Last week, Black Panther played at a newly constructed AMC in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the first movie to screen in the country in 35 years.
This week, the Middle East nation for the first time is a subject at CinemaCon, with a panel being held to discuss censorship practices, distributor licensing and the decision to bring cinemas back to Saudi Arabia after more than three decades.
“They have actually signed off on Rampage,” said AMC president and CEO Adam Aron, adding that Avengers: Infinity War went through the censorship process early last week. (A Saudi Arabia release is already listed on IMDb for Thursday.)
Andrew Cripps, president of international distribution at 20th Century Fox, announced Monday at the panel that Fox’s animated feature Ferdinand has very recently gone through the Saudi censorship process and the hope is that it will be the first Fox film to screen in the country.
“It was our first film going through the [censorship] process. Not 100 percent sure what the outcome is or how long it will take, but it is an encouraging first step,” said Cripps. “I think family films and animated films will do extremely well. I think R-rated content we will struggle with at the outset.”
The presentation at CinemaCon in Las Vegas comes a few weeks after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman traveled to Los Angeles to meet with Disney CEO Bob Iger, Universal film chairman Jeff Shell, Fox film studio chief Stacey Snider and other top entertainment execs. The opening up of Saudi Arabia is a part of the crown prince’s Vision 2030 effort, an initiative to diversify the country’s investments outside of oil, which includes the possible creation of a Saudi entertainment industry.
Ahmed Ismail is CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Ventures, which runs the Middle East-based theater chain Vox Cinemas with screens in Egypt, Oman and the UAE. Vox will be the second exhibitor to open a cinema in Saudi Arabia in a few days, after a year and a half of construction. “We have plans to develop over 600 screens in the coming seven to 10 years,” said Ismail, adding that high-quality screens will allow for native filmmaking talent to develop in the country.
Cripps voiced concern about the current $20 ticket price at the AMC theater, saying, “We have got to make sure that the pricing does not price out a large segment of the population.”
Noted Duncan Clark, president of international distribution at Universal: “I remember when there was one cinema in Moscow and they were charging $50 a ticket.”
“Honestly, it’s too low,” Aron retorted of Saudi ticket prices. “I bet you we will be closer to $30 to $35, including the [entertainment] tax.” He said that AMC has been putting Black Panther tickets on sale one day at a time, and added that the theater sold out tickets on the second night of screenings in 45 seconds.