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We're almost two months removed from the release of Black Panther, a film that has broken records and made history to a degree no one could have predicted. But even as Ryan Coogler's film winds down its long theatrical run, it still has some more history to make. The Middle Eastern country of Saudi Arabia will open its first public cinema in decades on April 18th, and it is expected that Marvel's Black Panther will be the first film shown.
This news comes after AMC scored the first cinema license from the Saudi Ministry of Culture after a 35-year ban on cinemas was lifted in December. The deal AMC struck will see the world's largest theater chain open around 40 cinemas in 15 cities in the country over the next five years. The first of those AMC theaters opens in the Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh on April 18th, with Black Panther expected to be the debut feature. According to BBC News, Saudi officials and cinema operators believe that the new market could see up to $1 billion in annual ticket sales across 350 theaters by 2030. So while this is just one theater for now, Black Panther will continue to add to its foreign box office total with an excited new market yearning for Western content. For Black Panther, a film that has already meant so much to so many people, this is just another cool distinction it can add to the history books.
The people of Saudi Arabia are fans of Western media and culture, but such things have had to be enjoyed privately at home until now. The country had cinemas in the 1970s, but they were closed due to pressure from Islamic clerics. The country practices a strict form of Sunni Islam and there are still those in the religious community who are against the influence of movies. It is likely that movies will be censored to cater to the values of the country's religion; however, unlike most public venues, the cinemas will not be segregated by gender, a huge change for the country that will also begin allowing women to drive in June of this year.
These changes are largely attributed to new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has called for a more moderate Islam. This is also part of the country's Vision 2030 economic overhaul that will see the country attempting to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on oil. Due to the restrictions in the country, Saudis with means have had to travel abroad in the past for their entertainment. Now with theaters and entertainment options opening up within the country, money from ticket sales to movies like Black Panther goes back into the Saudi Arabian economy. While nowhere near the size of a market like China, Saudi Arabia is a very young country that craves Western entertainment and its contribution to the international box office should only grow in the coming years.
As for Black Panther, after becoming the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time domestically, it is still hanging out at the top five in the box office. Luckily for audiences around the world, we won't have to wait long to see T'Challa, Shuri and all our favorite Wakandans back on screen because Avengers: Infinity War arrives in theaters on April 27th.