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The Drive-In Theater In The Modern World

Bradley Brownell July 24, 2012 Reviews 37 Comments

To provide a little back story, I am a child of the now generation. I just turned the tick of the clock that marks a quarter century. I didn’t get to live the “glory days” that everyone is always talking about, and prior to a few weeks ago, had never been to a drive-in theater. I had an unrepresentatively poor experience, but that’s no reason that I can’t complain about it as though I were as curmudgeonly as my Grandfather. Car guys are supposed to love the drive-in, right? Hit the jump to get my opinion on in-car big screen movie going.

I consider myself a pop-culture whore. I am always indulging in television, cinema, music, and the goings on of the interwebs. By always, I mean… ALWAYS. I have grown up with the swift advent of technological influence in the quality of these medium. I can still remember going to a movie theater where the mechanical tickety-thrum of a reel-to-reel projector was commonplace. It is not a fond memory, mind you, but a memory none-the-less. Call me jaded, but once I had experienced the wonder that is digital projection, I had no desire to go back to the old-timey film projectors. The same goes for dolby digital surround, what a glorious sound.

On July 3rd, my girlfriend and I packed into our Mazda 3, and headed for the local drive in to see The Amazing Spiderman. As a huge nerd, and an Emma Stone fan (only the blind aren’t), I had been looking forward to the film for quite some time. What was supposed to be a grandiosely romanticized experience was an utter ruin of a night. There were several reasons for this, and I will now list many, if not all, of them.

1. The visual quality of the film was not quality. High definition exists for a reason. I got glasses for a reason. I have no desire to see this fuzzy stuff anymore. Besides, the projector man clearly had no business running the thing, as it kept getting out of alignment with the top half on the bottom and the bottom half on the top. Truly annoying.

2. I had to pay for my own food. We brought in a package of strawberries and a couple of sodas to enjoy with the film. It cost us 5 extra dollars to enjoy our own 3 dollars worth of food.

3. It was entirely too hot, and a Mazda’s HVAC is not built to cope with a double feature length idling. The A/C did little beyond fog the windscreen enough that it was even more difficult to see.

4. The sound of the film was almost as bad as the visual definition. High fidelity, this was not. The little bullet speakers you close up in your window are worthless. These pot-metal speaker pods looked straight out of the Korean War era, and sounded like the tinny garbage they looked like.

5. It was the night before the 4th of July. I’m not normally anti-patriotic, but in this case I make an exception. We didn’t win our independence on the 3rd of July, and just because you have to drag your lazy ass to work on the 5th of July is no excuse to celebrate a day early. Your fireworks are ruining my movie, dammit. (You kids gettoffah my lawn!) I don’t have to worry about ambient light in a dark theater (Unless the jack-wagon in front of my is on their iPhone the whole time… That is inexcusable behavior as well.)

6. While I realize that this is probably not representative of most drive-in going experiences, the very worst part of our trip was again caused by the doped-up moron running the projector. Most people count to four by going “1-2-3-4”. This mouth-breathing minger was evidently taught to count 1-3-2-4, because that’s the order he put our film reels in when he spliced them together. It became completely obvious that this had occurred, to everyone except those running the place, when Peter Parker walked into OzCorp in one scene, and then 10 seconds later was shown flying through the streets on magical spider webbing, and Uncle Ben was already dead (oh, spoilers…). Wait, WTF?

Regardless of the fact that if any of these individual items would have happened at a normal theater, I would have been upset, the fact that I leave a double feature feeling like I have just been on a 5 hour road trip is bad enough for me. Compound that with the fact that I haven’t actually gone anywhere, and it’s even worse.

I’m glad the drive in is dead.  

These people are probably having a terrible time.

Maybe I just had a bad experience because I wasn’t making out in the back seat like almost everyone else. Yeah, that’s probably it.


  • You don't go to the drive in to see the movie. Duh.

    • Optix_truf

      Exactly. You borrow dads Suburban, fold down the rear seats, throw a mattress in and leave the doors open until the mosquitoes come out, or your date ask you to shut them. So she can show you her famous ping pong ball trick. You have to pay extra for that, though.

      <img src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_aBdZg_bZJPA/TOwGY83iyeI/AAAAAAAAAQU/yD4SdebU1FU/s1600/28530018.JPG&quot; width="600">

      • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat


        Or, if you're lucky, your first vehicle is a passenger van. Friday afternoon, remove the rear seats, done.

  • I'm lucky. I am old enough to have a history of great drive-in experiences to fall back on. I distinctly remember seeing Born Free at the drive-in in 1966, at the tender age of three. I am also lucky that I live close to what is possibly the greatest, most professionally run drive-in still operating:

    <img src="https://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/462767_424794704221853_909427980_o.jpg&quot; width="512">
    The Boulevard Drive-In in Kansas City, KS — the first drive-in to ever have digital DTS sound through your car radio AND through the field speakers. The only other ingredients you need are a pickup bed and a clear September night, just cool enough that you'll need to pull out the blankets for the second feature.

