April 4 (UPI) — AMC Cinemas signed an agreement with the Saudi Arabian government to open several movie theaters in the country, where theaters have been banned for 35 years.
The agreement between AMC and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund aims to open 50 to 100 theaters in 25 Saudi Arabian cities by the year 2030, including 30-40 within the next five years.
The first theater will open April 18 in Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh.
“It is big news with global significance,” AMC chief Adam Aron told reporters.
Saudi Arabia’s population is 32 million, with 70 percent of the people under the age of 30. According to Variety, movie industry analysts said Saudi Arabia could produce annual revenue of $1 billion, putting it in the top 10 movie markets in the world.
“Where else are you going to find a movie market that does not exist today that could be a billion dollars three or five years from now?” Aron said.
Saudi Arabian officials announced it would lift the 35-yer ban on movie theaters back in December as part of its plan to open up the economy and country to outsiders, as well as appear to be more relaxed in its cultural customs.
“This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the Kingdom,” Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad said in the statement at the time.
The agreement with AMC is announced at a time when Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is touring the United States to meet with political leaders in Washington and business leaders Silicon Valley and Texas.
Analysts also view bin Salman’s trip as an opportunity to win over Americans, who might be concerned about the country’s poor human rights record and ongoing war in Yemen.