. It was the first to obtain a film distribution license in Saudi in 2018 following the 35-year ban. Italia Film has now announced becoming the first distributor to cross the two million admissions mark in Saudi on September 26, just as the family-run company mourns the death earlier this month of its founder Joseph Vincenti.

Italia Film’s top 2021 title in Saudi so far is Disney’s “Cruella,” which has scored $9.1 million locally since its late May release, making the Emma Stone-starrer the kingdom’s No. 2 box office haul this year after Egyptian comedy “A Stand Worthy of Men” (Wa’fet Reggala) which has pulled a massive $15.6 million.

These numbers are being generated by a total of 404 screens in 42 sites, according to Italia Film.

In 2020, Saudi Arabia was the only country to grow year on year at the box office, which was worth an estimated $120 million. Compared with last year, admissions in Saudi in 2021 are up 158% to 9.6 million to date, Italia Film said.

Other top grossing releases for Italia Film in the Saudi market are “Soul,” which in 2021 pulled $5.1 million; “Free Guy,” which has made $4.5 million to date; “Jungle Cruise,” which scored just over $4 million; and “Black Widow,” which has made $3.8 million.

Vincenti, who died in Beirut on September 7 at 92 after a bout of strong pneumonia, launched Italia Film in Lebanon in 1962 and became Disney’s key Middle East partner in 1993. He is credited with being the first distributor in the region to expand into the United Arab Emirates, which until recently was the Middle East’s most vibrant box office, and more recently into Saudi Arabia, which last year became the region’s top movie market.

Over the course of several decades, Vincenti steered Italia Film boldly and kept it on the cusp of the movie industry’s growth in the Middle East. Besides launching into Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi, he also expanded Italia Film’s distribution footprint into Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, and India.

Vincenti is survived by his wife Marleine, his children Patrizia, Giuliano and Carlo, who is Italia Film’s managing director, and his grandchildren, Christina, Sofia, Gabriella, and Giuseppe.