Black Panther Breaks 30-year Cinema Ban in Saudi Arabia

Massive Demand is Expected as Saudi Arabia Opens Public Cinemas

Al-Ghanem is the highest-ranking Qatari military official to visit the Saudi kingdom since June of past year, when Riyadh - along with Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Manama - cut its relations with Doha, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups.

The Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced earlier this month that the wholly-owned Development and Investment Entertainment Company has signed an agreement with USA giant AMC Entertainment to manage its cinemas in Saudi Arabia.

The development of the entertainment sector in Saudi Arabia is one of the main objectives of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's Vision 2030 which is set to lead the Kingdom away from its dependence on oil revenues and expand its industries.

Aron said, "We think there is enormous pent-up demand to go and see a movie in a theater, to watch movies the way they're supposed to be seen, on the big screen".

The kingdom banned cinemas in the early 1980s under pressure from Islamists as Saudi society embraced a severe form of Islam. However, films have been shown in the kingdom for decades, just not in commercial settings.

Saudis have nonetheless been avid consumers of Western media and culture.

The test screening will consist of a series of trial runs before the movie will be available to the wider public in May.

Many Saudis rejoiced in anticipation of Wednesday's theater opening, sharing praise and pictures of Crown Prince Mohammed on social media.

Massive Demand is Expected as Saudi Arabia Opens Public Cinemas

John Sfakianakis, director of economic research at the Gulf Research Center in Riyadh, said that opening new entertainment venues will encourage Saudis to spend more money at home rather than on vacations in nearby countries.

To serve a population of more than 32 million, most of whom are under the age of 30, the authorities plan to set up around 350 cinemas with over 2,500 screens by 2030, which they hope will attract almost $US1 billion ($NZ1.3 billion) in annual ticket sales.

A source familiar with the matter said last month theaters would not be segregated by gender like most other public places.

Others expressed confusion at what they consider a government flip-flop, with one tweeting on Wednesday: "Remember you will stand in front of God. and you will bear the sins of all those who watched the movies".

Awwad, the culture minister, told Reuters on Wednesday that they would be similar to cinemas around the world.

Initial screenings are likely to be for families with some occasional ones for bachelors. Scenes of violence are not cut, but scenes involving nudity, sex or even kissing are often deleted.

"The economy will benefit greatly as fewer nationals will exit to watch movies and be entertained", he said.

The comments were in response to a Wall Street Journal report on Monday that US President Donald Trump's administration was seeking to assemble an Arab force, including troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to replace a US military contingent in Syria.

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