Cinema of Saudi Arabia

The cinema of Saudi Arabia is a fairly small industry that only produces a few feature films and documentaries every year.

With the exception of one IMAX theater in Khobar, there were no cinemas in Saudi Arabia from 1983 to 2018,[1] although there was occasionally talk of opening movie theaters, and in 2008 conference rooms were rented to show the comedy Mennahi.[2] Saudis wishing to watch films have done so via satellite, DVD, or video. Cinemas had been banned for 35 years[3] until the first cinema in Saudi Arabia opened on 18 April 2018 in Riyadh. AMC Theatres plans to open up to 40 cinemas in some 15 Saudi cities over the following five years.[4] The government hopes that by 2030, Saudi Arabia will already have more than 300 theaters with over 2,000 movie screens.[5]

Keif al-Hal?, released in 2006, was billed as Saudi Arabia's first film; however, it was shot in the United Arab Emirates and the lead female was played by a Jordanian. The 2012 film Wadjda had an all-Saudi cast[6] and was the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia.[7] The film Barakah Meets Barakah by director Mahmoud Sabbagh was shot in Jeddah in 2015, premiered the 66th Berlin International Film Festival, making it the first feature film to participate in the festival. Sameera Aziz is the first Saudi filmmaker in famous Indian cinema Bollywood.[8]

Cinema of Saudi Arabia, whether locally-produced or foreign-sourced, is subject to Saudi censorship.


Keif al-Hal? triggered a debate on the country's stance on cinemas and films. The documentary short film directed by Abdullah Al-Eyaf called Cinema 500 km discussed the issue of banning movie theaters and the film forced the media to take up the issue and discuss it. Wadjda was selected as the Saudi Arabian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards - the first time the country made a submission for the Oscars[9] - but it was not nominated.[10][11][12] It earned a nomination for Best Foreign Film at the 2014 BAFTA Awards.

Barakah Yoqabil Barakah was the first feature film from Saudi Arabia to participate in the Berlin International Film Festival; it won a jury award at the festival.

Movie theaters

In the 1970s, there were many movie theaters in Saudi Arabia and they were not considered un-Islamic, though they were seen as contrary to Arab cultural norms.

In the 1980s, there were some improvised movie halls in Saudi Arabia, most of which were in Jeddah and Mecca, where Egyptian, Indian, and Turkish films were screened without government intervention. However, all these halls were closed due to the growing objections of religious conservatives during the Islamic revival movement in the 1980s. As a political response to an increase in Islamist activism, including the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the government closed all cinemas and theaters.[13]

During the cinema ban, the only public theater in Saudi Arabia was a single IMAX cinema located in Khobar at the Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Science and Technology Center.[14] The IMAX cinema, in operation since 2005,[15] shows only educational films. The documentaries are mostly productions from the United States shown in Arabic, with English audio headphones available.

In November 2005, a 1,400-seat cinema opened at a hotel in Riyadh for a limited run. The cinema was open for women and children only and showed foreign cartoons dubbed in Arabic.[16] Following the public screenings, the cinema ban was put into question as the demand for movie theaters in Saudi Arabia increased.[17]

On 11 December 2017, the Saudi Arabian Minister of Culture and Information announced that public movie theaters would be allowed by 2018.[18] The government hopes that by 2030, Saudi Arabia will already have more than 300 theaters with over 2,000 movie screens.[5] The first public film screening was Black Panther beginning on 18 April 2018 for five days in a 620-seat cinema owned by AMC Theatres in Riyadh's King Abdullah Financial District which was originally intended to be a symphony hall. Avengers: Infinity War began screening in the kingdom on 26 April.[19] In May 2018, it was announced that IMAX had signed a deal with VOX Cinemas to open at least four IMAX venues following the lifting of the cinema ban. At the time, it was also announced that VOX Cinemas intends to open 600 screens throughout Saudi Arabia over the next five years.[15]

Video rental stores

Video rental stores started appearing in the 1980s and offered Arabic, Western, and Asian movies. By the late 1990s, the increasing number of free-to-air satellite TV channels led most video stores to close.

Saudi films

A small but growing number of films have been produced in Saudi Arabia with a Saudi cast. Notable Saudi films include:

Films shot in Saudi Arabia

Saudi directors

  • Abdullah Al-Muheisen
  • Abdulelah Alqurashi
  • Mohammad Makki
  • Abdullah Al-Eyaf
  • Haifaa al-Mansour
  • Yousef Linjawi
  • Mohammad Aldhahri
  • Mohammad Al Khalif
  • Abdulmuhsin Almutairi
  • Hussam Alhulwah
  • Mohammed Alhamoud
  • Abdulmohsen Al-Dhabaan
  • Nawaf Almuhanna
  • Mohammed Salman
  • Mohammed Albash
  • Mosa Althounian
  • Mohana Abdullah
  • Mahmoud Sabbagh
  • Gigi Hozimah
  • Abdulmuhsen Alquseer
  • Sameera Aziz

Saudi actors

See also


  1. ^ Lapin, Andrew. "Wadjda director Haifaa Al Mansour". Dissolve. Archived from the original on 3 November 2018. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
  2. ^ "SAUDI ARABIA: Going to the movies for the first time in decades". 23 December 2008. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  3. ^ Petroff, Alanna (18 April 2018). "'Black Panther' comes to Saudi Arabia as movie theater ban ends". Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  4. ^ Sh but Khalid is the kingaudi cinema screens reopen on 18 April 'with Black Panther'
  5. ^ a b "Saudi Arabia says cinemas will be allowed from early 2018". Reuters. 11 December 2017. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  6. ^ Davies, Catriona. "The film director who's not allowed to go to the movies". CNN World. Inside the Middle East. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  7. ^ "rotten tomatoes. Wadjda". Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  8. ^ "Bollywood's first Saudi filmmaker works on maiden venture". Deccan Herald. 15 November 2015. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  9. ^ "Oscars: Saudi Arabia Nominates 'Wadjda' for Foreign Language Category". Hollywood Reporter. 13 September 2013. Retrieved 14 September 2013.
  10. ^ "Oscars: Saudi Arabia Taps 'Wadjda' As First Foreign-Language Entry". Variety. 13 September 2013. Retrieved 14 September 2013.
  11. ^ "'Wadjda' is Saudi Arabia's first nominee for foreign-language Oscar". LA Times. 13 September 2013. Retrieved 14 September 2013.
  12. ^ "Saudi Arabia submits first film for Oscars with 'Wadjda'". Gulf News. Retrieved 14 September 2013.
  13. ^ Admon, Y. (11 March 2010). "Revival of Cinema Sparks Debate in Saudi Arabia" (Inquiry and Analysis Series Report No.595). Middle East Media Research Institute. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  14. ^ "IMAX 'to double' number of Middle East cinemas". 19 November 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  15. ^ a b Vivarelli, Nick (15 May 2018). "IMAX Partners With Vox Cinemas on Screens in Saudi Arabia". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  16. ^ "Saudi Arabia to allow cinemas". Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera Media Network. 15 October 2005. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  17. ^ "Saudis put cinema ban in the frame". Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera Media Network. 23 February 2006. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  18. ^ "Saudi Arabia to allow cinemas from 2018". BBC News. 11 December 2017. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  19. ^ Ritman, Alex (5 April 2018). "'Black Panther' to Break Saudi Arabia's 35-Year Cinema Ban". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 5 April 2018. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
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