Cinema of Saudi Arabia

The cinema of Saudi Arabia is a fairly small industry that only produces a few feature films and documentaries every year.

With the exception of one IMAX theater in Khobar there are no cinemas in Saudi Arabia,[1] although there is occasionally talk of opening movie theaters, and in 2008 conference rooms were rented to show the comedy Mennahi.[2] Many Saudis watch films via satellite, DVD, or video.

Keif al-Hal?, released in 2006, was billed as Saudi Arabia's first film; however, it was shot in the United Arab Emirates and the lead female was played by a Jordanian. The 2012 film Wadjda had an all-Saudi cast[3] and was the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia.[4] The film Barakah Yoqabil Barakah by director Mahmoud Sabbagh was shot in Jeddah in 2015, premiered first the 66th Berlin International Film Festival, making it the first feature film to participate in the festival.


Keif al-Hal? triggered a debate on the country's stance on cinemas and films. The documentary short film directed by Abdullah Al-Eyaf called Cinema 500 km discussed the issue of banning movie theaters and the film forced the media to take up the issue and discuss it. Wadjda was selected as the Saudi Arabian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards - the first time the country made a submission for the Oscars[5] - but it was not nominated.[6][7][8] It successfully earned a nomination for Best Foreign Film at the 2014 BAFTA Awards.

Barakah Yoqabil Barakah was the first feature film from Saudi to participate in the Berlin International Film Festival, it won a jury award at the festival.

Movie theaters

In the 1970s, there were many movie theaters in Saudi Arabia and they were not considered un-Islamic, though they were seen as contrary to Arab cultural norms.

In the 1980s, there were some improvised movie halls in Saudi Arabia, most of which were in Jeddah and Mecca, where Egyptian, Indian, and Turkish films were screened without government intervention. However, all these halls were closed down due to the continuous objections of religious conservatives during the Islamic revival movement in the 1980s, and as a political response to an increase in Islamist activism including the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the government closed all cinemas and theaters.[9]

Currently, the only[10] public theater in Saudi Arabia is an IMAX cinema located in Khobar in the Scitech complex, a science and technology center offering exhibits that deal with varying science and technologies, as well as an astronomic observatory. This IMAX cinema is showing documentaries, mostly produced in the US, during non-prayer timings. The documentaries are shown in Arabic, and headphones are available with English audio.

Video rental stores

Video rental stores first started appearing in the 1980s and offered Arabic, Western, and Asian movies. By the late 1990s, the increasing number of free-to-air satellite TV channels prompted most video stores to go out of business.

Saudi films

Films shot in Saudi Arabia

Saudi directors

Saudi actors


  1. Lapin, Andrew. "Wadjda director Haifaa Al Mansour". Dissolve. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
  2. "SAUDI ARABIA: Going to the movies for the first time in decades". LA Times. December 23, 2008. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  3. Davies, Catriona. "The film director who's not allowed to go to the movies". CNN World. Inside the Middle East. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  4. "rotten tomatoes. Wadjda". Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  5. "Oscars: Saudi Arabia Nominates 'Wadjda' for Foreign Language Category". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2013-09-14.
  6. "Oscars: Saudi Arabia Taps 'Wadjda' As First Foreign-Language Entry". Variety. Retrieved 2013-09-14.
  7. "'Wadjda' is Saudi Arabia's first nominee for foreign-language Oscar". LA Times. Retrieved 2013-09-14.
  8. "Saudi Arabia submits first film for Oscars with 'Wadjda'". Gulf News. Retrieved 2013-09-14.
  9. Admon, Y. (March 11, 2010). "Revival of Cinema Sparks Debate in Saudi Arabia" (Inquiry and Analysis Series Report No.595). Middle East Media Research Institute. Retrieved May 27, 2012.
  10. "IMAX 'to double' number of Middle East cinemas". Retrieved 4 February 2016.

See also

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