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6 Reasons to Visit a Drive-in this Summer

by Michelle Kratzer

Fun, Movies, Save Money

I wonder if Richard Hollingshead's neighbors thought he was crazy in 1932 when he set up a projector on the hood of his car and nailed a screen to some trees to show a movie in his backyard. But Hollingsworth persisted, believing it could be something great. He tweaked and improved the process, eventually receiving a U.S. Patent for the drive-in theater.

flintstones drive-in
Fred & Wilma got it right.

It took some time for the idea of an outdoor theater to catch on. In the US, the number of drive-in theaters stayed relatively low, until explosive growth from 1945 to 1955, when the number of locations soared to over 4,000.

Over the years, various challenges like increased land prices and consumer access to movies at home, have driven the number of US location back down to just over 300. If you don’t understand what the big deal is, this list will help.


6 Reasons to Visit a Drive-in Theater this Summer


grease drive-in


  • Nostalgia

It's no surprise that nostalgia is a top reason patrons give for going to the drive-in. My relatives grew up going to the drive-in and reminisce about the magic feeling upon hearing the crunch of the gravel beneath their tires and smelling the hamburgers and popcorn at the concession stand.

Teens who were short on cash would cram into the trunk of the car so they wouldn't have to pay for a ticket. Ask your grandma. She’ll tell you. If she’s teeny like my grandma, chances are she’s the one who had to squeeze into the trunk!


  • Reasonable prices

You can't get a better movie deal. Most drive-ins offer a double feature for less than you’d pay for one movie at an indoor theater; and we're not talking 2nd run films. Newly released blockbusters show daily at most drive-ins.


Mr. Crabs Money


  • Updated screens and audio

Early drive-in theaters struggled to find a solution for various sound issues. Ideas like large speakers in the front of the lot badly affected cars in the back of the lot. Rows of speakers were installed in some drive-ins, but those were not a great solution either. Finally, in 1941, in-car speakers with individual volume controls were introduced. It is all much easier today. You simply tune in to an FM station for the audio broadcast.

Movie studios shook the industry when they switched from 35-millimeter film to digital equipment, forcing drive-ins to upgrade to digital or get left behind. Drive-ins struggled to purchase the $70,000 projectors so that their patrons could enjoy digital quality in the great outdoors.


  • Family-friendly

A few of the early drive-in owners realized the value that their theaters provided to families, and capitalized on the kid-friendly environment. Philip Smith, a visionary who owned 25 theaters, invited parents to bring their kids at no extra charge. Drive-in inventor Richard Hollingshead advertised his drive-in theater with the slogan, "The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are."


kids playgroundDabbin' at the drive-in!


The family-friendly environment rules drive-ins to this day. Most drive-ins come fully equipped with playgrounds, swings and merry-go-rounds. A few offer miniature railroads, miniature golf and video games.


  • Come as you are

The privacy that comes with a visit to the drive-ins means that comfort is king. Kids show up in their jammies, ready to watch a movie and fall asleep cuddling next to mom or dad...or in some places, the dog! 

PJ Dance Party - available now at your local drive-in.
Fresh Air

Not much can rival an expansive sky lit up with stars and a great movie. Have hyper children? That's ok. Just open the car door, stretch your legs and get the wiggles out!


A few suggestions: it may be warm, but bring a blanket to get cozy if the weather changes. Sleeping bags work well and can double as cushions. Check beforehand to see if the theater and concession stand only accept cash so you aren't stuck just smelling the yummy treats, and you can actually purchase them. Bring a working radio with extra batteries and a flashlight.

kid car

Hop in the car & come on down!

So, find your nearest drive-in on this handy map and hop in the car. Bring your kids and your grandma and let the multi generational bonding begin. Something so simple can make memories that last a lifetime.

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