When Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on cinemas and movie houses last year, everyone waited for the day when it will finally come true. Imagine people in Riyadh going to cinemas with their families and friends! There will be no need for people to go out of Saudi Arabia to watch movies in Bahrain or Dubai or somewhere else! No need to wait for the online version to pop up! Wow! As you might know now, Saudi Arabia actually had cinemas until the 1970s when the powerful clerics (aka muttawas) ordered them close. It reflected the rising Islamist influence throughout the Arab region at that time. Having no cinemas in Riyadh raised the eyebrows of outsiders. You can’t watch movies in Riyadh?!? I guess that earned points on the “reasons why I’m never going to Saudi Arabia” for some people. The fact that there are no cinemas in Riyadh didn’t bother me. I am not a movie buff. As a matter of fact, the only time I get to watch movies and get myself updated on recent flicks is when I’m on an airplane traveling more than five hours and looking for a way to entertain myself. But I’m a minority. A lot of people love movies! And the news of having cinemas in Riyadh is more than welcome.
And so the day has come. Last April 18, US theater chain AMC ended the longstanding ban on cinemas in Riyadh by screening the movie “Black Panther”. It becomes the first film shown in Saudi Arabian cinemas in 35 years. The first cinema is located in the King Abdullah Financial District. The building, called the King Abdullah Conference Center, was originally intended to become a symphony concert hall. Well, guess it has a new use now! Haha. The main theater has about 500 leather seats. So far, it only has one cinema but three others are said to be added later this year.
When news of the movie’s SR 75 ticket fee came out, a lot of people were not thrilled including us. I mean, that’s SR 75! Approximately 990 Philippine pesos and in the Philippines, that would have bought us 2 tickets to a cinema’s Director’s Club complete with lazy boy seats and unlimited popcorn. Looking at the photos of the AMC theater here in Riyadh, we don’t see any thing that is worth that much money in watching a movie. Even the movie is not worth SR 75 anymore because most of the world has already watched it and copies are already available online. It’s even cheaper to buy your own copy of the movie online and have it in your disk saved forever. Also, tickets to the Black Panther went on sale at midnight in the Noon website and they were gone after a few minutes so getting tickets was so much effort. Tickets are only available online and you need a credit card to buy.
When the Avengers: Infinity War showing was announced, our perspective got a bit different. First and foremost, it’s a newly-released movie and our husbands wanted to see it. I was most interested to experience the AMC though after hearing and reading feedbacks on it so when the tickets were released, I was probably the first one to buy tickets. Reina and her husband got a Saturday schedule while my husband and I got a Monday schedule. During the release of tickets, they were only open for a one-week schedule, three times a day: 12:20 PM, 3;40 PM and 8:20 PM. Right now, they publish ticket booking per day, meaning you can’t book ahead. There’s only one schedule, and that is only for today.
Buying tickets online is a pretty straightforward and easy process. Cinema tickets are emailed after booking is confirmed. The email has a QR code which is important to have a copy of. This will serve as entry to the gate of the King Andullah Financial District also so it’s important to have it. Make sure you arrive at least 30 minutes before the movie begins. In our case, we picked the 8:20 PM schedule so we wanted to be early so we can get seats we want. Seats are not chosen during booking. It’s a free seating for everyone so arrive ahead of time so you can get the seats in the middle. Okay, so here are the things you need to know about the AMC Cinema in Riyadh:
Rules and Regulations
1. The cinema is for FAMILIES ONLY. No single guys/bachelors allowed. However, a single guy/bachelor can come with a married couple. We asked and verified this with the staff when we went and they confirmed it. Groups of females are also welcome. Not sure why people have to ask us about this when we all know that “Family section” in a restaurant means families and ladies. Seriously , where do you put single ladies in a Bachelor OR Family section? Family, of course.
2. Kids who are below 12 years old are not allowed. Yes, it’s a shame because these Marvel movies are for kids too but it’s their rules, not ours. They probably have good reasons for this. Ask them.
3. Arrive on time. Or like we said, arrive earlier but not too early! For example, if your movie time is 8:20 PM, arrive before 8:20 PM but not earlier than 7:00 PM. Sarado pa sila non!
4. Follow cinema rules. For sure all of us have been to cinemas in our home countries. We know that we should be silent during the movie screening. No talking out loud and definitely no talking about the movie (#spoilers)! We are prohibited from recording the movie in our gadgets. Wear appropriate clothing (mapapahiya ka kung naka-sando ka lang sa ganito kagandang venue!). Smoking is also prohibited. These are basic rules that we all know by now. Right?
