Cinema of Egypt

The cinema of Egypt refers to the flourishing film industry based in Cairo. Since 1976, the capital has held the annual Cairo International Film Festival, which has been accredited by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations.[5] There is also another festival held in Alexandria. Of the more than 4,000 short and feature-length films made in MENA region since 1908, more than three-quarters were Egyptian films.

Egyptian Cinema
No. of screens221 (2015) [1]
  Per capita0.4 per 100,000 (2010)[1]
Main distributorsThe Trinity: (Nasr - Oscar - El Massah)
Cinema Masr
Studio Masr[2]
Produced feature films (2005–2009)[3]
Total42 (average)
Number of admissions (2015)[4]
Gross box office (2015)[4]
Total$267 million



A limited number of silent films were made in Egypt beginning in 1896; 1927's Laila was notable as the first full-length feature. Cairo's film industry became a regional force with the coming of sound. Between 1930 and 1936, various small studios produced at least 44 feature films. In 1936, Studio Misr, financed by industrialist Talaat Harb, emerged as the leading Egyptian equivalent to Hollywood's major studios, a role the company retained for three decades.[6]

Historians disagree in determining the beginning of cinema in Egypt. Some say in 1896, when the first film was watched in Egypt, while others date the beginning from 20 June 1907 with a short documentary film about the visit of Khedive Abbas Hilmi II to the Institute of Mursi Abul-Abbas in Alexandria. In 1917, the director Mohammed Karim established a production company in Alexandria. The company produced two films: Dead Flowers and Honor the Bedouin, which were shown in the city of Alexandria in early 1918.

Since then, more than 4,000 films have been produced in Egypt, three quarters of the total Arab production. Egypt is the most productive country in the Middle East in the field of film production, and the one with the most developed media system.

The Golden Age

The 1940s, 1950s and the 1960s are generally considered the golden age of Egyptian cinema. In the 1950s, Egypt's cinema industry was the world's third largest.[7] As in the West, films responded to the popular imagination, with most falling into predictable genres (happy endings being the norm), and many actors making careers out of playing strongly typed parts. In the words of one critic, "If an Egyptian film intended for popular audiences lacked any of these prerequisites, it constituted a betrayal of the unwritten contract with the spectator, the results of which would manifest themselves in the box office."[8]

In 1940,[9] the entrepreneur and translator Anis Ebeid established "Anis Ebeid Films", as the first subtitling company in Egypt and the Middle East, bringing hundreds of American and World movies to Egypt. Later he entered the movie distribution business too.[10]

Political changes in Egypt after the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952 initially had little effect on Egyptian film. The Nasser regime sought control over the industry only after turning to socialism in 1961.[11] By 1966, the Egyptian film industry had been nationalized. As with all matters in that period, diametrical opinions can be found about the cinema industry then. In the words of Ahmed Ramzi, a leading man of the era, "it went to the dogs".[12] The "heavy government hand" that accompanied nationalization of Egyptian film "stifled innovative trends and sapped its dynamism".[11] However, considering a rather modern moderate review like that given by Dubai International Film Festival,[13] Most of the 44 Egyptian films featuring in the best 100 Arab films of all time were produced during that period. Notable titles included The Night of Counting The Years, Cairo Station and The Postman.

By the 1970s, Egyptian films struck a balance between politics and entertainment. Films such as 1972's Khalli Balak min Zouzou (Watch out for Zouzou), starring "the Cinderella of Arab cinema", Suad Husni, sought to balance politics and audience appeal. Zouzou integrated music, dance, and contemporary fashions into a story that balanced campus ferment with family melodrama.[14]

Transitional period

The late 1970s and 1980s saw the Egyptian film industry in decline, with the rise of what came to be called "contractor movies". Actor Khaled El Sawy has described these as films "where there is no story, no acting and no production quality of any kind... basic formula movies that aimed at making a quick buck." The number of films produced also declined, from nearly 100 movies a year in the industry's prime to about a dozen in 1995. This lasted until summer 1997, when "Ismailia Rayeh Gayy" (translation: Ismailia back and forth) shocked the cinema industry, enjoying unparalleled success and large profits for the producers, introducing Mohamed Fouad (a famous singer) and Mohamed Henedi, then a rather unknown actor who later became the number one comedian star. Building on the success of that movie, several comedy films were released in the following years.


