Bringing Back The Drive-In
February 18, 2008 4:04 AM   Subscribe

The first drive-in movie theater was opened on June 6, 1933, by salesman Richard M. Hollingshead in Camden, N.J. On the bill was a twilight showing of the British comedy Wife Beware. And so the drive-in era was born, peaking in 1958 with almost 5,000 theaters in the U.S alone. These days you'd be hard pressed trying to find one but thankfully there are plenty of handy lists online telling you just where to find one (there's even one for Aussies like me!). And that's not all we have to be thankful for; the drive-in scene is apparently witnessing something of a "mini-revival" at present. Don't feel like going out? Then why not make your own? First you'll need instructions on how to build one. Then you'll need intermission-advertisements (you can download or even just watch heaps of them for free here). And then you'll need a handy list of the kinds of films they used to show at the drive-in. If you're in the US, you'll need to know some of the special rules the FCC has for drive-ins, and if you have any more questions, I'm sure the fine folk at the United Drive-In Theater Owners Association could help. All of this sound like too much work? Then just sit back and check out the videos and photos on this nice site (it's about drive-ins, of course!).
posted by Effigy2000 (43 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I saw E.T. at a drive-in when it came out. It was magical.
posted by chillmost at 4:23 AM on February 18, 2008

In the mood for hot coffee?
posted by Flashman at 4:33 AM on February 18, 2008

This. Is. Reeaaaalllllyyy. Good.
Thank You!
posted by Dizzy at 4:39 AM on February 18, 2008

My first drive in experience was in early 1970. I was six years old and my late father took me to see Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid at the luxurious mosquito infested Heddon Greta Skyline. Thanks for the trip Effigy.
posted by Duke999R at 4:41 AM on February 18, 2008

They had a drive-in theater in my little town of Virden, Manitoba, Canada when I was a kid. I remember ET, but barely. And some Michael J. Fox-is-in-Wall-Street film. And a couple on a couch kissing before my parents told me to go back to sleep.

For a few summers, I went to the drive-in in Winnipeg (which is still open) as an excuse to see whatever the blockbusters of the summer were. I couldn't justify seeing "Charlie's Angels 3" what with all those Wes Anderson-esqe movies that had to be seen, but hey, bug spray, smuggled beer, a car and a few friends and it's OK to see Arnold ensure he is still in the public eye right before his Californian election in "Terminator 3" as the last bit of Manitoban twilight fades at midnight.

I went to one last year, in Beijing. The nicest one I've ever been to; the entrance was through a bunch of trees. Apparently they're quite popular over in China.

And a few weeks ago in Shenzhen, I was walking back to the place I was staying at, and I could hear a movie playing. "Has to be an LCD projector. This is, like, where they make those," I thought to myself. No -- it was an actual film projector and they were playing some Hong Kong film in a courtyard. There were children playing, you could smell the film and hear the projector... an amazing experience.
posted by sleslie at 5:17 AM on February 18, 2008

There's actually a still a drive-in back home for me. I went this past summer to see the new Harry Potter movie along with "300" and it was pretty damn great. Sadly, they replaced their ancient intermission where they'd show glowing images of popcorn and candy with music and announcements counting down to when the second film would start, instead replacing it with some digitally remastered one.

I need to go there again this summer. Watching a double feature for $7 while eating a mediocre lukewarm hamburger does sound like a good cinematic experience to me.
posted by champthom at 5:19 AM on February 18, 2008

I saw E.T. at a drive-in when it came out. It was magical.

I lost my virginity at a drive-in. I don't remember what film was playing.
posted by three blind mice at 5:26 AM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

NICE! Thanks
posted by monkeyJuice at 5:29 AM on February 18, 2008

We had a drive-in in my small town in the 70s, and me and my sister just loved it, even though we'd never understand the films and would soon end up asleep in the back of the station wagon. But I remember seeing Saturday Night Fever there quite vividly, as it gave me nightmares afterwards.
And even though this was in South Africa it was just like this, with the wonky old ads and the snackbar (in fact 1970s SA was a lot like 1950s USA, I imagine)
posted by Flashman at 5:35 AM on February 18, 2008

Completely excellent, thanks! I used to work at a drive-in in Indiana in the early 90s; some of my most treasured memories come from there. Like dodging huge metal letters that would fall off the marquee as I was trying to replace them, or cleaning up piles of vomit, or keeping an eye on deadheads in the concession stand. Paid for crap, but worth it all the same.
posted by the dief at 5:41 AM on February 18, 2008

