Farewell to the dying drive-in

There are only 368 left in the US, and a few close every year. But there is hope for the ones that can survive.

By Kim Peterson Aug 27, 2012 3:58PM
Credit: © H. Mark Weidman Photography/Alamy
Caption: Dusk view of drive-in movie theater, Kane, Pennsylvania I have fond memories of going to the drive-in as a child, watching movies in my pajamas in the back of the family pick-up truck. The crackly speaker, the dusty snack bar and the awesome talking hot dog commercials made for a special movie night.

But drive-in movies are a relic for much of the country. There are only 368 left in the U.S., and a few close every year. The Drive-Ins.com website chronicles the state of these theaters across the country. In Arizona, for example, only two theaters remain out of 50.

Family movie night is now streamed in high-def to living rooms. At theater chains like Regal Entertainment Group (RGC), Cinemark (CNK) and Carmike (CKEC), the closest thing to nostalgia is a remake of the "A-Team." Now, it's all about 3-D and the inflated ticket prices those movies bring.

But those high ticket prices are actually doing favors for the drive-ins that still exist. One Los Angeles area drive-in only charges $7 for adults and $1 for children, The New York Times reports. And you can bring your own food. That has helped some drive-ins increase revenue as families seek more affordable entertainment.

One drive-in chain in California told the Times that its 2011 ticket and snack bar revenue rose 43% from three years earlier.

Drive-ins will continue to close every year, but there is hope for the ones that can stand up to the allure of multiplexes. Some are installing digital projectors and other technologies and have replaced the old speakers with a radio frequency system. They're serving better food and doing more to cater to children.

But for many families, the idea of piling into the car for an outdoor movie night is a thing of the past.

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Tags: RGC
Aug 28, 2012 9:26AM

My wife and I still prefer Drive-Ins. Nobody shooting up the places either. The ones that survive should bring back the special pay one price for the whole car load. That was always a big booster for profits 40 years ago.


One of the biggest benefits of drive ins it that you never have to hear a moron with a cell phone, or listen to someone's dim witted children talk during the movie.


I don't go to movies much because of those 2 factors. People are just too rude to be around anymore.

Aug 27, 2012 10:36PM
I live in a town that has a Drive-In. They were told that they will no longer be able to get the old fashoioned reels that they use to view movies on the big screen. As a little girl, my mom (a movie buff) took me to see Grease, Star Wars when they first came out. She has died ( at 57) but I have taken my own children to see the double features. Now, the Star Drive-In has to come up with $100,000 to upgrade their systems or shut down nest year. Sad, they have a website hoping for donations to help stay open. The name of this town is Montrose Colorado (81401). Anyone interested in saving the Drive-In look it up. Every Tuesday is Car load night-$12 each. Plus, they give out $2 bills and 50 cent pieces as part of the change you receive after payment at the gate. You can either listen on an AM frequency or the old speakers on the window to the movie. Its wanderful. throw out a blanket or turn down a tailgate.
Aug 27, 2012 10:11PM

we here in Tulsa Okla recently help rebuild our Admirial Twin drive in after fire destroyed it. It is a part of our City


Aug 28, 2012 11:47AM
With all the spam on this page (Microsoft you need to do something about this ) it brings back found memories of the drive-in, steamed up windows, beer and perfecting the one hand snap release. Being a teenager in the 60's did have some great moments as long as you didn't get that nasty letter from the draft board.
Aug 28, 2012 2:18PM
Tore ours down and turned it into a Wal-Mart Super Center of all things. Youth of today don't realize what they've missed out on
Aug 28, 2012 7:45AM
Ours closed a couple of years ago. The owner of the property is trying to sell the land with the stipulation that it can't be used as a drive-in because they don't want competition for the other theaters in the area they own. So far they don't have any takers as those who want to buy it want to re-open the drive in. Everything is still intact and it's been sad to see it shuttered. They should have continued to run it until the property sold but as Redmic mentioned movies are now in digital format and I'm guessing the owners didn't want to spend the money for digital projectors. I've been going since I was child and would have continued to go until I was on deaths door. I miss it.
Aug 27, 2012 10:01PM
There was an article or tv show that just said they are making a comeback, as usual conflicting reports.
Aug 28, 2012 3:20PM

I forgot to mention one aspect of the drive-in that you can't do in an indoor theater. We would make out in the car, sometimes the movie was just an excuse for fooling around. For my girlfriend and I it was the only place we could get away for a little experimentation in the back seat. Those were the days, I learned a lot about the opposite sex. Got smacked once in a while for overstepping my bounds but it sure was fun when she allowed me to go farther than expected.


