RIYADH: AMC Entertainment, the largest cinema chain in the US, has announced that it will be the first cinema company to open a commercial theatre in Saudi Arabia after the conservative kingdom recently lifted a 35-year ban.

AMC, which is ultimately owned by the Wanda Group of China, said in a statement that it had finalised an agreement with a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

This will enable AMC, working alongside the Development and Investment Entertainment Company, to open its first cinema in Riyadh as early as 18 April.

There are then plans to open between 30 to 40 cinemas in about 15 cities in Saudi Arabia over the next five years, building up to a total of between 50 and 100 cinemas in 25 cities by 2030.

“AMC’s entry into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in concert with a key objective of Vision 2030, which is to grow the entertainment sector in Saudi Arabia,” the statement read. “As a result, the cinema industry is expected to grow to around $1bn in size over the coming years.”

The development reflects the reforming drive of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has pushed for the 35-year ban on cinemas to be lifted, as the kingdom seeks to modernise and make its economy less dependent on oil.

According to Ahmed Al Khateeb, chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, Saudis currently spend about $20bn a year on entertainment and tourism, but that is spent abroad.

He told CNN Money that the Saudi government wants to encourage more consumer spending within the country and that the majority of Saudis – 70% of whom are aged under 30 – support the Crown Prince’s social reforms.

AMC may be the first major cinema chain to strike a deal with the kingdom, but CNN reported that Vox Cinemas and Novo Cinemas – both based in the United Arab Emirates – are also interested in expanding into the larger Saudi market.

Sourced from AMC, CNN; additional content by WARC staff