The Traverse City, MI area had a couple of drive-ins when I was younger. The one in Acme showed adult films after the drive-in business fell on hard times in the '70s. The owner of that drive-in eventually moved to my hometown and bought the movie theater there and showed mostly B-movies. In '79 he turned the theater into a disco and a couple of years later, a friend of mine wigged out and drove his beautifully restored (by him, thank you very much) 1969 Thunderbird into it.
It was at another Traverse City area drive-in that I got to see such classics as Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Bad Boys.
Thankfully, a third Traverse City area drive-in is still in business. Good for them.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Effigy.
posted by NoMich at 5:57 AM on February 18, 2008

Some of my earliest memories are from the Wellfleet Drive-In on Cape Cod. My parents and their friends would put me and all the other little kids in the car with plenty of pillows and blankets. The kids would watch and then fall asleep while the parents enjoyed some beer and adult conversation. Since it was during the summer and we were near the water, it'd be really foggy and my mom still jokes that they "heard" many more movies at the drive-in than they actually saw.

When I got older, my parents got nostalgic for those years on the Cape so we started going to the drive-in in Mendon.
posted by sutel at 6:19 AM on February 18, 2008

There's still at least one drive-in left in the Pittsburgh area and every summer we say, we should go to a driving this year but we never do. Maybe this year.
posted by octothorpe at 6:22 AM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

One of three remaining Nebraska drive-in theaters is in my town.
posted by spock at 6:22 AM on February 18, 2008

Great post.
posted by acro at 6:32 AM on February 18, 2008

My first drive-in experience was Star Wars, 1978-ish. I was 6 at the time. The projectionist fed the 2nd reel into the projector upside down, which made Vader that much more interesting. We still have a few of them in our neck of the woods, so I try to go at least once a summer.

Excellent post.:)
posted by spirit72 at 6:47 AM on February 18, 2008

Lucky me, I have two drive-in theatres near my house. I don't go as often as I would like because they are SO hugely popular in the summer that the lineups to get in stretch for kilometres and you have to go pretty early to get in. At home in winter, we like to pull out the old 16 mil projector and show NFB shorts on the wall to the children.
posted by saucysault at 6:56 AM on February 18, 2008

Nice FPP! Thanks!

There is a drive in about 10 minutes away with an 82 foot screen, and clean bathrooms with soap!
posted by The Deej at 7:09 AM on February 18, 2008

Being from the UK, the only experience I have of drive-in is Grease and the collected works of Joe Bob Briggs, whose Joe Bob goes to the Drive-In gave me huge laughs and a nasty stereotype to overcome... thanks for the FPP.
posted by itsjustanalias at 7:31 AM on February 18, 2008

Thank you for this! I miss drive ins so much - there aren't any near here and I used to be a regular at Bengies outside Baltimore. When my marriage was just ending I'd pile the kids into the car and take them out there to watch whatever was playing all night long - Godzilla, Armageddon, the Spice Girls (god help me.) I remember watching Independence Day through a drenching rainstorm with a toddler asleep in the back, sipping a plastic cup of lukewarm smuggled Natty Boh and thinking, well, this is it, this is really it, it just doesn't get better than this.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:40 AM on February 18, 2008

There are still several drive-in theatres in the Silicon Valley and a couple in the east bay. They're still quite popular, and on the weekends during the day they're the host to flea markets.
posted by drstein at 7:44 AM on February 18, 2008

The first movie I ever saw was some completely forgettable film at a drive-in. That's okay, because it was a double-feature, and the other was Ghostbusters. That was a hellaciously good evening.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:46 AM on February 18, 2008

Seattle has a lovely an outdoor cinema. Those are fun, too.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 9:29 AM on February 18, 2008

There are two drive-ins near me, which I go to frequently, probably as much as I go to the regular theatre. I insist on using the tinny speaker instead of that radio tune-in stuff for the sound. When I was a kid, my parents used to park me and my sister on the roof of the car to play while they did whatever parents do in the car without kids; I haven't seen anything like that these days though. Probably modern cars are too flimsy and contoured to keep you in place.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 10:44 AM on February 18, 2008

As a kid, one of my best memories was the night our folks packed up the station wagon with the four of us kids, tons of pillows, bags of junk food and pop, and headed to the local drive-in for the all-night-Planet of the Apes-five-flick marathon. I fell asleep after Conquest so never got to rejoice in the the inter-special love fest ending the series. When we got home it was just before dawn and the Aurora Borealis were dancing in the sky. The whole family laid there on our front lawn, wrapped in blankets and staring at the heavens until sun came up.

