Things we miss and don’t miss about the drive-in theater

At one time there were over 4,000 drive-in theaters in America!

In today’s day and age there are new norms when it comes to watching a movie. You can quite literally kick back, and with a click of a button or two, watch your favorite movie in your living room. As we know, it hasn’t always been that way. Not that long ago, there was no such thing as a streaming service.

Even before movie rental agencies such as Blockbuster and Hollywood Video became popular, there was really only one way to see a new movie while it was still new: Go to a movie theater. While everyone has gone to the theater, there are some who have never been to the drive-in. Just saying the phrase brings on the nostalgia. Often, it was a great change of pace from the regular theater.

Watching movies has gotten so easy over the years, thus driving the nation-wide decline in drive-in theaters. There are about 300 drive-ins still in the United States today, compared to the over 4,000 in the ‘50s and ‘60s! Whether you loved the drive-in, still go or have never been to one, there were pros and cons to putting it in park for a film.

Here are seven reasons we miss drive-ins, and seven reasons we don’t. Let us know, what was your favorite and least favorite aspect about the drive-in theater?

1. We miss: The Cheap Concessions

The perfect popped corn, drizzled with melted butter and covered in salt was all the reason most people needed to get to the drive-in early. Today, this very same reason is why some forego the theater in any capacity, due to the high prices! While at the top of its proverbial game in the ‘50s, drive-in theaters’ cost to get everyone in the car a snack could easily be cheaper than the price of a single movie ticket today!

2. We miss: Being Outside

While going to the drive-in was already a great way to spend a summer night, the fresh air flowing through the rolled down windows could make the experience that much better. Plus, being outside meant you could get out and walk around without feeling trapped or worried that you’ll step on someone from being inside the crowded theater!

3. We miss: Being More Comfortable in the Car

Image credit: AP Image

While it may not be on the same comfort level as being on the couch under a blanket, at least you could be sitting in your own car seat rather than a small, hard-padded movie theater chair. The ability to recline that seat only makes the movie-going experience that much more comfortable! Today, there are plenty of high-end movie theaters with expensive recliners for seats, but back in the day, when theaters were the go-to way to see a film, you had to be prepared to sit in the same position for multiple hours…with no recline!

4. We miss: Setting the Radio Dial

We definitely miss tuning the radio dial to just the right spot so the movie audio comes in crystal clear! With the exception of the relatively few drive-ins left across the country, this mode of finding the audio is all but extinct. Once you had the right FM station, you were ready to enjoy your movie. Something so satisfying about this piece of the drive-in experience is something we wish we could bring back!

5. We miss: Double Features

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Nothing better than two for the price of one! More times than not, double feature movies were included in the price of one ticket! Why only watch one, when you can watch two? It was a great way to spend the whole evening with friends, family or a date!

6. We miss: Avoiding the crowds

While you did have to maneuver the parking area in your car, you really weren’t right next to people like in a normal movie theater. You could stretch out in the comfort of your vehicle and didn’t have to feel pressured to be as quiet. It was great for discussing the plot of the movie with your friends, without annoying everyone sitting next to you!

7. We miss: Sneaking in

Admit it…everyone has tried at some point or another to sneak a snack or drink into the movie theater. Well, at the drive-in, it was way easier for obvious reasons: There were plenty of areas to hide your snacks in the car! Some would be so daring to try to sneak people into the drive-in, through the trunks of their cars! Did you ever sneak into the drive-in?

8. We don’t miss: Doors Slamming

While at a normal theater, viewers can get pretty annoyed if other movie-goers talk or get up a lot. It’s a great reason to avoid going to the theater and opt for the drive-in. However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t ways to disrupt a movie, such as car doors slamming. Depending on how frequently your parking spot neighbors get up to go to the concessions, there could be a lot of “thuds” and car door slams that just might begin to irritate you!

9. We don’t miss: Horn Honking

Honking the horn was commonplace at the drive-in after a movie ended to symbolize the applauding from the viewers. However, it got old when the honking didn’t stop! It wasn’t uncommon to hear the occasional horn at the start and perhaps throughout the second movie of the double feature!

10. We don’t miss: Lack of Drive-in Etiquette

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Perhaps this one became more of a problem as drive-in theaters declined across the nation, but all of us can likely recall a time where a driver got on our nerves, generally over the commonsense aspects of going to the drive-in! Some examples include: Having the lights from the car behind you shine right into your eyes through the rear-view mirror, or leaving the engine running throughout the film, just loud enough so you can’t hear the movie in your own car!

11. We don’t miss: The Drive-In Car Speakers

Pull right up to the pole and grab your speaker to listen to the movie! It was a great idea, but many felt the frustration when the speaker wouldn’t work correctly, the cord was tangled or sometimes, when the speaker wasn’t even there! If you got a working speaker, there’s a good chance the audio wasn’t the clearest, making it difficult to hear the film.

