“Saudiwood” Booms as Hollywood Shrinks

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Even for those with little knowledge of cinema, Hollywood is a golden, shining place where dreams are put to cellulose. It’s a place so confident in its image that its own name is balanced above the neighborhoods, in 50ft high letters atop Mount Lee. Still, exactly one hundred years after the Hollywood sign went up (as Hollywoodland, by a real estate company), the city’s star finally seems to be dimming, as other rival industries around the world vie to try and take the spotlight.

Orange Wednesdays

The difficulties facing modern cinema are the same as those in any for-profit industry, namely, getting people on board and involved. This ancient practice has become a little more eclectic recently, especially online, as competition for customers grows increasingly fierce. So, how is anybody expected to cut through all the noise? The casino promotions at Paddy Power offer a few examples.


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These include free turns on slot machines, deposit and no-deposit bonuses, and cashback schemes, which return a percentage of losses each week. Finally, a loyalty program rewards existing customers for sticking around. In the world of cinema, much the same kind of thing can be found. In Europe, for instance, mobile company EE (née Orange) held a two-for-one promotion every week until 2015 – the beloved Orange Wednesdays. 

Unfortunately, the decline of EE’s freebie scheme seems to have been an early sign of trouble in the movie industry. The global box office is tipped to earn $32bn in 2023, an increase of 23% on last year’s earnings. However, that’s still a 20% decline in the global average from 2017-2019. Some reasons are obvious – the second decade of the 21st century didn’t start well for the majority of people – but, once again, competition does play a role. 

Foreign Talent

Due to the vast differences between their content, Hollywood has long co-existed with Bollywood, Nollywood, and all sorts of other “-woods” around the globe. The Middle East, Saudi Arabia, in particular, doesn’t seem to want to play the same game, seemingly positioning itself as an alternative to Hollywood and Bollywood. The Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah already attracts many of the same faces each year. 

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The obvious question to ask is whether a place like Saudi Arabia, both distant and different from Los Angeles, can attract global talent – and the answer seems to be yes. In March 2023, the country created a $234m fund to build its own version of Hollywood. This kind of free-flowing capital has already proved successful at luring foreign talent into the country, with soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo serving as a good example.

While it’s hardly a subtle approach, Saudi Arabia does have the cash to buy its way into film production circles. As for Hollywood, the good news is that the public’s appetite for blockbusters is still healthy. Just four movies accounted for more than $5bn of 2021’s earnings, including Top Gun: Maverick ($1.5bn) and the inexplicably popular Avatar: The Way of Water ($2.3bn).

It’s hard to deny that Hollywood’s crown doesn’t fit quite like it used to, though.

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