Now some thirty years later and in another state, and with two young kids of my own, I've discovered our local drive-in is about to close. After years of threatening to sell a pretty prime piece of property, the original owners have found a buyer. The new buyer has promised to keep it open until plans for development are finalized but these days, that may not take long. Of course they're closed for the season now, but we're crossing our fingers that come spring, we'll get at least one more chance to sit under the stars and watch a dimly lit picture and listen to barely audible dialog while munching on cheese corn and slurping generic root beer, as a family.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:55 AM on February 18, 2008

I wonder what considers a "Dead Drive-In"? Does the old drive-in still need to be there without new development on the site? Or are they just referring to known locations. The drive-in we used to go to is not on the list but maybe they can add it.
posted by Doohickie at 11:11 AM on February 18, 2008

I remember Mom & Dad taking the whole station wagon full of us (six kids from middle school down to kindergarten), in pajamas, out on Fri nite to see Gone With the Wind and How the West was Won at the Sunset Drive-In. Kinda neat to lie there and doze off, then wake up, half-listening and half-dreaming through the movies.
posted by pax digita at 11:20 AM on February 18, 2008

My girl and I have been going to the drive-in for a few years now. Last year, we even took her puppy along with us.

There is nothing better than a $7 double feature on warm summer night.
posted by ninjew at 11:25 AM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I remember the Wellfleet drive-in fondly from my childhood summer vacations as well. One of my earliest memories is going into the projection booth and the projectionist handing me about a dozen frames of an old Woody Woodpecker cartoon they had shown before one of the features. I kept it for a long time, don't know whatever happened to it.
posted by brendankeegan at 11:33 AM on February 18, 2008

This is what I saw at the Auto Sky drive in 1977---notice it is Opening Day!
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 11:37 AM on February 18, 2008

Atlanta's Starlight Drive In still shows first run movies, double features every night of the year. It has special events like the Rock & Roll Monster Bash and the Drive-Invasion that pull great bands and great themed movies. Six screens, blacktop, and concession stand food. We grill and sit in the truck bed drinking beer while watching movies for cheap. Wonderful.

Thanks for sharing!
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 11:51 AM on February 18, 2008

Aw, man. Not only do those U.S. sites both list the (nifty) Winchester Drive-In in Oklahoma City, they both mention the one in my crappy little pop. 8,000 mountain hometown. The Tower Drive-In's been in continuous operation since the fifties, partly because it represents a quarter of the movie screens in the city, and partly because of the mid-90's Showgirls incident. After the screening, the owner tearfully confessed to the paper that he didn't want to show such depraved filth, but unless the city approved the parking expansion, there was just [voice breaks] no other way to stay open [muffled sob].
posted by ormondsacker at 12:56 PM on February 18, 2008

The (ten years gone, alas) Foster Road drive-in in Portland was still running when my kid was a toddler. It's one of the things that preserved my sanity- the opportunity to go out without needing a sitter or annoying fellow moviegoers.
I'm surprised that's not more of a selling point among drive-ins, actually.

The Dependable Drive-In just outside of Pittsburgh is not only still running, they've added another screen since 2003. Come early, play frisbee, watch fireflies. As of last year they still had the animated drink and popcorn before the show.
posted by pernoctalian at 1:01 PM on February 18, 2008

What's that LA-area drive-in that you see in all the movies? I never quite bought it as an isolated place to meet various miscreants just because it was so urban and surrounded by a fence. To me a drive-in is on the edge of town with a McDonald's on one side and cornfields on the other. Anyway, of the two we had here one is now a grocery store and the other a trailer park.

My top drive-in movie memory was not going to one, however. It was driving through -- Florida? maybe -- as a kid and just as we passed this drive-in there was a sex scene. I saw boobies.
posted by dhartung at 1:02 PM on February 18, 2008

As a kid growing up in New Guinea we used to go to the Skyline drive-in every Friday night. It didn't matter what was showing. There were frequent friday night nightmares in our house. I remember vividly The Omen, Amityville Horror and Grizzly. I suspect us kids were meant to be sleeping.
posted by mattoxic at 1:23 PM on February 18, 2008

Well, since everyone is sharing their drive-in memories, I might as well add mine to the mix.