12. We don’t miss: The Car Battery Dying

If you went to the drive-in after the window-speaker era ended and weren’t well-versed in how to prepare, there’s a chance you could get stuck with a dead car battery! Generally you were supposed to keep your car off at the drive-in, but often times had to use your car radio for the movie audio. There you were, fully engaged in the film on the big screen when the audio cuts out and the realization of what just happened sets in. It only took one dead car battery to never forget the portable radio and extra AA batteries again! Don’t forget the jumper cables, just in case!

13. We don’t miss: Getting Stuck in the Mud

Maybe you got lucky and this never happened. For some, getting stuck in the mud after a movie meant one movie-goer in your car had to get out and push while the driver splashed mud all over them! Though likely a rarity for most, be wary of grass parking areas! Did you ever get stuck after a movie?

14. We don’t miss: Traffic in/out

Earlier we said one thing we missed about drive-ins is that you didn’t have to deal with a big crowd...shoulder to shoulder. You did have to navigate traffic, and depending on what new movie you were seeing, the lot could get pretty full! Queue the horn honking and sour looks through the car windows! Some theaters had employees to guide you out in a timely manner. At some locations, it could be a race to the exit!

15. “Let’s all go” to the MeTV Store!

If you’re a drive-in fan, you’ve seen the classic “Let’s All Go” advertisement, for all the must-have concession snacks, countless times! This weekend, make the drive-in your couch with Svengoolie! Check out and shop our brand-new Svengoolie artist collection shirt, with the “Let’s All Go” theme! Click here to head to the MeTV Store!

 
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nightshade 3 months ago
due to a weird hearing problem i had I couldn't watch movies in a theatre for a few years but my first movie memory is sitting in a car seat on top of the car and watching star wars and Halloween in a double feature in Monterrey or close by in 1978
Nala92129 3 months ago
Pul-eeeze! Can we leave that big ham out of this discussion? I remember drive-in movies with much affection!
Lacey 3 months ago
I have been to very few Drive-ins that had AM or FM abilities. The Drive-in speaker was a staple of my experience.
You also forget the one other thing we miss and that is the playground in front of the screen. We could swing so high our feet would cast shadows at the bottom of the "coming attractions."
oneofthesedays1 4 months ago
7/31/22
Worked at Whrenbergh Drive-Ins and indoor theatres in St. Louis while in high school in the late 70's. Still remember those great days 50 years later.
Loved going to the drive-ins then and later on before most were torn down for the greed of money vs family.
Even if this article was not perfect for everyone (what is!), it brought back great memories!!
Thank you.
Lacey oneofthesedays1 3 months ago
I don't know if it was greed as much as the home video boom. We went to the drive-in for the same reason we rented a video for home viewing, it was just more comfortable.
Tyreenia 4 months ago
In my state of eastern KS, near the Missouri border, outside of this town is a drive-in movie theater. It has been there since then 1950s, and is still popular.The screen and speakers have been updated with the current times. As a child and teen of the 1960s and 1970s, my family sometimes went to that theater. One time we watched the movie House of Dark Shadows, and Killer Tomatoes, when new. Sometimes Disney movies were shown. The speakers had good sound. The thing I'd miss now days would be a/c. I don't like indoor movie theaters, don't like that loud blueray technology, alot of loud whooshes in background. I prefer watching a movie on dvd, you tube, or on TCM, at home.Some states still have drive-in theaters, the Midwest seems to have more of them than other states.
bagandwallyfan52 4 months ago
https://youtu.be/jIQn1NA0Dkk
Amy's Theme by Nelson Riddle
And his Orchestra is a beautiful
And Relaxing instrumental.
Lacey bagandwallyfan52 3 months ago
Again, a totally unrelated post.
BradK 4 months ago
How'd they miss THESE things we Miss?...
*Wearing your pajamas to the drive-in
*the PLAYGROUND down front or side, where you could all play waiting for the darkness; eSPECially the death-defying spinning 'merry-go-round!' of death - clinging with all your might to the bars, so you wouldn't hurtle off into oblivion
bagandwallyfan52 4 months ago
https://youtu.be/osVaF4t-zFc
The above Video is the wonderful DUSTY SPRINGFIELD with the great oldies song I
Only Want To Be With You.
Rest In Peace
Dusty Springfield
A wonderful woman &singer
I love this song by DUSTY SPRINGFIELD called I Only
Want To Be With You.
cpcva 4 months ago
The drive in I went to would on occasion have dusk to dawn showings. Usually it would be four or five movies.
Titanic1985 cpcva 4 months ago
I also remember those days. My friends and I went to view all of the 'Planet of the Apes' movies. After which you felt like having a banana split!
Art1957 Titanic1985 4 months ago
At my local theater they advertised this event as "Go Ape For A Day!" lol I went to it with six of my friends and after 7 hours, We did!
CaptainDunsel cpcva 3 months ago
The town I was raised in was so desperate for entertainment that if we'd *had* a drive-in they could have run matinees.
nightshade CaptainDunsel 3 months ago
you know i remember a drive-in that had a setup where you could watch a movie during the day it wasn't really popular but they'd do it for holidays and such
MichaelFields 4 months ago
There is still a Drive in here is Las Vegas, and they still show double features, have 6 screens and it cost $8.50 to see the movie (Double or Single movies they have a few screens that show just one movie) and they do not care if you bring food it, but if you do its alway nice if you buy at least some of theirs. During the winter its too cold thou and during the summer its too hot, so you have about 3 months before and after each time when its perfect time to go
Titanic1985 MichaelFields 4 months ago
I live nine miles from a drive-in theater in Monetta, South Carolina. It is called "The Big Mo" by everyone and is very popular and well maintained. Just a few years ago it was upgraded to digital movies and expanded to three screens.
RichLorn 4 months ago
I miss movie dates with "easy Elaine" Givens.
PaulTakeo 4 months ago
I love cheeseburgers and milk shakes so before heading to the drive-in, I used to go to Jack In The Box or Burger King and buy what I wanted. I placed it where the ticket lady would see it but she never said anything. BTW, I loved watching movies made by American International Pictures.
oneofthesedays1 PaulTakeo 4 months ago
See a list of these great movies from 1959 thru 1970 @ https://m.imdb.com/list/ls066651002/
ruswilinc 4 months ago
We miss The Andy Griffith show, season 6 through 8 because every time we reach the end of season 5 you want to start the series over again. Why do you do that? Maybe we would like to see season 6 through 8 and even Mayberry RFD. The series doesn't have to reset just because Barney left.
PTMER 4 months ago
I remember during intermission, while people were getting snacks at the snack bar, the theater would play music. All cars that were equipped with spotlights, would shine their lights on the blank screen and move to the music that was playing...
We'd ask our dad to join in on the fun, but he would decline, saying that it would put a drain on the car battery...☹️
MissTheOldDays 4 months ago
I really miss going to Drive-ins.
F5Twitster 4 months ago
"Today, this very same reason is why some forego the theater in any capacity, due to the high prices!"

