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How much would you be willing to pay for a ticket to see an eagerly anticipated movie? $10? $15? $20? What if you hadn't seen a movie in a theater in decades, possibly ever, or had to leave your country to do so? Such is the situation now in Saudi Arabia where the government is now allowing public cinemas after a 35-year ban. AMC is the first exhibitor to get a license in the Middle Eastern country, with tickets expected to run a lofty $20 a pop. However, given the demand after such a drought, word on the street is the ticket prices could rise to between $30 and an eye-watering $35 each.
The reason for such absurdly high prices? Why supply and demand, of course. Speaking at CinemaCon (via Variety) on Monday, AMC chief Adam Aron said that the price is too low. The level of demand from an audience that hasn't enjoyed a theatrical experience in its country in a generation makes price not an issue. Whereas here such prices would result in empty theaters, in Saudi Arabia the demand is so high that there will be more than enough people willing to pay $30+ per ticket. This rapidly inflating ticket price isn't all AMC looking to turn a tidy profit either. There is a high sales tax factoring in as well as an additional 25% sales tax that the Saudi Arabian government is levying on entertainment products.
This is just the beginning, too, as Saudi Arabia is being viewed as a major potential market by the movie industry. A huge 70% of the country's 32 million people are under 30, causing analysts to predict that opening this market could result in Saudi Arabia being one of the top-ten movie markets in a matter of years. Things are moving fast, but there is still a long way to go. Saudi Arabia doesn't have the existing infrastructure, so everything is being done from scratch, with theaters being built and the country still working on a ratings system, as well as a censorship process.
The first public cinema began test screenings on April 18th at an invitation only event in Riyadh. Black Panther was the debut film at the AMC theater. The showing also broke cultural ground by allowing men and women to sit together. This is part of broader reforms taking place in the traditionally conservative country as it aims to diversify economically and institute slightly more liberal policies like allowing women to drive. AMC plans to open 40 cinemas in 15 Saudi cities over the next five years, and there are expected to be 350 theaters in the country by 2030. Soon, Saudi audiences will be able to enjoy the world's most famous movie star, Dwayne Johnson, on the big screen as Rampage has been given a release date while Avengers: Infinity War is currently being shown to censors.
Hopefully, as more theater open up in the country and cinemas become less rare, prices will come back down to a reasonable level. But considering that up until recently if you wanted to see a movie in theaters, you'd have to leave the country, $35 isn't the worst thing in the world. Even though attendance is down here in the U.S., ticket prices rose to an all-time high last year of $8.97, not factoring in premium formats or 3D. So next time you have to pony up for a movie ticket, remember it could be much, much more expensive.