Friday, April 24, 2015

The Drive-In Theaters - Yea, They're still out there!

The Drive-In Theater, like Apple Pie, Hot Dogs, and Baseball represent pure Americana. Fun for the whole family, and for friends and even dates. Movies combined with the outdoors while relaxing in your own car. This idea from long ago that still resonates with many today. Although its heyday has long passed, it is slowly becoming a popular thing to do again.

It all began long ago with the showing of Two White Arms the 1932 British Comedy Classic film that featured Adolphe Menjou in a story about a man who becomes bored with married life and pretends to have lost his memory so he can pursue other women. It had a different title for American audiences, that of, Wives Beware. The significant thing about this film is that it was the first film to be featured at a Drive-in Movie Theater. It was first shown in 1933.

The concept of a drive-in theater was patented by Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. on May 16, 1933. His original drive-in theater opened a month later in New Jersey on June 6, 1933. Although his own drive-in theater only operated for three years, the idea spread across America, and at its peak there were more than 4,000 drive-in theaters in operation. His first advertising slogan was, "The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are." At first, prices for admission was 25 cents for the car and 25 cents per person, but it was quite common to have specials of $1.00 per carload.

The idea of watching movies from your car on a large screen appealed to many. It was a common family night out, thing to do. It was the place to hang out and socialize more than anything else. In fact, the funny wise crack that circulated whenever there was talk of Drive-ins was, 'they show movies there, don't they,' as if to say that the features were not the main point of going. They became especially popular for dates, because of the privacy this setting provided.

If you have never been to one, the theaters are like large parking lots, where you drive in and find an open space in front of a large screen/wall that the film would be projected onto. With each space, you'd drive into, you would park on a small mound, something like a small hill. It put your viewing at an upward angle towards the screen, so that the other cars would not obstruct your view. When parked, there was a speaker for sound on a pole, and you would just hang the speaker from your door window. These drive-in theaters usually had playgrounds for small children and concession stands that sold food and drinks. The fun, food runs, and socializing always takes place between features, and the theaters usually had long breaks between in order to accommodate those at the concession stands.

The theaters usually showed double features, and some even offered triple features for the crowds that liked to stay late. The main feature was often shown first, and that would have been the big Hollywood hits of the day, the other features were the B-movies.

The peak period for drive-in theaters was the 1950's and early '60's, but as color television became more widespread, attendance at these theaters began to decline.

The unique experience of the drive-in theater lives on through classic car enthusiasts, nostalgia buffs, and the curious. It's a slice of vintage Americana personified that can't be missed. Although there are only around 400 of these theaters still in operation, you could probably find one not too far from where you live. These days, they show the modern flicks and the sound is broadcast to your car radio. You can expect to pay somewhere in the area of $20 for a car load today, but the fun and the experience is well worth it.

To my surprise, I recently learned that there may be another 200 theaters opening across the country in the very near future.

Although this experience is mostly associated with America, there are some drive-in theaters in other countries as well, including: Canada - Australia - Germany - India - South Africa & Spain.

Most people prefer indoor theaters with luxury seating, air conditioning, 3D and even 4D, enamored with all of today's technology, and amenities. While some long for the good ol' days of yesteryear, going to a drive-in, is an amazing experience. It's one you'll remember for a lifetime. Here's hoping you'll make some happy memories with your family this coming summer, and find a drive-in near you.

In the comments below, feel free to share your drive-in experiences and be sure to mention the theater, they could use the free mention.

Interesting fact: Shankweiler's Drive-In, in Orefield, Pennsylvania, is the oldest drive-in theater that is still going, and is now beginning its 82 season. So Cool! Long live the Drive-In's


  1. Great piece on Drive-Ins. They bring back such fond memories. We still have one in Del Norte, Co. and it's quite the hot spot.

  2. I went to a few Drive-ins when I was younger. Going to see a movie (indoors or out) was a big deal and expense when I grew up in the 60s & 70s. The first movie I remember seeing at the Drive-in was The Exorcist with Linda Blair. Oh, my CATHY! Did that scare me to death! I think being outdoors made the movie all the more scarier, but then again I'm a big scaredy Cathy anyhow. So, creepy shadows and things that go bump work OT on my imagination. My next experience with a Drive-in theater was after I got married in 1979. DH & I went to see one of Chuck Norris' movies. It was a lot of fun to just pull in and watch the flick. I'm pretty sure we had our own refreshments in the car, so that made it doubly nice. Ever since we started our family in the 1988, going to a movie was just out of the question. So, we migrated to movie rentals for our home entertainment and of course in recent years streaming movies is the newest coolest way to watch a movie. Personally, I prefer staying home to watch, stop, eat my own food, in a quieter, less scary place like in my living room. Oh yeah, and it's a ton cheaper than going out to see a movie. lol Anywho, I did love reading your nostalgic piece. In the states, I've noticed more & more Drive-ins popping up again, too. I guess it's coming back in style...sorta. :D

  3. I'm dating myself here, lol, but I remember visiting these theaters regularly, and they were fun. The last movie i saw, I fell asleep, and when I woke up, mine was the only car in the massive parking lot, along with the one employee who laughed at me! (lol) Ah...the good old days. Great topic!

  4. Never been to one but they sound like a ton of fun!

  5. I've never been to a drive-in theater but they sound awesome. Not sure if Id love to sit in a car though, sounds like it'd get a lil boring. I'll have to eventually track one of these down and give it a try. :)

  6. There was a Starlite Drive-in Theater in my hometown but we never went. I was born in 1980 and it closed in the 80s so it may have been closed by the time I was old enough to enjoy the experience. My mom is the one who took me to movies and she didn't have a car which might have been another factor lol I do wish I'd been at least once though!


  7. The last movie I saw at the drive-in was in Ohio. I "saw" Men in Black 3. Honestly, I didn't really notice more than the opening and closing credits as I was on a date.
    I periodically want to look for one within an hour of my home here in Florida so I can take my kids to a drive-in just once and let them watch a movie. Although I wish they still had those old school speaker boxes instead of using the car stereo.

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  9. I remember these... This post takes me back to when I was in the backseat of our station wagon. The world was huge then...


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