Marvel's Black Panther is already a bona fide blockbuster, but later this month, it will have a huge impact in a brand new box office market. Black Panther has been announced to become the first movie shown in Saudi Arabia in 35 years, after the country lifted its longstanding ban on movie theaters. The film will debut with a gala premiere at the new AMC-branded movie theater in Riyadh on April 18.
Movie theaters were banned in Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s, which came in the aftermath of the country's government adopting ultra-conservative religious standards in 1979. Last December, the government announced the ban would be lifted, as part of an initiative by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to transform the Saudi society and culture. There is no indication as of yet if Marvel Studios or any of the Black Panther cast members will have a presence at this gala premiere on April 18. While this Black Panther premiere will be the first movie shown in Saudi Arabia in a permanent movie theater, The Emoji Movie won the distinction of being the first movie screened in Saudi Arabia. The January screening, held in makeshift tents in Jeddah, came just weeks after the ban was lifted in December 2017.
Black Panther will debut in a new theater that was originally intended to be a symphony hall. The theater is located in Riyadh's King Abdullah's Financial District and features over 600 leather seats with orchestra and balcony levels, along with luxurious marble bathrooms. AMC Entertainment, which is owned by the Chinese-based company Dalian Wanda, has also announced plans to open 40 movie theaters in Saudi Arabia over the next five years, with plans to have over 100 theaters in operation by the year 2030.
Saudi Arabia has a population of over 32 million, with a whopping 70% of the populace under the age of 30, and given how affluent most of its citizens are, there is potential for Saudi Arabia to become a global powerhouse at the box office. Some analysts predict that it could eventually generate over $1 billion in box office revenues and become one of the top 10 global markets. AMC was granted a license to operate in Saudi Arabia by the Development and Investment Group, with AMC hoping to achieve a 50% market share in Saudi Arabia by opening these new theaters.
AMC certainly won't be the only exhibitor in town, though, with other global theater chains such as iPic, Empire, Vue, CJ CGV, Cinépolis, Vox Cinemas and Cinemacity also building theaters in Saudi Arabia. As for Black Panther, its debut in Saudi Arabia will only bolster its current stronghold as the top-grossing movie of the year thus far, with a whopping $654.2 million domestic, making it the fourth highest-grossing movie and the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time at the domestic box office, and $1.28 billion worldwide.
As for the future of Saudi Arabia cinema, there is no indication as to what the next movies will be to debut in the country, following the premiere of Black Panther. Marvel will be rolling out its highly-anticipated Avengers: Infinity War on April 27, and given that there are threads that connect Black Panther to Avengers: Infinity War, a Saudi Arabian debut of Infinity War could ultimately happen, although it's not clear when that may take place, if it will at all. You can head over to Variety for more on Black Panther's Saudi Arabia debut.