Since the 1990s, Egypt's cinema has gone in separate directions. Smaller art films attract some international attention but sparse attendance at home. Popular films, often broad comedies such as What A Lie!, and the extremely profitable works of comedian Mohamed Saad, battle to hold audiences either drawn to Western films or, increasingly, wary of the perceived immorality of film.[11]

A few productions, such as 2003's Sahar el Layali (Sleepless Nights), intertwined stories of four bourgeois couples[15] and 2006's Imarat Yacoubian (The Yacoubian Building) bridge this divide through their combination of high artistic quality and popular appeal.

In 2006, the film Awkat Faragh (Leisure Time) was released. A social commentary on the decline of Egyptian youth, the film was produced on a low budget and had attendant low production values. The film, however, became a success. Its controversial subject matter, namely, the sexual undertones in today's society, was seen as confirmation that the industry was beginning to take risks.

A major challenge facing Egyptian and international scholars, students and fans of Egyptian film is the lack of resources in terms of published works, preserved and available copies of the films themselves, and development in Egypt of state and private institutions dedicated to the study and preservation of film. The Egyptian National Film Centre (ENFC), which theoretically holds copies of all films made after 1961, is according to one Egyptian film researcher, "far from being a library, houses piles of rusty cans containing positive copies."[16]

The year 2007, however, saw a considerable spike in the number of Egyptian films made. In 1997, the number of Egyptian feature-length films created was 16; 10 years later, that number had risen to 40. Box office records have also risen significantly, as Egyptian films earned around $50 million while American films, by comparison, earned $10 million.


Since 1976, Cairo has held the annual Cairo International Film Festival, which has been accredited by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations.[5] Another festival is held in Alexandria.

Notable films

My Father above the Tree [17]Abi foq al-Shagara1969Hussein Kamal
The Asphalt boogymen[18]Afarit el-asphalt1996Oussama Fawzi
Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves[19]Ali Baba wa Al Arbaeen harami1942Togo Mizrahi
I Am FreeAna Horra1959Salah Abu Seif
Date Wine[20]Arak el-balah1998Radwan El-Kashef
The Land Of Fear[21]Ard El-Khof1999Daoud Abdel Sayed
Al-Go'aAl-Go'a1986Ali Badrakhan
The Land[22]El Ard1969Youssef Chahine
The Sparrow[23]Al Asfour1972Youssef Chahine
The Return of the Prodigal Son[24]Awdat al ibn al dal1976Youssef Chahine
Sons of Egypt[25]Awlad Masr1933Togo Mizrahi
The Days of SadatAyam El-Sadat2001Mohamed Khan
The Soft HandsAl Ayde Al Na'ema1963Mahmoud Zulfikar
The Will[26]El Azima1939Kamal Selim
The Gate of SunBab el shams2004Yousry Nasrallah
Cairo StationBab El-Hadid1958Youssef Chahine
I Love CinemaBaheb el cima2004Oussama Fawzi
The Search for Sayed MarzoukAl Bahths an Al Sayyid Marzuq1990Daoud Abdel Sayed
The InnocentEl Baree'1988Atef El-Tayeb
Barsoum Looking for a JobBarsoum Yabhas Aen Wazifa1923Mohamed Bayoumi
A Beginning and an EndBidaya wa Nihaya1960Salah Abu Seif
The PostmanAl Boustaguy1968Hussein Kamal
The Path of MahabilDarb al-mahabil1955Tawfik Saleh
The Nightingale’s prayerDoaa al-Karawan1959Henry Barakat
Traffic LightEisharit morour1995Khairy Beshara
In the Land of TutankhamunFi bilad Tout Ankh Amoun1923Mohamed Bayoumi
The Paradise of the Fallen AngelsGannat al shayateen1999Oussama Fawzi
The IslandEl Geezera2007Sherif Arafa
The Flirtation of GirlsGhazal Al Banat1949Anwar Wagdi
The SinAl Haram1965Henry Barakat
Chafika et MetwalShafika w Metwally1978Ali Badrakhan
Hassan and MarcusHassan wi Mor'os2008Ramy Emam
Life or DeathHaya aw Maut1954Kamal El Sheikh
The ChoiceAl Ikhtiyar1970Youssef Chahine
Terrorism and KebabAl Irhab wal kabab1992Sherif Arafa
Alexandria... Why?Iskanderija ... lih?1978Youssef Chahine
KarnakAl Karnak1975Ali Badrakhan
The Kit KatEl Kit Kat1991Daoud Abdel Sayed
The Lady's PuppetLaabet el sitt1946Waley-ElDin Sameh
Leila1927Aziza Amir
Angel of MercyMalak al-Rahma1946Youssef Wahbi
The City[27]El Medina1999Yousry Nasrallah
The Night of Counting the YearsAl Mummia1975Shadi Abdel Salam
The ImpossibleEl Mustahil1966Hussein Kamal
Saladin The VictoriousEl Nasser Salah El-Din1963Youssef Chahine
Yaaqubian buildingOmaret yakobean2006Marwan Hamed
A Bullet in the HeartRossassa Fel Qalb1944Mohammed Karim
Return My Heart BackRudda Kalbi1958Ezz-El-Din Zulfikar
Salama is OkaySalama fi khair1938Niazi Mostafa
Salamah1945Togo Mizrahi
The Bus DriverSawaq El-Autobis1983Atef El-Tayeb
Some of the FearShey min el khouf1969Hussein Kamal
Struggle of the HeroesSira' Al Abtal1962Tawfik Saleh
Black MarketSuq al-Soda, Al1945Kamel El-Telmissany
Adrift on the NileTharthara Fawq Al Neel1971Hussein Kamal
The Collar and the BraceletEl Tooq wal Eswera1986Khairy Beshara
Adieu BonaparteWeda'an Bonapart1985Youssef Chahine
The Two Orphans [28]Al Yateematain1949Hassan Al Imam
The Sixth Day[29]Al Yawm al-Sadis1986Youssef Chahine
Happy Day[30]Yawm Saeed1940Mohammed Karim
Sweet Day, Bitter Day[31]Yom mor ... Yom helw1988Khairy Beshara
The Wife of an Important ManZawgat Ragol Mohim1988Mohamed Khan
Zeinab[32]1950Mohammed Karim
The Second WifeEl Zouga El Tania1967Salah Abu Seif
People on the TopAhl el qema1981Ali Badrakhan