Aug 28, 2012 1:39PM
As the great Drive-In Movie Reviewer Joe Bob Briggs has said forever, "The Drive-In Will Never Die".  I would add, it lives within the hearts of us who appreciate the distraction of B movies where we can count the number of morts and bare breasts while sharing a cooler of beers and necking with your honey.  Why yes, it is an American tradition, and we have an obligation to help preserve this institution.
Aug 28, 2012 3:50PM

For those of us who grew up in the 50's and 60's, the Drive Ins holds special memories. Because of the way cars were back then (no middle console), should I say, we got very close to our dates.  A lot of young people didn't see a lot of the movie as the windows were usually fogged -up. Many parents did not let their kids take the family car to the Drive In as they heard all the kids did was "make out" in the cars during the movies. The good old days with the big front and back seats - if you know what I mean.


Back in those days you would hide friends in the truck or have them lay down on the floor of the backseat and cover them with a blacket so you won't have to pay form them.

Aug 28, 2012 11:40AM

There is a drive-in in Beaufort, SC.  We go whenever we visit family there.  I love it because it brings back memories of when my sisters, brother & I would pile into the back of the family station wagon to go to the drive-in in Algiers (New Orleans), LA.  We would be in our pajamas, Mom would bring dinner or snacks and if someone got sleepy, we would have our pillows.  Now in Beaufort, we get to take our baby grandaughter without worrying about whether she will disturb anyone else.  Best kind of family fun!

Aug 28, 2012 11:52AM
Mark my words. Drive-ins will make a comeback. Don't want to get shot up in some indoor movie theater. FAMILY TIME! (MOTHER IN-LAW CAN STAY HOME)
Aug 28, 2012 10:46AM
I miss the drive in's!!!! 
I can remember going as a kid, we would get a bucket of chicken or some hamburgers load up the car with friends and family and go watch a movie.  We would take our lawn chairs, blankets and cooler and have a GREAT evening outside in the warm summer night.

Our family lives in a semi rural community and we have NOT been to a movie theater for at least 8 YEARS and we have no intention of EVER GOING TO ONE AGAIN!!!

Sure with they would build some NEW drive ins though!!  they could put them at the back side of a Sonic Drive in and then you could have the best of both worlds!!!!!!!
Aug 28, 2012 4:37PM
Drive in movies were so much fun when I was a kid. I HATE to see them go!
Aug 28, 2012 4:25PM
The Ute Drive-In back in my teenage years was the bomb! Wednesday nights were 3 bucks a carload and as many coolers as you had room for! My girlfriend had a hug cadillac (its name was "wings")and at least 12 people could fit in that thing. The drive-in is gone but the memories are still there...and I must have watched Saturday Night Fever at least 17 times at the drive-in with my friends and my mom! "Wheres everybody going? To the snack bar for piping hot pizza!!!" There were no commercials, just ads for the great food awaiting you inside the snack bar. Pizza, popcorn, sodas and ice cream bars on a hot summer night, it didnt get any better. I miss it and wish our kids had the opportunity to experience our teenage years. Bless all of us that had the chance!
Aug 28, 2012 3:20PM
The REO, IN drive is still going strong and so are we. Saw the new batman movie there a few weeks ago.  Our fav is to stop by the Chinese restaurant, go through the buffet, weight our take out, and eat great chinese before the movie starts. Hell I even get to smoke a cigar outside the Terrain  while drinking a rolling rock. It does not get any better than that, and admission is only $8. Long live the drive in.
Aug 28, 2012 3:10PM

In my youth a Drive-in theater was the best way to see a movie. Your appearance didn't matter because no one saw you. We would have parties as a teenager, just bring a lawn chair. No air conditioning in summer, no heat in winter yet we had a blast. Now I'm in my mid 50's and would never consider going to a drive-in but the memories will remain. They may be dying out but I'll always have a fondness for them.

Aug 28, 2012 11:13AM
i guess i'm lucky there are 2 drive ins located within 20 minutes of my home the 1 is a singe screen the other 1 has 5 and depending on what you want to see you get 2 or 3 movies for $6.50 per adult and $2.00 per child its great to still be able to keep the family tradition up with my son to take him to these great places
Aug 28, 2012 10:30AM
fond memories of the drive in love it.
Aug 28, 2012 10:58AM

I used t go often..


...they played MOVIES??????    ;-)


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