Today, in addition to going to a theater, you can watch a movie on your mobile device, computer or television. Years ago, you could watch a movie from the comfort of your car – at a drive-in theater.
There are still some that yearn for those nostalgic summer nights of the drive-in theater.
From Rise to Demise
There were nearly 5,000 drive-in theaters in the US at their peak in 1958, according to Drive-ins.com. America’s love affair with the automobile contributed to the drive-in. By the late 1990s, there were only about 300. The climate controlled indoor cinemas with their realistic sound combined with more states adopting daylight savings times that shortened the nights and rising land values led to the demise of the outdoor drive-ins.
The first drive-in opened in Camden, New Jersey in 1933 by Richard Hollingshead Jr. as a way to increase his auto parts business, according to Drive-ins. com. Over the next two decades, thousands of other drive-ins, nicknamed “ozoners,” sprouted up across the country. The drive-in craze coincided with drive-in hamburger stands and roadside hotels as more and more Americans hit the road in their beloved cars.
Families enjoyed the drive-ins for their relaxed environment. Parents could take the kids in their pajamas and didn’t have to worry about dressing up. Even the pets could come along.
Drive-ins were sort of their own community where people would arrive early, chat with friends and grill burgers. It was an adventure that was affordable and made for a fun night – an experience that can’t be had at an indoor cinema.
Making a Comeback
Drive-ins had a resurgence in the early 2000s when some shuttered ones reopened. Nostalgia was the driving force, according to the owners. You can’t get a hamburger or play on the grass in front of the screen in an indoor theater, they argued.
Today, the handful of drive-ins that exist are not only a throwback to the nostalgia days but have a few new amenities. Many prepare food, such as burgers and pizza, onsite and even offer some healthy choices.
The Digital Age
The move to digital movie production requiring theaters to purchase digital projectors costing nearly $100,000, are pricing many owners out of business. It costs movie studios about $1000 per film print compared to about $100 per digital copy – so Hollywood isn’t about to cater to those still using film projectors.
Drive-ins Live On
The drive-in theater will always be part of the American culture. Many hope that they will never die and will be around for future generations to enjoy. Check out Drive-ins.com for the nearest drive-in near you.