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European cinema giant Vue has become the first theater operator to put the brakes on its plans to expand in Saudi Arabia, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.
The London-based chain, the largest exhibitor outside the U.S., signed a deal in February with the Abdulmohsin Al Hokair Holding Group, a regional entertainment and leisure conglomerate, for a proposed joint venture that would see “up to 30 world class multiplex cinemas in existing and new developments” built over the next three years. The deal landed just two months after a 35-year ban on public cinemas in Saudi Arabia was lifted.
But as the fallout from the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi continues to grow, Vue has now put these plans on ice.
“We have delayed, but not pulled out,” said Tim Richards, the chief executive and founder of Vue, speaking to The Guardian. “We are like a lot of leading companies around the world; we are watching and share the concerns that others do. This has all happened very quickly. We want to see what happens in the next few weeks and don’t want to make any kneejerk reactions.”
With several other major operators – including AMC, IMAX, Cinepolis and Middle East giant Vox – having also announced plans to open cinemas in Saudi Arabia (AMC and Vox cut the ribbon on their first sites in Riyadh in April), Vue may not be the first to reconsider its deals in the country. Aside from Vue, all have remained silent on the matter so far.
The news comes just a week after THR revealed that Endeavor was pulling out of a $400 million deal with Saudi Arabia.
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