    Here are the links for the locals:

  • Backing into a drive-in space is THE thing I want a Brat for.
    <img src="http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/1/1006/761/2512880055_large.jpg&quot; width="480">

  • safetystephen

    Drive-In dead? No. Sounds like you might have had a better time eating fruit and practicing abstinence while watching something randomly plucked from the Redbox.

  • Devin

    Last time I was at a drive in was way back when Marky Mark Italian Job was out, and it was pretty great.

    1- You got your pick of triple feature, they had two screens. It wasn't very expensive either, and one of the movies was also first run (and one of the movies was invariably crap, but that's neither here nor there. I saw Marci X!)

    2- It didn't use the speaker post, instead going with an FM setup over your car stereo. It sounded pretty good as I recall.

    3- The guy running the projector was competent, and the quality was generally pretty good. Also, the screen was bigger than a lot of regular theaters.

    Unfortunately that drive-in is now a truck parking lot, but back when it was operating it was a pretty good way to go to the movies. It eventually failed because there wasn't enough money in it for a new buyer, and the old owner retired. It's probably tied to why the drive-in you went to kinda sucked, there's not enough money to get good help or pay to upgrade the tech.

    • "I saw Marci X!"

      That's it, let it out. Just let it out. Learn to heal.

      • Devin

        I think I might have got a downvote because I reminded someone that Marci X exists.

  • JayP2112

    My last drive in was Porky's. The movie houses wouldn't show it because it was too 'racy'.
    There's one close to DFW but last time I passed it, they were showing crap. Like current movies.
    I wanna see Two Lane Blacktop or Vanishing Point or Road Warrior.

    Mazda 3. Now there's your problem.
    <img src="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_CG0Iz7lsAiU/SOJU2IPfSJI/AAAAAAAAAV4/-NHprBE0jR4/s320/the+good+times+van.jpg&quot; width="400">
    <img src="http://robertb99.tripod.com/73torino18.jpg&quot; width="400">
    <img src="http://world-viewer.com/data_images/ford-ltd-country-squire/ford-ltd-country-squire-11.jpg&quot; width="400">

    • "My last drive in was Porky's. The movie houses wouldn't show it because it was too 'racy'."

      As a kid, the local drive-in used to run x-rated porno movies. The kids on my street hatched a plan to hide out in the woods on the other side of the fence, but it never happened. The theater was about 5 miles away and we all had 10PM curfews; the raunchy movies usually started right about then.

    • Most of my drive-in experiences were as a kid in Dad's '67 Chrysler Newport or later on, Mom's '69 Vista Cruiser. Both absolutely perfect drive-in platforms.

  • dukeisduke

    The Galaxy Drive-In down in Ennis (also home of the Texas Motorplex dragstrip) offers restored hang-on speakers, or DTS sound through your FM radio:

    • JayP2112

      Have you heard of the theater being built in FtWorth? I just did a search and found this… http://www.nbcdfw.com/the-scene/events/Drive-In-T

      They planned for a Memorial Day opening, then July… so ?????

      • taborj

        I'm not in Texas, but this intrigues me. A new drive-in? Yes please!

        Unfortunately, the company appears quite silent. Even their website, http://www.coyotetheaters.com/, is pretty blank and offers no useful info.

        Their Twitter feed, however, shows signs of life (http://twitter.com/coyotetheaters). On June 29th, they say that the site was turned over to them and construction was to begin the following week. I'm guessing that means the hazardous materials cleanup project ran long (shocking).

        • JayP2112

          I hope this make it thru. I'll be there as much as I can!
          If they allow clubs or marques, they are gold. The DFW area is ripe with car culture.

          I see real possibility with this.

      • dukeisduke

        I hadn't hear of that. They have an FB page, and they have picture from July 2nd, taken in Ohio, where the trusses for Screen #1 are being built. Sounds like they're just behind schedule. Shame they're going to miss the summer season.

      • dukeisduke

        They have an FB page, and they said on June 29th that the site had just been turned over to them, to begin building. They also have a picture of trusses for Screen #1, at a factory in Ohio.

        • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

          Dude, did Nibbles follow you over here?

  • dukeisduke

    In the last photo, the cars look to be wearing British number plates, and some are RHD. Hmmmm…

  • I live about an hour from two very different drive-in theaters. To my south is the big 6 screen job in Atlanta. This one is surrounded by razor wire and to say it is in a bad neighborhood is an understatement. The other one is about an hour north. It is in the small town of Blueridge. A couple of years ago my wife had been bugging me to go to the drive in to see a movie. (I'm married I don't need to go to the drive in for anything other than seeing the movie.) We went to the drive-in in Blueridge. It was nice, they didn't even have the little speakers, everything was broadcast on FM radio. She insisted we take the Z3 at the time. It had about one working speaker and would not be a comfortable place to sit for 2+ hours. So I stuff a couple of folding chairs and a small cheap boom box in the back. We saw Tansformers 2. enough people around us were blasting their stereos loud enough sound wasn't too much of an issue. They didn't charge to bring in food. We have talked about going back, since this is probably the only way we can both see a movie with our 1 year old without a baby sitter.

    I saw Star Wars in 1977 at the drive in.