5. Tickets can only be bought online. No walk-ins allowed.
Directions to the AMC Cinema
We received a frantic message in our Facebook Page last weekend from someone who was lost on their way to the cinema. He was asking us where it is and so I sent him the directions from the AMC website. When we went there ourselves, we found a bit of a mistake in the map provided by AMC (it’s the parking spot). Here’s our version of the map:
1. First and foremost, use Takhasussi Road. It’s a long, straight road that leads directly to the small path that is the entrance to KAFD. It’s better to have your own car in going here. I mean, it will make your life easier but if you don’t have your own car, then use a taxi or a car-hailing app (ex. Careem, Uber, Taxify, etc.).
2. There will be a checkpoint once you enter this path to KAFD. You have to show your ticket or the QR code. The ushers will then give you yellow bands that you wear when inside the building. They will also put a sticker in your car to signal that you’re inside the KAFD to go to the cinema. It will also be your ticket to the parking area.
3. Then take the U-turn slot, which was not a slot at first so we knew friends who missed this and got lost inside the KAFD. Nowadays, there are security who guides card to where they should go.
4. If you don’t have your own car, drop off point is at the ground level. If you’re bringing your own car, parking is in the basement of the King Abdullah Conference Center. Go to Basement 2. Parking is free.
5. From the parking area, there’s a direct access to the building. Just follow the signs and you’ll get there! Haha.
Food and Drinks
Yes, magugutom kayo kaya kumain muna bago pumunta! Yes, you’ll get hungry so our advice is to eat a hearty meal first before going. The only available food and drinks in the venue are sodas, water, and popcorn. Prices as follows:
Drinks (Coke, Coke Light, Fanta and Sprite)
Small – SR 15 / Medium – SR 19 / Large – SR 21
Popcorn (Salted, Caramel or Mixed)
Small – SR 19 / Medium – SR 23 / Large – SR 25
Why did it feel like we were being robbed? Haha, kidding. The bad news? Obviously, those are expensive. The good news? The popcorn is delicious! We’re actually surprised. We’re not sure if we’re just hungry or what. Haha. Anyway, yes, it’s expensive so it’s up to you how to deal with it. Like we said, you can eat before going or buy what is available. Food and drinks from the outside are not permitted to be brought in the cinemas.
The Venue and The Theater
The building where the AMC Cinema is is an architectural wonder. It’s beautiful inside and out. The place is clean and bright and it has a lit of escalators. It’s easy to get lost in its shapes and angles and width. There are staff all around so that’s a good thing. They were friendly. Taking photos are okay and some of the staff are even willing to take photos of you and your group at the movie posters. The bathrooms are made of marble! C’mon, who goes to a cinema and expect that bathrooms actually feel so luxurious! Hahaha.
The cinema doesn’t look like your typical cinema. Of course, it wasn’t intended to be a cinema in the first place. It’s wide, bright, and airy. The red leather seats are comfortable enough. It’s not a lazy boy, of course. The leg room is good. You can get out of your seat and excuse yourself out of the aisle without disturbing the other guests too much. There’s table that folds out from the side, very much like the table on the first rows of airplanes. It holds drinks and popcorn okay. The lights in the theater are dimmed but a bit problematic. There was a moment while waiting for the movie to start when all the lights just turned off. And there was a moment when the movie was rolling already when the side lights suddenly turned on. WUT?! Haha. Not sure if it’s the staff who’s at fault there.
The screen looked sharp and crisp enough. The sound system is not that great. It’s not the best. Again, we don’t expect it to be Dolby digital sound or something but we know it should be and we know we should be expecting more of it (because hello SR 75!!!). Maybe they’re working on it.
Of course we’re not spoiling it for those who haven’t watched it. The movie is great. That’s all we can say about it. But the overall feel of the moment, of the experience is amazing. What was endearing about the entire experience for us was that to hear the people in the audience laugh at the same parts where laughter was intended, to hear the deafening silence when something intense was going on on screen, to know that those people in there watching with us were just like us — people who like being entertained — and that there was nothing wrong with that. Even though we were all seated in our own seats, the movie experience definitely gave me a sense of community and togetherness.
The Overall Value
We go to cinemas to watch a movie we like. Yes, it’s quite expensive (the ticket fee is inclusive of the entertainment tax and the value added tax btw) but if it’s a movie you wanted to watch, then it’s worth it. If you’ve been waiting for Avengers : Infinity War (or any future movie for that matter) and can’t wait to see it, then go for it. That’s up to you.
Overall, it was a nice experience for us. It was historical in a way and we are just glad that cinemas are already here in Riyadh. As Reina said, “This is the first time that I’ve ever seen a movie in Saudi Arabia, the place where I call home — so it was a pretty big moment for me because for the most part of my life, people thought it was weird that I’ve never been in a cinema while growing up. And now, it’s something I can actually do.”
Something that’s normal from the ‘outside’ world is finally normal in where we live. Cinemas, first. Driving, next!