AMC Theaters has won the bid for the first license to build a movie theater in Saudi Arabia, the China-owned theater chain announced Wednesday. The cinema will open on April 18 in Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District.
The announcement comes four months after the country’s leader, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, declared that the country’s 35-year-long ban on movie theaters would end. This has triggered a rush by exhibitors worldwide to stake their claim on the new market, including European chain Vue and premium arthouse distributor iPic.
AMC said it is planning to open 40 theaters in Saudi Arabia within the next five years, with the aim to expand to 100 locations by 2030. AMC, which was bought by China’s Dalian Wanda group six years ago, has pushed hard to claim a majority share of Saudi Arabia’s movie industry, announcing they had reached a deal to explore building locations the same day that the ban’s lift was announced on Dec. 11 of last year.
This announcement also comes as Bin Salman is in the midst of an extensive U.S. tour to expand and solidify his country’s business interests. This week, the Crown Prince arrived in Hollywood, buying out the entire Beverly Hills Four Seasons along with 40 rooms at the nearby L’Ermitage, TheWrap previously reported. During his visit, MBS has met with major figures in the industry, including Disney CEO Bob Iger, Oprah Winfrey and Rupert Murdoch.
But the centerpiece of Bin Salman’s visit was his meeting at WME, which is planning to sell a five-to-10 percent minority stake to KSA’s government. Bin Salman’s visit was met by protests from the activist group Code Pink, which decried Saudi Arabia’s U.S.-backed intervention in Yemen that has led to the deaths of millions and a humanitarian crisis.