That's FORGO (to pass up), not forego (that which comes after). Pronounced the same, but different spellings and different meanings.

As for

"We don’t miss: The Drive-In Car Speakers

"Pull right up to the pole and grab your speaker to listen to the movie! It was a great idea, but many felt the frustration when the speaker wouldn’t work correctly, the cord was tangled or sometimes, when the speaker wasn’t even there! If you got a working speaker, there’s a good chance the audio wasn’t the clearest, making it difficult to hear the film."

That's nothing; often at the conclusion of the show, drivers would forget the speaker was still attached to the window and just drive off -- till the cord snapped and the window glass broke. Not good for the car, not good for the theater, not good for the driver, who was invariably mortified.
JeffSchafer 4 months ago
What this article gets wrong:

1. We miss: The Cheap Concessions
Concessions are not that high. After saving well over $20 per person for 2 movies, you use that $20 savings (vs indoor theaters) to buy concessions (the only way movie theaters can make enough to stay in business).

5. We miss: Double Features
Many Drive-Ins still have 2 movies for only $8 or $9 per adult. Less for kids.
(It is true that some only have 1 movie.)

8. We don’t miss: Doors Slamming
Not an issue nowadays. Most people stay in their vehicle for the entire movie (some set up lawn chairs in front of their vehicle to be outside while watching the movies)

10. We don’t miss: Lack of Drive-in Etiquette
Not an issue nowadays.

11. We don’t miss: The Drive-In Car Speakers
The author of this article hasn't been to a Drive-In for decades. Drive-Ins had the audio through the radio back in the 1990s.
At that time, you did have to connect a wire to your antenna. Not anymore. It's just like tuning in to a radio station.

You can see the list of Drive-Ins here: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/united-states?page=1&q=Drive-Ins

While some in the southern states are "new", many from the 1950s, 1960s, & 1970s are still operating.

The reason so many Drive-Ins closed was because they had to switch to the digital projector in 2014.
The price of digital projectors Start at $80,000 or more for each one.
Many did not have enough money to buy these.

Honda did sponsor Project Drive-In (2013) where they gave 5 Drive-In theaters with the most votes a new Digital Projectors.
It was so popular, Honda expanded it to 9 Digital Projectors.
Chelly11 4 months ago
There are still two drive-ins open near me in Tennessee!
murphylives 4 months ago
We hated it when we happened to get the last parking spot in the drive-in theater and the idiot parked in the space in front of us kept his foot on the brake pedal on and off through both movies.













AgingDisgracefully 4 months ago
I was a big fan of spillover sound from an adjacent screen.
Ah! The cinema experience!
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