Update: Walmart has announced a drive-in family movie tour at 160 of their locations.
What if you could watch that new blockbuster movie from the comfort of your car?
Is it true that “sooner or later, everything old is new again”? Could the almost extinct drive-in theater of yesteryear be making a comeback in the middle of this new world plague (you say tom-a-to, I say to-mah-to, you say virus, I say plague). [Editor’s note: COVID-19 is not classified as a plague.]
The drive in movie theater business reached their peak in the late 1950s in the United States at about 4,000 theaters. Currently there are only about 330. I’m guessing there are about five within driving distance of my house, and by “driving distance”, I’m being very generous and allowing 250 miles, since Google isn’t much help. Because in it’s infinite Skynet wisdom, it obviously assumes that I can’t possibly want to know about, let alone go to a drive-in movie theater. So it lists about three before it starts sneaking in dollar theaters, which of course haven’t been dollar theaters in years, and then gradually works it’s way to include all of the new ones that only five months ago were touting their multi-seated comfy couches as state of the art in movie going. The very thing that now makes us clutch our masks tightly around our faces with one hand, while fumbling desperately for our hand sanitizer with the other and running and screaming in terror.
Netflix and Hulu and all of the other streaming services are great (if I didn’t name your streaming service, please contact this website for sponsorship opportunities. I can be bought, and I’m looking at you Bezos), but they’re just not the same as going into a theater with a monster screen and sound that just can’t be duplicated in your home. And the popcorn, while never really great, never leaves that burnt popcorn smell throughout your entire house — for three days.
Which brings us back to the lowly drive-in theater. The seating may not be as comfy as the couches in that state of the art LOOK theater, but cars now have reclining seats with lumbar supports, some that are even heated and cooled, and today’s vehicles can seat anywhere from two to seven in standard vehicles. Could taking a “party bus” to the drive-in even become a thing?
Ok, I may have overplayed my hand on the comparative sound part before, but long gone are the days that you have to pull up next to a pole and hang the speaker from that pole on the inside of your window to get a really horrible tinny sound (I think there may still be one of those speakers in my parents garage. I promise Mom and Dad, it was an accident). So if you’ve been to a drive-in theater relatively recently, then you know that the sound is provided through the FM radio of your car. So depending on the sound system in your vehicle, YMMV, but it could be pretty good.
What about “pop-up” drive-in theaters? There’s one near me that apparently has been doing some pretty good business, even during the plague, especially during the plague. It’s actually run by a restaurant with some pretty good space behind their business where they can set up a stage or a big screen and have live shows and show classic movies. I haven’t been yet, but as soon as I can get my mechanic to get my convertible up and running again, it’s something I’m really excited to try. The convertible is optional of course, but obviously way more fun. So it’s the Studio Movie Grill concept of good food (exaggerating that a bit for the SMG folks, IMHO), just outside. No sitting in the potentially plague contaminated couches of mega-theaters, or being sprayed by the spittle of fellow viewers watching the latest rom-com with one of the Ryans (Reynolds, Gosling?).
Of course, there are also things that consenting adults can do in the privacy of their own cars, but please make sure your windows are closed and the darker the tint the better. No one else needs to see that.
So drive-in theaters could possibly save the currently floundering movie industry. Something that is very near and dear to my heart. Or who knows, maybe bring about a new baby boom?