The family would pile in the car on Saturday night, with a packed cooler of goodies (because you didn’t want to pay concession stand prices). There would be a playground in the front of the huge screen. There would be one or two cartoons before the featured film. Mom and dad would slouch in the front seat so the kids in the back could see the screen. If no car was using the speaker beside you, you could have one for the front seat and one for the back seat. Drive-in movie theaters were a family fun night.
Or you were taking your best girl to see the latest horror movie because you knew that, if you were watching the movie, she’d get scared and hang on tightly to you. Maybe she would like to climb in the back seat to… socialize with you. Drive-in movie theaters were a fun place to start a family.
Drive-in Movies History
On June 6, 1933, Richard M. Hollingshead from Camden, New Jersey realized his dream, opening the first drive-in movie theater. The featured film was titled: “Wife Beware”. He had spent a long time developing the idea, beginning with a sheet, a radio, and a projector in his back yard. He considered every possible foreseeable problem, and ironed them out. The idea was a success!
By 1942, there were ninety-five drive-in movie theaters across the United States. In 1958, that number exploded to almost 5,000. Theaters would host Open Houses to teach customers about the parking, speaker systems, and concessions. They included playgrounds, fireworks, talent shows, boat rides, pony rides, and animal shows.
In Copiague, New York was a famous drive-in theater experience. On 28 acres, a shuttle train would transport customers from their cars to various locations on the grounds. It had 2,500 parking spaces, and indoor 1,200 seat viewing room, a playground, a cafeteria, and a full-service restaurant.
During the ’60’s, popularity started to dwindle. Theaters began specializing in certain types of movies to attempt to appeal to specific audiences. For example, some drive-in movie theaters showed family-oriented films, whereas some others featured films with teen appeal. Some theaters specialized in “adult” movies (the now-defunct “Rated X”). Throughout the ’70’s, drive-in movie theaters were closing down faster than new ones were opening.
With the onset of cable TV and video rentals, combined with the affordability of first-run films, the drive-ins were becoming extinct. By the early 1980’s, nearly 1,000 drive-in theaters stood vacant, empty lots across the U.S.
In 2007, Ohio had the greatest number of drive-ins than any other state, 31. As of 2010, there were fewer than 500 drive-in movie theaters remaining in operation in America. Though they will never see the popularity of the past, there has been a resurgence of interest in recent years. Perhaps some people just didn’t want to lose that piece of Americana.