When Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman first assumed power in 2017, he led with the goal to modernize his country into a more open and tolerant society. One part of this initiative was to bring Hollywood to the Kingdom’s expanding theatrical market.
The Saudi opportunity was exciting to global exhibitors, including AMC’s CEO Adam Aron who proclaimed in 2018 that the market could grow to $1 billion annually within “five years.” While that timeline may have been a bit optimistic, analysts now estimate that the Saudi market will get to $1 billion by 2030, overtaking major European markets such as Spain and Italy.
Initially, the Saudi authorities pledged that Hollywood would control its content, without censorship. However, the kingdom is beginning to assert its conservative values, with a recent example being this weekend’s global release of LIGHTYEAR, which was banned from playing in the country due to a scene where two characters of the same sex kiss. At this point, Saudi Arabia is not yet a big enough market to cause studios to make creative adjustments so as to fit within Saudi constraints. But as the Saudi market expands, it will be worth watching whether studios do begin to exert influence on their filmmakers.