Black Panther, the most successful superhero movie to date, is about to reach an even broader audience. On April 18 the Marvel film is set to debut in Saudi Arabia. While normally the international release of a super-successful film wouldn’t be news — movie studios like money, after all — it’s most definitely headline-worthy when the Black Panther Saudi Arabia premiere is the first to screen in a permanent movie theater in 35 years.
In 1979, Saudi Arabia embraced a much stricter version of Islamic law — similar to what was happening in Iran at the time, as illustrated in the film and book Persepolis. While there weren’t many movie theaters in Saudi Arabia to begin with, in the early 1980s all of them were closed. For many years, the only public movie theater in Saudi Arabia was an IMAX cinema in a public science center that screened documentaries.
Late last year, though, the Ministry of Culture and Information announced it was rescinding the nation’s movie theater ban, with hopes to have over 300 theaters by 2030. The first theater is located in the King Abdullah Financial District in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh.
Though there were no movie theaters in Saudi Arabia, films themselves weren’t banned. In addition to video stores popping up in the ’80s and ’90s, movies were screened on television. And with the advent of the internet and satellite TV, Saudi citizens have had a number of options. Back in January, a double feature of The Emoji Movie and Captain Underpants played at a Saudi cultural center in Jeddah.
Black Panther, which has already made over $1 billion worldwide, is a good choice for inaugurating the new Saudi Arabia movie theater. Owned by AMC, the theater has over 600 leather seats across two levels and marble bathrooms. The building was originally intended to be a symphony concert hall, but with the Ministry of Culture’s move to allow cinemas, it was converted.
Analysts expect that Saudi Arabia could eventually make studios over $1 billion in additional revenue. It could also lead to a renaissance in the Saudi film industry, which only re-started with 2006 film Keif al-Hal?