Notable figures




Film critics

Music Composers

See also

In the press


  1. "Table 8: Cinema Infrastructure - Capacity". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  2. "Table 6: Share of Top 3 distributors (Excel)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  3. "Average national film production". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  4. "Table 11: Exhibition - Admissions & Gross Box Office (GBO)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
  5. Cairo Film Festival information Archived 2011-12-08 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. Darwish, Mustafa, Dream Makers on the Nile: A Portrait of Egyptian Cinema, The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, 1998, Pp. 12–13.
  7. A.V. "The rise and fall of Egyptian Arabic". The Economist. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  8. Farid, Samir, "Lights, camera...retrospection" Archived 2013-05-11 at the Wayback Machine, Al-Ahram Weekly, December 30, 1999
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-09-24. Retrieved 2013-09-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-09-28. Retrieved 2013-09-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. Farid, Samir, "An Egyptian Story" Archived 2013-05-14 at the Wayback Machine, Al-Ahram Weekly, November 23–29, 2006
  12. Khairy, Khaireya, "Ahmed Ramzi: rendezvous at the snooker club" Archived 2007-04-12 at the Wayback Machine, Al-Ahram Weekly, June 22, 2000
  13. "مهرجان دبي السينمائي يصدر قائمة أفضل 100 فيلم عربي و"المومياء" في الصدارة".
  14. Anis, Mouna, "Before the public gaze" Archived 2003-05-10 at the Wayback Machine, Al-Ahram Weekly, June 28, 2001
  15. "Sahar el Layali", The New York Times, 2004
  16. El-Assyouti, Mohamed, "Forgotten memories" Archived 2013-05-13 at the Wayback Machine,Al-Ahram Weekly, September 2, 1999
  17. "Abi foq al-Shagara". 17 February 1969 via
  18. "Afarit el-asphalt". 11 August 1996 via
  19. "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" via
  20. "Date Wine". 1 September 1999 via
  21. "Land of Fear". 14 March 2007 via
  22. "The Land". 4 August 2012 via
  23. "Al-asfour". 28 October 2007 via
  24. "Awdat al ibn al dal". 5 August 2012 via
  25. "Sons of Egypt" via
  26. "The Will". 6 November 1939 via
  27. "El Medina". 5 July 2000 via
  28. "The Two Orphans" via
  29. "Al-yawm al-Sadis". 3 December 1986 via
  30. "A Happy Day" via
  31. "Yom mor... yom helw" via
  32. "Zeinab". 18 May 2018 via

Further reading

  • Viola Shafik, Popular Egyptian Cinema: Gender, Class, and Nation, American University in Cairo Press, 2007, ISBN 978-977-416-053-0
  • Walter Armbrust, "Political Film in Egypt" in: Josef Gugler (ed.) Film in the Middle East and North Africa: Creative Dissidence, University of Texas Press and American University in Cairo Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0-292-72327-6, ISBN 978-9-774-16424-8, pp 228–251
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