Watching movies in the UAE: What’s it like?

Dubai cinema

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a “What’s it like?” post to give you readers who are not living in the UAE a glimpse of our life here. This time, I’d like to let you take a peek of what it’s like to watch a movie or go to a movie house in the UAE (Dubai, specifically, where I live).

First, Hollywood movies are up to date. Unlike in Japan where we previously lived, we have to wait for months (minimum 2!) after a Hollywood premier to be able to catch a movie in a cinema there because of the translation stuff, here in Dubai,  it’s almost simultaneous premier and showing as in the US. The cinemas are very modern and plenty too – some have VIP perks like premium chairs that recline and butlers to serve your every wish and whim. The average cost of a normal movie ticket for one person is AED 35 (approx US$10).

I’m quite happy with the cinemas, the show timings, the ticket price. My major issue of movies shown here is the censorship.

A few nights ago, one of my all time favorite movies, “My Bestfriend’s Wedding” was on tv. I do not normally watch TV at night but when I saw this, I had to sit down even if I have memorized each scene and dialogue – the jello and creme brulee scene, yep, even my daughter has memorized that by heart!

Anyway, the movie is pretty clean scene wise but the words “gay” and “f*ck” were bleeped out. Ok, I can handle that. Then cue what must be the most important part of the movie – where Jules professes her love for her guy best friend Michael on the day of his wedding in an attempt to win him again and choose her (don’t roll your eyes until you’ve watched it!).

*Spoiler after this but this movie is old, like more than 10-years-ago old. Like, which-cave-did-you-hide-from-that-you-haven’t-watched-this-movie old so I will go ahead and spill the scene *

Jules then kisses Michael then his bride to be, Kimmy sees it. In typical girly shock, Kimmy runs and Michael runs after her.

That was the original/uncut scene.

But what happens when you watch it here in the UAE? Jules says I love you, choose me, blah blah blah…and…cut to the scene when Kimmy runs.You can watch the video capture of that scene here.

I swear to God, if it’s your first time seeing this movie, you would need a fork to scratch your head as to what happened that made Kimmy run. Ok, the two co-ed best friends were standing in a Gazebo, staring close at each other but is that a valid reason to ran like a mad woman?

The cut version just doesn’t make sense. Thank God, I have watched the original version (like 100x).

So that’s the rundown of Hollywood movie in Dubai tv. Now on to the movies at the cinema.

Yesterday, I made an important life decision to watch the new Nicholas Sparks movie “The Best of Me” which was showing at the cinemas here. I’ve never been a fan of Sparks (and actually HATE The Notebook and his other book-movie movies – stop throwing stones!) but a friend of mine insisted that I watch it.

And I did. Because sometimes, you love your friend too much, that love overshadows your hate for sappy Sparks movies. 

Before that, I’ve watched a few versions of the trailer of the new Sparks movie and told myself, hmmm, cozy. I’ll watch it for a change.

I went inside the cinema expecting to cry. I did for some parts of it but that cozy, romantic, warm, fuzzy feelings escaped me when I had to bear heavy scene butchering. Minor kissing scenes, including the young sweetheart’s first kiss(!), the love scenes (ok you can cut that) BUT really? ALL the kissing scenes were cut, no matter if it was a peck or a kiss that lasts 5 seconds.

And I heard a baby cry inside the cinema.

So what is the point of assigning a movie rating (PG, R13, R18) if the scenes are still heavily butchered? So parents can bring babies to the movie house?

Also I find it hard to digest that all kissing scenes were cut but VIOLENT scenes were shown completely, in all its bloody gory, even if it obviously overkill. (Yes, there’s violence in this piece of Nicholas Sparks weeper.)

But I get it. I have to be thankful that we, most especially women have the liberty to go to the movies anytime we want even unaccompanied. It’s perfectly safe to do so. Some countries in the Middle East don’t offer that simple privilege. 

But while I get it, I will spare myself from watching movies of romantic genre in cinemas here from now on. It’s pointless. It is a waste of time and money and nachos calories. Too much censorship and the movie actually loses the very essence of the story. Those small pecks and kisses and raw emotions do matter, they are part of the flow of the story, after all. I will wait for the DVD.


I don’t know if it’s just me that’s thinking about this but wouldn’t it be great to have a separate showing for censored and uncensored movies? Like those who don’t like to see pecks and kisses and love scenes for whatever reason can see it in a different theater room and then there’s another room for the uncut and original version, proceed at your own risk type of stuff? C’mon, tell me you thought this would’ve been awesome too!


  1. Man, that must feel so frustrating. It reminds me of my husband’s tales/accounts of how its like when he was in Malaysia during his early years – even kissing scenes were censored and National Geographic magazines, where there are pictures of certain tribes where they are not wearing anything on top or behind- all these were blackened out.



  2. No chance for a separate theater uncensored. Don’t you know? The religious authorities KNOW BEST and no one should ever watch that stuff!
    (tongue firmly in cheek here)



  3. I love reading these types of posts, dealing with cultural differences and all kinds of “fun” stuff that makes you wonder about what goes on in the minds and thinking of people in other countries. This kind of movie censorship is really annoying though, I am sure. Cutting out any kind of text our footage from artistic content is usually butchering it. I remember a French translation of one of my romance novels (written in English) and they had to cut down on the length because English is such an economical language it takes 30 percent (or whatever) more words to say the same thing. One scene in the French translation had my heroine walking out the door in her bathrobe to go out to dinner with the hero. The piece where she said she was going to change was cut out. At least this was not censorship, but I can only imagine how many of my other translations were/are edited into nonsense…

    Can you stream movies at home, from Netflix, via a VPN? Of course it is not the same as sitting in a cinema.



    1. I would say one should respect the country that they are living in and thereby should get to know better the cultural background and religion of the host country. You are always free to go back and watch whatever indecent scene u want in the privacy of ur own home. Demanding indecencies to be up in public venues disregarding social harm from what such scenes cause is not right. U will not be able to comprehend what I am saying before u have a short study of the culture, norms and religion of the people here. Visit Al huda sister and kalema center for more info. Me personally don’t visit cinemas and don’t bother waste my time on movies.



  4. Grace, you are so right… I watched The Notebook and The Full Monty and both have the final scenes cut out completely. The Notebook loses everything without that final scence.



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