Emoji Movie is First Film Screened After Saudi Arabia Lifting a 35-Year Cinema Ban

Posted 2018/01/15 0 0

To celebrate the lifting of a 35-year-old ban on cinemas, Saudi Arabia selected one of the most critically reviled U.S. film of 2017: “The Emoji Movie.”


Saudi Arabia made history on December 11 when it was announced the country would officially be lifting its 35-year ban on cinema. One of the screenings was a double-feature of The Emoji Movie and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, Reuters reports. The theater is located in the state-run cultural hall in the Red Sea city of Jeddah and is equipped with a red carpet, a projector and a popcorn machine. The first, permanent theaters are expected to open as early as March, but films will still be censored to remain in line with the kingdom’s “moral values.” Here is what Mamdouh Salim, whose Cinema 70 brand organized the week-long screenings, said about taking the first steps toward re-establishing cinema in Saudi Arabia:

“Until now, there is no infrastructure for movie theaters, so we are trying to take advantage of (alternative) venues to approximate the cinematic form. We tried to use these films to be a starting point as the first cinematic screening after the decision on Dec. 11 to permit movie theaters.”

Under pressure from conservative Islamists, Saudi Arabia formally banned movie theaters in the early 1980s, forcing residents to travel elsewhere for cinematic experiences. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has led various reforms, including lifting the ban, to ease some of the economic and cultural restrictions placed upon the country.

The Sony Pictures film, which starred James Corden as a voiceover, scored an abysmal nine percent rating from critics on the film score site Rotten Tomatoes. Its premise is to give life to the cartoon faces and icons used on mobile phone messaging apps such as Whatsapp, but most critics felt it was a giant advertisement for mobile phone apps.

"Not only does this film hate its very subject matter, it's also the most hideous example of product placement in cinematic history," wrote Ed Potton in The Times. The Guardian called it "a boilerplate animation, zestless, pointless."

But despite it being panned, the film earned Sony more than four times its budget, bringing in $217 million at the box office worldwide, with a budget of just $50 million.