Are Drive-In Movie Theaters Poised for a Comeback?

Social distancing is easier when an audience is sitting in separate cars.

Skyline Drive-In
The Skyline Drive-In Theater in Barstow, California.
Michael Kilgore/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / May 2, 2020 7:00 am

The fact that movie theaters across the country are temporarily closed has prompted a lot of speculation about what the future of movies and moviegoing might look like. No one is precisely sure what reopened movie theaters will look like: increased spacing between seats? Mandatory masks for the audience? There’s some evidence, though, that at least one aspect of the future of moviegoing will look a lot like an element of its past.

Which is to say that drive-in movie theaters might be ready to make a comeback. In some cases, they never left: depending on where you live, you might have a drive-in a short ride away. But the unique properties of drive-in theaters also makes them an ideal middle ground for people who both enjoy the communal experience of seeing a film and are worried about the spread of COVID-19.

An article at Deadline from early April notes that the vast majority of theaters still open as the nation entered a state of quarantine were drive-ins. More recently, Georgia’s Tiger Drive-In was permitted to remain open when the rest of the state’s theaters were closed — albeit at a reduced capacity. And the Ocala Drive-in, located in Florida, was at one point last month the only theater showing first-run movies in the country.

While the sites of many former drive-ins have been repurposed, that doesn’t mean that new ones can’t arise — whether permanent or temporary. Writing at NJ.com, Allison Pries talked with PJ Windle, the owner of a business looking to bring pop-up drive-in theaters to towns across his home state of New Jersey. Windle supplies the projector and screen, and charges cars $20 to $25 to attend.

It’s the kind of idea that may well take root across the country — and it might bring back one of the bygone charms of going to the movies to a wider audience.

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