    • OA5599

      Not to talk you out of a trip to the drive in, but a lot of theaters offer special showings for families with diaper-aged babies. When my kid was that age, there was one weekday screening so the stay-at-home moms didn't have to stay at home, and another showing on Saturday morning so working parents could enjoy a film, too.

      • Those seem to be geared more towards stay at home moms, not couples. "The first Tuesday of every month at noon" doesn't really fit into my schedule. We have pretty crazy schedules right now anyways. My wife works at a driving school (the teach teenagers to drive type, not the fun type) in the afternoon/evenings and on Saturdays. I have flex time at work and usually work 7-4 or so. She works 4:30 to 9:30 or so in the summer.

        • OA5599

          Well, we did the Saturday morning ones as a family, but my wife and I were both off of work that day of the week. Your wife's late shift is definitely a complicating factor.

  • taborj

    I'll echo what others have said or alluded to — it sounds like your experience with a drive-in was horrible, and almost everything that you hated about it was related to that particular drive-in at that particular location. The phrase "don't judge a book by it's cover"? Yeah, that's for this. Also, don't judge a book by the first dozen pages or so.

    Solution? Come to Oregon. Visit the 99W drive-in (http://www.99w.com) in Newberg. The sound is FM sound over your car's stereo, no restrictions on what food you can bring (their FAQ actually gives you directions to the nearest grocery stores, which is actually within walking distance), the guy running the projector is the son of the guy who built the place, and also the owner, so he knows his stuff. Plus, he's a really nice guy to chat about movies and things with.

    And finally, it's Oregon, so your windshield wipers are more important than your A/C (although this time of year, you won't need either, just roll down the windows and enjoy the perfect night air).

  • There's a drive in theater in South San Diego near my parents that is absolutely thriving. There's often a line to get in all the way to the freeway. All of the land around it has been built up over the years, but it's still going strong.

    I haven't been there in several years, but I should some time.

    <img src="http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4061/4518956469_04eeb7c7d6.jpg"&gt;

  • MVEilenstein

    We had a wonderful drive-in theater in Everett that closed in 2010, when those bastards at Swedish tore it down to build a hospital. $20 to see a double- or triple-feature, car stereo audio, and great weather made for a great time. Sorry you had a bad experience, Bradley, but that's not really a reason to lambaste one of the great American pop culture icons. You are a pop culture whore, so you should know that.

  • McQueen

    The drive-in theater I frequent is just passed the drag strip, Friday night is free run what ya brung, then off to the movie. The only complaint I have is up here at 11pm its still lite out, but Momma don't mind 😉

  • Maymar

    I grew up about ten minutes from a drive-in in the Toronto area that's still pretty thriving (as in there's a lineup to get in every weekend), and for the most part, I like it a lot – it's the same price as the local cineplex (with an extra movie or two thrown in free), we can bring our own food free of charge, and I don't have to worry about other jackasses talking (or I can carry on a conversation if I like). Granted, several hours trying to stretch out in a compact car isn't ideal – I might finally clear out the trunk next time I go and take advantage of driving a hatchback.

  • zsvdkhnorc

    The vehicle was your biggest mistake. If you drive modern car like that for a couple hours, you feel like you've had a roadtrip. If you drive an American full-size car, the full-size from before the downsizing in the 70s, for a couple hours, then feel as though you've been sitting on the sofa in your living room watching a long film or, if you're the driver, playing a video game. It's a whole different experience for your backside.

    For what it's worth, the sound can go out in an ordinary theater, and nobody would get up to tell the management.

    And from way out in left field, if only that nutjob in Colorado tried that at a drive in, he'd've been flattened. Road rage? A car is a deadly weapon.

  • It's a bit of a cruise but there's a pretty good drive-in in North Olmstead you might want to check out.

  • domino_vitali

    i always wondered what it would be like to go to the drive-in. we used to have a few around Detroit, and my friends used to go with dates. i go to movies alone, if i see them in the theater, so i doubt the drive-in would be fun by myself. Woodward Avenue, on the other hand… 🙂

  • Froggmann_

    Wow, sounds like you did the trifecta of wrong. Wrong car, wrong audio delivery and wrong drive in. Personally, I think the drive-in is the best movie experience you can have. The one I go to (Van Buren Drive-in IN RIverside, CA) It costs $7 to get in for a double feature of a first-run and a recently run movie. You can bring in your own buffet if you really cared to. Even if you decided to get food there it's of a p[pretty good value. For instance, you can get 2 sodas a damned good carne asada burrito and a tub of popcorn for less than a couple of sodas and popcorn at a walk-in. As for sound, it's FM, you tune your radio to it and if you have a good sound system you can really enjoy the movie. Plus you can actually adjust the sound unlike a walk-in where you leave with your ears bleeding. Lastly, I take the biggest most comfortable vehicle I can, my Bronco. With the removal of the rear seat and the latches removed I can get a queen sized air mattress in the back of that thing. Makes for a rather comfortable place to watch the movie and a good place to pass the time during the slow parts of the movie. Speaking of which I need to find some new anti-squeak pads…

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