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Saudi Arabia opened its first commercial cinema in 35 years on Wednesday, showcasing Marvel's Black Panther to senior government officials, dignitaries and select industry figures.

America's biggest movie theater company, AMC, (AMC) will show the Hollywood blockbuster on Wednesday at its new single-screen cinema in the financial district of the capital Riyadh. The audience could choose between male-only, female-only and mixed screenings.

Numerous cinemas had been present in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s, but these were closed in the early '80s as the country adopted extreme conservative forms of Islam.

Attendance to private screenings this month in Riyadh is by invitation only, with a public opening to follow in May, according to operator AMC Entertainment Holdings.

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"Saudis now are going to be able to go to a handsome theater and watch movies the way they're supposed to be watched: on a big screen", he told Reuters ahead of the screening.

As part of Saudi Arabia's social and economic reform program under Vision 2030, spearheaded by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Ministry of Culture and Information announced a landmark decision in December to allow commercial cinemas to operate in the Kingdom from early 2018.

The crown prince has loosened some social restrictions recently, scaling back the role of religious police and permitting public concerts.

"We greatly look forward to serving the people of Saudi Arabia with truly world-class theaters all across the Kingdom".

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In 2017, the government said it would lift the ban in part to retain money that Saudis now spend on entertainment during trips to Dubai, Bahrain and elsewhere.

The Saudi government projects that the opening of movie theatres will contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy and create more than 30,000 jobs by 2030. The extent of censorship was not clear but a Saudi official said the same versions of films shown in Dubai or Kuwait will be suitable for Saudi Arabia. Two scenes of kissing appeared to have been cut from the "Black Panther" screening.

She said she and her friends used to go to the movies overseas, like many Saudis who would flock to neighboring Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates on weekends to see the latest flicks.

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