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AMC Just Won Saudi Arabia’s First Cinema License in 35 Years

AMC (AMC) announced on Wednesday that it has won the first cinema operating license in Saudi Arabia, as the conservative kingdom prepares to re-open its movie theatres following a 35-year ban.

The U.S.’s biggest movie theatre chain has signed an agreement with the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information, and plans to open roughly 30 cinemas in 15 cities in Saudi Arabia, according to an AMC statement. The first cinema will open on April 18 in the capital, Riyadh.

The move follows a wave of reforms spearheaded by the 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who hopes that reinvigorating the country’s entertainment industry will help boost the economy and reduce Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil. The government estimates that the industry will contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the national economy, while creating 30,000 jobs by 2030.

“Opening cinemas will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification,” the Minister of Culture and Information Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad said in December. “By developing the broader cultural sector we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as enriching the Kingdom’s entertainment options.”

The kingdom had its first taste of Western cinema in January — although the choice of film was one of the worst releases in recent years. Movie goers at a makeshift tent in Jeddah were shown a screening of The Emoji Movie, which received a poor 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, despite the chosen film, the screening was thought to be symbolic of the new shift in Saudi policy.

By 2030, Saudi Arabia is expected to open more than 300 cinemas with over 2,000 screens, the government said in December.