AMC Proceeding With Plan to Build Movie Theaters in Saudi Arabia

Adam Aron 2018 Will Rogers Dinner - Getty - H 2019
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"After a lot of reflection, we decided to move ahead," said CEO Adam Aron.

Following the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in October, exhibition giant AMC went silent regarding its ambitious plan to build more theaters across Saudi Arabia following the grand opening of its first in Riyadh a year ago.

Now, the company is speaking up. On Wednesday, AMC CEO Adam Aron told The Hollywood Reporter that the company is proceeding after much "reflection."

Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, was brutally murdered and dismembered at the direction of the Saudi government, according to intelligence officials.

"Obviously, we were aware of the headlines of the last six months. It made us think, 'Was this the right thing to do?' After a lot of reflection, we decided to move ahead," Aron said during an interview with THR at CinemaCon in Las Vegas.

"We went there in the first place for the people of Saudi Arabia. There are 33 million people in that country who like movies and who have been deprived of seeing movies the way they were meant to be seen, in a movie theater. And 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30," said the exec.

"By bringing movies to the Middle East, we are doing a very good thing," he said.

The Riyadh location opened after the Saudi government lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas. Aron said men and women are allowed to sit together at the theater, which employs men and women.

AMC expects to open 40 to 50 cinemas in Saudi Arabia in the next three to five years, including a total of five to 10 by the end of 2019.

"After a gap in cinemas in the country lasting some 37 years, the response to AMC’s first movie theater that opened in Riyadh on April 18, 2018, has been tremendous," the company said Tuesday in a statement. "AMC expects and is hopeful that the Saudi people will continue to enthusiastically embrace moviegoing, as has been the case over the course of the past year."

On Tuesday at CinemaCon, National Association of Theatre Owners president and CEO John Fithian said that at least two other chains are pursuing plans to open their own locations in Saudi Arabia, but declined to name them.

"Movies have been a sword of freedom for a very long time," Fithian told reporters during a press briefing.