Nearly a year ago, Saudi Arabia ended a long-standing ban on cinemas in the country, announcing the kingdom's plans to open movie theaters in 2018. A few months ago, the kingdom officially opened its theater doors to movie-goers in the capital city of Riyadh.
The announcement came after the kingdom finalized an agreement with AMC Entertainment Holdings - an American movie theater chain - which will see 40 theaters open in the kingdom in the next five years.
According to a recent 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.
In hopes to build an industry that will contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy, authorities plan to open 300 cinemas with 2,600 screens across the kingdom by 2030. Industry experts have also said that as many as 20,000 jobs could be created.
"Based on global and regional benchmarks, we expect the KSA to accommodate between 300 and 370 cinema locations," said Dr. Martin Berlin, Middle East Partner at PwC, according to Saudi Gazette.
Majid Al Futtaim Cinemas is heavily investing in Saudi Arabia as well.
"We will invest $100 million in a year to open 100 cinema screens – part of the 2 billion dirham plan to open 600 cinema screens in Saudi Arabia in the next three to five years," said Cameron Mitchell, Chief Executive Officer of Majid Al Futtaim Cinemas, according to Forbes Middle East.
"We have opened our first cinema complex in Saudi Arabia in May this year, right after the government announced the opening of the cinema industry for public. We were closely working with the Saudi Arabian Government and as a result were the first operator to open the first cinema screen in the Kingdom," he added.
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.
Prior to cinemas opening their doors in the kingdom, nationals and expats got the opportunity to attend the screening of the Sony-backed animated comedy film "The Emoji Movie" in January. The animated film was screened alongside "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie" as a double bill.
In April, the first movie to screen in the country was "Black Panther" - a 2018 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character.
In 2016, the kingdom established the General Authority for Entertainment, headed by Amr al-Madani, to enhance the cultural and entertainment sector within the country.
In January 2017, Al Madani stated that the ban on cinemas will be lifted in the country, revealing that movie theaters were expected to open soon. Just over a year later, his statement turned into a concrete plan.
Led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salam, the ambitious blueprint has already led to major transformations in the ultra-conservative kingdom.