Behind Closed Doors: The Secrets to Watching Films in Saudi Arabia

Wednesday 26 October 201610:17 am

With the absence of movie theaters showing the latest films in Saudi Arabia, a large section of society resorts to various creative ways to keep up with the latest productions. Some use private companies to set up fancy home cinemas. The cost for such an option is high, and can reach up to USD 5000. These companies rely on Saudis’ thirst for films especially those who cannot go to cinemas in neighboring countries because of lack of money or time. Once these home cinemas are set up, acquiring the films to watch will require resorting to various ways, often illegal.

All your needs online

Torrents and upload services are widely available. Usually young Saudis access these sites in order to download the latest TV series or movies, especially once they are released on DVD or Blueray. There are hundreds of Saudi sites and forums to assist those who are trying to use the latest film downloading techniques. Specialized translators, generally volunteers, are there to subtitle most films and TV series, and spread the subtitles across the web or through social media.

Uploading films is illegal in Saudi Arabia. The data protection act of the Ministry of Culture and Communication bans uploads in order to protect original data and the rights of authors. This does not stop the many breaches of this law. After all, it is not really possible to control the vast number of people who upload films.

On Utorrent alone, the number of uploads of a film can reach more than 100 thousand in Saudi Arabia alone. Many, like Jaafar Ahmad think that Utorrent is the Saudi people’s best friend, maybe even their savior amid the dire conditions that youth who refuse to live by the restrictions in the Kingdom suffer from.

Internet providers in Saudi Arabia changed their policies, and no longer offer unlimited download capacity. This led to a large wave of anger among a section of society. Some even boycotted these companies demanding that unlimited download be reinstated. Because of restrictions on hours of internet use, many Saudis cannot download large numbers of films at the moment, which pushed some of them to resort to streaming on websites such as Netflix, Amazon, AppleTV and others.

Nasser Al Faridi says that he started streaming after the decision to stop unlimited download. He uses popular Saudi and Arab sites offering free and recent films. These include and The problems with these sites however, is the number of cookies, and viruses, as well as the slow streaming speed in comparison to other more established paid sites.

Illegal exchange

We did a poll on Twitter asking “how do you watch the latest films?”. Out of 232 responses, 85% of Saudis considered that internet download was the only way to watch films, while 7% thought film theaters in nearby countries are the best way. The rest were split between watching DVDs or satellite channels. Some even resort to social gatherings where people share DVDs or exchange large Hard Disk drives.

To help newbies, some young Saudis have produced online tutorials on how to download films from the internet. The video of the young man below is one example among many.

Women as well do not hesitate in getting new films by meeting other young people. Despite all the difficulties, they manage to arrange movie watching dates. Nof, for instance, told us that she has no problem meeting a guy every month to get a new collection of films. Mohsen on the other hand, says that he once went to a girl’s house to deliver a bunch of films after they had met online on a film website. She contacted him, and asked him to come meet her in her house. He was nervous and suspicious as he gave her a large number of films for free, because, he explains, “what unites us, is a love for film”.

With the spread of download culture, DVD shops are almost extinct in Saudi Arabia. Many of these shops now resort to selling hard disks containing subtitled films.

Another place to watch the latest films, is Shisha cafes where foreign and Egyptian films are often shown. Some specialized cafes show “Showtime” films because these are not censored and therefore some people find them more enjoyable. Some cafes however stopped their Showtime subscription because of complaints by some of their patrons of what they called explicit and inappropriate sexual content.

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