'The Emoji Movie' becomes first film to play in Saudi Arabia following 35-year cinema ban

Following the lifted ban on cinemas in Saudi Arabia, the country screened its first public movie in 35 years in the form of “The Emoji Movie.”

According to Reuters, the conservative Islamic kingdom lifted the ban in December after a movement in the 1980s that focused on morality and avoiding men and women intermingling in public closed all theaters. The country, which is experiencing a liberalization under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is expected to open theaters as early as March. Until that time, authorities sponsored a temporary theater in a state-run cultural hall in Jeddah. Families were treated to a projector and screen, a red carpet and popcorn machine to complete the full movie-going experience.

The Verge reports that “The Emoji Movie” was the first to air along with “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” in an effort to start things off with more family-friendly fare, thus preserving the morals that the typically conservative society is worried about while opening the door to a potentially lucrative industry.

As Deadline notes, the Saudi government estimates that a cinema business could contribute more than $24 billion to the economy by 2030, creating an estimated 30,000 permanent jobs and roughly 130,000 temporary jobs. This will help the nation’s long term goal of making its economy less-dependant on oil.

According to BoxOfficeMojo, “The Emoji Movie” grossed roughly $86 million in the United States while “Captain Underpants” brought in $73 million.