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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Saudi Arabia ushers in new cinema era with VIP screening of Black Panther

Superhero film shown to dignitaries and industry officials with screens expected to open to the general public next month

Saudi Arabia opened its first commercial cinema in 35 years on Wednesday, showcasing Marvel's Black Panther to senior government officials, dignitaries and select industry figures.

However, the general public must wait a few more weeks before they can catch a film.

Attendance to private screenings this month in Riyadh is by invitation only, with a public opening to follow in May, according to operator AMC Entertainment Holdings.

A  woman eats popcorn during the test screening of Black Panther at the AMC cinema in Riyadh. Fayez Nureldine / AFP Photo
A woman eats popcorn during the test screening of Black Panther at the AMC cinema in Riyadh. Fayez Nureldine / AFP Photo

The viewing serves as a test run on the only screen set up at the venue, a symphony concert hall retrofitted at the King Abdullah Financial District with a screen to meet the debut date announced two weeks ago.

Despite limited access, the screenings mark another milestone under social and economic reforms spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The crown prince, 32, has already eased many restrictions in the last two years, including on public concerts, women driving and gender mixing.

A Saudi man looks at a car during a test screening of Black Panther in Riyadh on April 18, 2018. Fayez Nureldine / AFP Photo
A Saudi man looks at a car during a test screening of Black Panther in Riyadh on April 18, 2018. Fayez Nureldine / AFP Photo

The kingdom banned cinemas in early 1979. However, films have been shown in the kingdom for decades, just not in commercial settings.

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Read more:

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Marvel legend Bob Layton: Black Panther is the perfect film for Saudi Arabia

MAF expects to obtain a licence 'soon' to operate cinemas in Saudi Arabia

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In 2017, the government said it would lift the ban as part of ambitious economic and social reforms that include retaining money that Saudis currently spend on entertainment in trips to Dubai, Bahrain and elsewhere.

A man takes a picture of the AMC logo during a cinema test screening in Riyadh. Fayez Nureldine / AFP Photo
A man takes a picture of the AMC logo during a cinema test screening in Riyadh. Fayez Nureldine / AFP Photo

To serve a population of more than 32 million, most of whom are under the age of 30, authorities plan to set up around 350 cinemas with over 2,500 screens by 2030, which they hope will attract nearly $1 billion in annual ticket sales.

Majid Al Futtaim, the conglomerate behind Ski Dubai and Vox Cinema, expects to obtain a licence to operate screens in the kingdom and 'soon'.