My top memory of the drive-in was when I was when I was around five or six years old and my parents paid my two elder brothers (I was the youngest) to take me to the movies to see The Neverending Story. They realised that they could save money if they took me to the drive-in and made me hide on the floor of the back seat under a blanket. I remember hiding and them telling me to be absolutely still because we were about to be checked (with a flashlight) by the entry guard. We made it in. I thought my brothers were so cool.

Until they teased me mercilessly for balling like a baby when the unicorn died in the swamp. Bastards.

I also remember going to the drive-in to see The Adventures of Baron Munchausen with my parents, and me eating popcorn and chocolate in the back. Good times. Glad to see they are enjoying something of a revival at the moment.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:32 PM on February 18, 2008

My earliest memory of the drive-in was being a young kid & going with my parents to see Ringo Starr in Caveman.

By the time we got there, Caveman was sold out and we ended up seeing Jerry Lewis in Hardly Working (worse than can possibly be imagined). I recall staring out the back window at the third feature of the night, this strange black-and-white film by the odd name of Eraserhead. Which I later lost my virginity to.
posted by stinkycheese at 3:50 PM on February 18, 2008

Great post! Item and I willingly make the 40-minute drive to and from our local drive-in and it is the most perfect date option ever. EVER. If I ever become seriously independently wealthy, I would love to own one myself and host bizarre film festivals.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 4:27 PM on February 18, 2008

We are lucky enough to have a drive-in a little over an hour away. (Two, actually, but one is way better than the other.) Besides bringing back happy memories (I saw Star Wars at the drive-in!), it's just the best way to take little kids to the movies. It's dirt cheap. The popcorn has real butter and they have a funnel cake stand. You don't have to constantly remind the kids to stay in their seat and not kick the person in front of them. It's a low stress good time. I can't wait for drive-in season to start again.
posted by jrossi4r at 6:10 PM on February 18, 2008

I miss the drive-in. As a child I liked that people were more expressive at the drive-in, they'd honk and flash their lights and cheer much more than at the movies, so it was more exciting. As a teenager I loved the Dusk Til Dawn marathons and the special shows, like where they'd show The Doors and have a Doors tribute band play, and everyone would get out of their cars and dance. All but one of the drive-ins I used to go to have closed now.

The drive-in was up there with the rollerskating rink and the quarry for fun hang-outs.
posted by goo at 6:23 AM on February 19, 2008

My father would reach around to cover my eyes during nudie scenes at the drive-in.
posted by doctorschlock at 4:51 PM on February 19, 2008

As a kid, the only way I ever saw movies, other than on tv, was at this drive-in.

My dad would never go into a regular theater. He liked his own space. We kids would get in our jammies and pile into the back of the station wagon. After cartoons and the family-oriented movie, the R-rated B-movie would show, in the hopes that all the the kids were asleep by then. The one specific "grownup" movie I recall pretending to be asleep for is 1,000 Convicts and a Woman. At 10 years old, that was quite educational.
posted by The Deej at 7:47 PM on February 19, 2008

When I was ten I saw Jaws at a local drive in theater (the Route 3 drive-in in Rutherford, NJ). It was awesome and magical. But for some reason, despite my pleading, we never returned. Unfortunately a couple of years later it was torn down and replaced with a modern (for the time) 4-plex theater and some shops. :-(

A couple of years ago I decided to check out one of the few remaining drive-ins (this time as an adult) and visited the Warwick Drive-In in Warwick, NY. Although the staff was very friendly and helpful, we were packed like automotive sardines into the field and it was very difficult to find a parking spot (although we had arrived half an hour early). We got a spot at the edge of the field where we were eaten alive by skeeters and were so close to the cars next to us that we almost had to climb out the windows instead of using the doors. After watching the dimly lit movie, partially obscured by a tree branch, munching on $8 french fries and drinking my $5 soda, we had to fight traffic more aggressive than a NYC cabbie convention as we tried to exit the parking lot.

The kids, of course, loved it and we'll be going back this summer. :-)
posted by Lactoso at 9:29 AM on February 20, 2008

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