Middle East exhibitor Vox Cinemas is on track to open 110 screens in Saudi Arabia by year’s end as the oil-rich kingdom continues to liberalize its entertainment environment.
Vox unveiled its second Saudi multiplex Jan. 28, a luxurious 12-screen facility in the city of Jeddah’s Red Sea Mall. The multiplex houses more than 1,450 seats and an Imax with Laser screen that is currently the largest film-going facility in Saudi.
Vox CEO Cameron Mitchell said the company would open three more locations, including a multiplex featuring all premium cinemas and gourmet dining in Riyadh’s iconic Kingdom Tower, during the first quarter of this year. In the Saudi capital, Riyadh, Vox will also soon unveil a 15-screen facility in Al Qasr Mall and an eight-screen multiplex in The Roof Mall.
Mitchell said Vox has committed to opening cinemas in 10 Saudi cities, including Dammam, Taif and Tabuk, as part of its announced plan to invest more than $500 million to open 600 screens by 2023.
“The Saudi population is young and enthusiastic about the cinema and movies, and Vox Cinemas’ key differentiator is that we know what appeals to the Saudi audience as we have been serving them in our other regional locations for years,” Mitchell told Variety.
Vox was granted its first license to operate in the kingdom in April 2018 following the removal of a 35-year ban on cinemas, part of a drive by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to transform Saudi society. That month, Vox opened its first multiplex in the Riyadh Park mall with four screens, including the country’s first Imax screen.
Mitchell said the multiplex has recorded a 95% occupancy rate so far and screened 82 titles, including the first 3D movie shown in Saudi Arabia, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”; the first horror film, “A Quiet Place”; the first Egyptian film, comedy “El Badla”; and the first Bollywood blockbuster, “Kaala.”
The Vox chief declined to comment whether he was concerned that a backlash in Hollywood against the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi could impact the supply of studio product and/or promotional treks to Saudi Arabia by U.S. talents.
He said the country is “expected to become a significant box office market worth $1 billion within a relatively short time frame.”
Vox’s main competitors in the country are AMC Cinemas, which in early April 2018 opened the first Saudi multiplex in Riyadh but has yet to open another one despite plans for up to 40 Saudi cinemas in five years, and the Al-Rashed Empire Cinema Consortium, which has obtained a license and announced plans for 30 cinemas.