IMAX ‘to double’ number of Middle East cinemas

Chief executive of theatre firm says there will be 30 screens in the region by 2017, sees ‘opening up’ of Saudi market

Ben Flanagan

Published: Updated:

Canada’s IMAX Corporation plans to double the number of its giant-screen theatres in the Middle East and says it sees signs the cinema market in Saudi Arabia is opening up.

IMAX movies are shot using special film that is twice as wide as that used for ordinary movies. They are projected on screens that are seven stories high.

The corporation currently has eight theaters open in the Middle East and seven under contract – and expects this to double over the next few years.

“By 2017 we expect to have about 30 theatres in the region,” Richard Gelfond, the chief executive of the IMAX Corporation, told Al Arabiya News.

There are two IMAX cinemas in Dubai and two in Qatar; the company sees more opening in countries such as Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Lebanon and Egypt.

“Certainly Abu Dhabi is a place that could support three or five IMAX theatres. And we don’t have one open yet, although we have one under contract here.”

IMAX also operates what is believed to be the only public cinema in Saudi Arabia, based at the Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Science and Technology Center. The cinema shows educational films only.

Gelfond says he sees signs that there “will be some opening up of the cinema markets in Saudi Arabia” and hopes to explore future opportunities in the market.

“I think it’s going to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary,” he said. “I don’t have any illusions that it’s going to open to Hollywood content anytime soon.”

Gelfond, who spoke today at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, says the Middle East is among its best-performing markets. IMAX cinema tickets cost up to double regular cinema tickets.

“As the wealth increases in the region, the demand for the highest-quality experiences increases. IMAX is what I call an affordable luxury. It’s not like buying a Ferrari or Louis Vuitton. For an extra 35 to 40 percent of the ticket price you can experience the ultimate entertainment in the world,” he said.

Despite seeing “exponential” growth in the region, IMAX says it is still too early for Arabic films to be made in its widescreen format.

“The network isn’t big enough yet here to support Arabic film. But in the next several years, if we grow as we expect, I think it could be,” he said.

“Over time, that’s definitely part of the way we’ve evolved as a company. We don’t only see ourselves showing Hollywood films.”

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