For decades, people living in Saudi Arabia were deprived from watching movies in public theatres, but all that changed on April 18, 2018 when AMC opened the first one-screen cinema in Riyadh with the screening of Black Panther. Fast forward to January 2021, and today Saudi Arabia has 323 screens in 34 cinemas across 11 cities with more to open soon. In 2020, the Saudi market overtook the UAE as the biggest market in the Middle East. During the pandemic year when revenue from cinemas crashed everywhere by about 66%, the Saudi market grew by about 8% even though cinemas were closed from March to mid-June. And when they opened, they operated at half-capacity with Covid-19 precautions to ensure social distancing.
There are currently 5 different cinema chains in Saudi Arabia right now. So let's give you a quick crash course about what to expect from each of them.
1. Vox Cinemas
This giant chain from the UAE is the biggest cinema operator in the Middle East. They opened their first cinema in Saudi Arabia in Riyadh Park Mall with 4 screens in April 2018. Today they have 7 cinemas in Riyadh, 2 in Jeddah, 1 in Dammam, and 1 in Tabuk.
Cinema experiences in Vox: There are many cinema experiences that one would find at Vox cinemas, like IMAX screens which are in Jeddah and Riyadh. IMAX® 4K is the best way to see big blockbuster films especially if they are shot with IMAX® cameras. They offer MX4D screens for the thriller seeking audience where you actually "feel" the action on the screen from the built-in motion and effects in the seats and theatre around you. There are also The ICE IMMERSIVE® screens that have LED panels on either side of the auditorium that create a unique visual atmosphere through shifting shapes and complementary colors from the main screen. They also have “Kids Screens” which are aimed toward the younger viewers. Their "Gold Screens” are perfect for a dinner and a movie date night in a luxurious setting where one can order from a diverse menu that features a combination of popular Arabic flavors coupled with favorite cinema classics. Their standard screens are also good, but they are divided into standard lower rows and premium upper rows. Ticket prices start from 55 Riyals at the counter and 60 Riyals online.
The Good: For my money, their snacks are the best of all the chains. Not only that, but they offer a wide variety of food and beverages, and a few of their venues in Riyadh and Jeddah operate 24/7 which means that night owls and early risers can go watch a movie anytime they want.
Areas where they can improve: Compared to the other chains, their standard seats are considerably basic. They do not recline, and look plain. I for one, find them comfortable, but I have heard complaints from other patrons that they preferred the seats of their competitors. Vox Cinemas in the UAE have a fantastic loyalty program where you can collect points for each purchase you make which you can then convert into free tickets, but they have not started such a program in Saudi Arabia.
2. Muvi Cinemas
Muvi is the first home-grown brand. It opened its first cinema in August 2019 in Mall of Arabia, Jeddah. They currently have 4 cinemas in Riyadh (including the first Drive-in cinema in Saudi Arabia), 3 in Jeddah, and 1 in each of Dammam, Dhahran, Hofuf, and Jubail.
Cinema Experiences in Muvi: Their Xperience screen in Mall of Arabia is fantastic. It has a huge auditorium that can accommodate 400 people. It has reclining seats, Dolby-Atmos® sound system, and a 4K screen. They just opened their first Drive-in cinema in Riyadh which can accommodate up to 150 cars. They also have Screen-X® which offers an experience similar to ICE Immersive®, Samsung Onyx® screens, Junior screens for kids, and Suites luxury screens with seats that can recline up to 180 degrees into flat beds - they are so comfortable that you risk falling asleep while watching the movie. Their standard screens also have two tiers with standard lower rows and premium seats in the upper rows. Their prices start at 55 riyals at the counter and 60 riyals online.
The Good: their snacks are pretty decent. While I do not think they are as good as Vox’s when it comes to popcorn and nachos, they are good enough. They also have Skinny Pizza (pretty good) and Black Tap burgers (which are delicious too).
Areas where they can improve: I really don’t like their app and website. They crash frequently, and they don’t recognize your reservations across platforms (for example if you make a reservation through the website, you may not find it in the app after you sign-in). They also promised a loyalty program that never materialized.
3. AMC Cinemas
This American movie theatre chain (founded in 1920) is the biggest in the world with more than 10,000 screens worldwide. Their KAFD cinema in Riyadh was the first cinema to open in the country after the ban was lifted. Although their rollout across the country is slow, but their presence in Riyadh is strong with 5 locations, plus one location in Al-Majma'ah and 1 in Hafr Al-Batin.
Cinema Experiences in AMC: AMC provides a great deal of comfort in their different locations with Luxe Recliner seats, RealD® 3D screen, Dolby Atmos® sound, and Prime theatres. They also currently have one IMAX® screen in Al-Makan Mall in Riyadh. AMC is one of two chains in Saudi Arabia that offer discounted ticket on their weekday morning and afternoon shows with prices starting at 35 riyals at the counter. The primetime standard ticket is 55 SR for Plush Rockers (lower rows), and 65 riyals Luxe Recliner (back rows). These are the prices at the counter, and if you book online there is 9 riyals per ticket booking fee.