Two years ago, Saudi Arabia officially ended its long-standing ban on cinemas. In 2018, the kingdom opened the doors to its first theater in the capital city of Riyadh ... and movie-goers just can't get enough. The demand has been increasing since, and Saudi Arabia plans to meet those demands in the very near future.
On Thursday, the government announced that $35 billion will be invested in building cinemas and theaters mainly in the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam. With that, the kingdom aims to open another 2,500 screens in the next five years.
The investment was announced by the General Commission for Audiovisual Media, the body responsible for issuing cinema licenses. According to Hollywood Reporter, there are currently less than 40 screens opened across the country.
The kingdom's plans come just a week after Saudi Arabia took a major step forward to enhance its cultural opportunities in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia's cinema ban lift came after an agreement with AMC Entertainment Holdings - an American movie theater chain - was finalized. AMC screened the kingdom's first film at a cinema in Riyadh in 2018.
Other companies - including Voc Cinemas - have since entered the market. Last year, VOX Cinemas said it plans to invest $533 million to open 600 theaters in the next five years. In Jan. 2019, VOX Cinemas gave movie-goers in Jeddah their first-ever cinema theater located in the city's Red Sea Mall.
Back in March, Vox Cinemas said it will set "aside $500 million in a major investment drive to boost its number of screens in Saudi Arabia," as reported by Arabian Business.
According to a study by PwC Middle East, a global advisory firm, the kingdom's cinema industry is expected to generate $1.5 billion in revenue by 2030.
Cinemas were banned in the early 1980s after a number of powerful clerics closed down existing ones in the kingdom. Prior to the ban lift, thousands of Saudis traveled to neighboring Bahrain for entertainment.
Now, that is no longer the case.
The cinema industry's revival came at a time when Saudi Arabia's entertainment scene was transforming under the kingdom's General Entertainment Authority (GEA).
The government-owned body was established in 2016 and is part of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030. Its main goal is to enhance the cultural and entertainment sector within the country. In January 2017, the authority's former chairman Amr al-Madani stated that the ban on cinemas will be lifted in the kingdom, revealing that movie theaters were expected to open soon. Just over a year later, his statement turned into a concrete plan that is now a living reality.