Filming Desert Warrior

Source: Courtesy of Neom

Filming ‘Desert Warrior’

The film industry in Saudi Arabia is booming, with accumulative box office revenues hitting almost $1 billion since cinemas reopened in 2018.

Cutting-edge cinemas are opening across the country while a number of studios cater to local and international productions.

The burgeoning film industry in Saudi Arabia comprises cinemas, studios, festivals, commissions, and a dynamic production sector. And local films are resonating with audiences, becoming success stories.

The Saudi Film Commission (SFC) has disclosed figures for 2023, portraying a thriving industry poised for dynamic growth.

In 2023, 443 films were released in local cinemas, amassing 17.4 million admissions – an impressive increase of more than 20% from 2022. Total ticket sales exceeded $240 million, propelling Saudi Arabia to the 15th position globally in box office rankings for the year, according to ComScore. The top three highest-grossing films in Saudi Arabia during 2023 were Oppenheimer, Sattar, and Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.


Source: Front Row Distribution


Sattar was a film produced locally – an action comedy set in the Saudi wrestling world, directed by Kuwaiti film-maker Abdullah Al-Arak, and starring popular Saudi actor and comedian Ibrahim Al Hajjaj. It was first screened at Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea International Film Festival in December 2022, and performed well at the box office on general release. Sattar grossed $10.8 million at Saudi cinemas, becoming the Kingdom’s eighth-highest-grossing movie of all time, surpassing Hollywood titles such as The Batman ($9.94 million), directed by Matt Reeves and Joker ($9.9 ) by Todd Phillips. Sattar is now streaming on Netflix.

With more than 50% of the Saudi population under 25, there is a significant appetite for cinema, particularly for US action films, Egyptian comedies, and Saudi narratives.

As of October 2023, seven cinema operators with licenses in the Kingdom managed a total of 69 cinemas, 628 screens, and nearly 65,000 seats. This breaks down to an average of 1.7 screens and 176 seats for every 100,000 people. The pace of growth has been rapid, with a 19% year-on-year increase in screens and seats by October 2023 – and the potential for further expansion.

Cameras rolling

Film, audio, and TV production in Saudi Arabia are also rapidly accelerating. Tabuk, in the northwest of the Kingdom that has one of the emerging production sites, Neom, where projects including Hajjan by Egyptian director Abu Bakr Shawy, and Desert Warrior, starring Anthony Mackie and Ben Kingsley, have been filmed.

Hajjan, produced by the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) through the Ithra Film Production programme, along with Mohamed Hefzy of Egypt’s Film Clinic, and Rula Nasser of Jordan’s Imaginarium Films, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2023.

Desert Warrior is the first major Hollywood film to be shot in Saudi Arabia, produced by MBC Studios, the production arm of the Saudi-owned pan-Arab media conglomerate MBC Group.

As of 2023, Saudi Arabia holds more than 32,000 square meters of available studio space, including 11 sound stages larger than 1,500 square meters. Additionally, multiple studios are under development in various cities across the country, equipped with world-class production facilities. 

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