Great family fun: Why did drive-ins die out?

So for the first movie, the backseat flipped up so the bottom part supported your back. We swapped places and passed around popcorn and candy.

So for the first movie, the backseat flipped up so the bottom part supported your back. We swapped places and passed around popcorn and candy.

For the second movie, we flipped the seats under the and kids used the floor like a bed. Lilina played on the iPad for a while and then fell asleep. She didn't like the "Star Trek" feature.

For the second movie, we flipped the seats under the and kids used the floor like a bed. Lilina played on the iPad for a while and then fell asleep. She didn't like the "Star Trek" feature.

We visited San Diego last week for a few days at the beach and ended up going to a double feature at a local drive-in theater one night. The kids had never been to a drive-in before, and we had a great time.

They were showing “Epic” around 8:30 p.m. as the early show and then “Star Trek Into the Darkness” at 10:25 p.m. Walsh really wanted to see the new “Star Trek” movie and we figured the 6-year-old would fall asleep during it and wouldn’t be scared. (I liked “Star Trek” even better at the drive-in than I did at the IMAX 3D.)

So we saw two movies for $23. (Adults were $7 a person and it was $3 each for the kids.) We brought in our own popcorn, candy and drinks. (I’m not sure on the economics of it — is that not enough money to support keeping up the projectors, the screens and paying to get the movies from the distributors? It did seem like a deal, but there’s very little overhead with an empty parking lot.)

The back seats on our mini-van could be switched out two different ways. We watched the first feature with the seats flipped up so the bottom of the seats became the back and the backs were under your legs. We also brought a couple of lawn chairs for outside the car. For the second movie, we made the seat disappear and the kids just laid flat on the ground. The 6-year-old did fall asleep partially through “Star Trek” as predicted.

I really liked that you could talk, gasp, exclaim and be fairly loud at a drive-in without bothering anyone else. You could cuddle up, switch seats and let the kids move around. I liked bringing in my own food, and I liked that the 6-year-old could just lay down and fall asleep when she was ready.

The sound comes through your FM stereo so if you go, you have to crank your car like every 30 minutes for a few minutes to make sure your battery doesn’t die.

So why did drive-ins die out if they are such great family fun? Here’s a theory and some stats from a travel site on AOL.com.

From the Gadling.com:

“It’s one of the icons of American civilization, combining Hollywood with car culture. The drive-in movie theater was once a mainstay of every American city, and plenty of small rural towns too. In the 1950s there were more than 4,000 of them. They were a place for families to enjoy a night out together, and for teenagers to be initiated into the games of adulthood.”

“Now the drive-in theater has fallen on hard times. According to The United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, there are currently only 366 drive-ins in the United States with a total of 606 screens. The states with the most theaters are Pennsylvania (33) and Ohio (31). Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii and Louisiana sadly have no drive-ins. Many other states are in a precarious position with only one or two.”

Competition from cable TV and movie rentals along with rising real estate costs have seriously hurt the drive-in theater industry, yet it clings to life. It’s gone from that great American hero – the success story – to that other great American hero – the underdog.

The first drive-in opened in New Jersey in 1933 and the idea soon caught on. Their heyday came in the economic boom years of the 1950s and ’60s. They began to feel the pinch in the 1970s with the spread of more TV channels. With VCRs and cable TV becoming popular in the late 1970s and early ’80s, things got even worse.”

My family used to go when I was a kid. I remember seeing “Freaky Friday” with Jodie Foster.  I went to one probably 20 years ago that was off of I-85. But I think the only drive-in left in Atlanta is the Starlight Six Drive-in off of Moreland Avenue. Has anyone been to the Moreland Avenue one? How’s the crowd? Is it too boisterous or a nice mix?

Have you been to a drive-in lately? Have your kids ever gone? Would you go to the Moreland Avenue one? What are your tips and tricks for going to the drive-in? (I saw a lot of families with a plan – with coolers, blankets, footrests, all kinds of things.)

31 comments Add your comment

motherjanegoose

June 10th, 2013
11:09 pm

We took our kids to see MY DOG SKIP years ago in Florida. It was a lot of fun. They were small and thought it was awesome that we could go to a 10:00 p.m. movie. Good Memories! Sometimes they put a sheet up in our neighborhood, by the clubhouse, and show movies at night. TWG they used to have pool movies at the Squaw Peak Hilton. A fun water park too. Did you ever check it out?

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

June 10th, 2013
11:27 pm

Pool movies are very fun! They do those in Lilburn a bunch. We actually have a projector and we show from our pool as well — We did Tin Tin last year — very fun!

Pool movies have kind of become the new drive-in.

FCM

June 11th, 2013
5:26 am

No I dont want to watch a movie in my car. Pool or screen on the green are fun. We have done those. Movie theaters gained prominence because they added air conditioning. At the time most homes centra central air. going to the theater in the hot summer was a good way to syay cool. That is why movie houses did good business over drive ins.

Mother of 2

June 11th, 2013
6:14 am

I grew up going to the drive in. However, I lived in New England, so it wasn’t operational all year round. I think you can only find them in nicer climates.

It’s my understanding that movie theaters don’t make much, if any, money off ticket sales. Their profits come from concessions. Perhaps this is one reason why drive in movies can’t make it. Also, they seem to play movies that have left the theaters, so their audiences are somewhat limited. Theaters can show movies any time of day or night, whereas drive ins can only show a limited number due to the need for darkness. I think they only work in touristy areas where people take their kids for nostalgia.

Beck

June 11th, 2013
6:28 am

The one here on Moreland has first-run movies for prices about the same as the one Theresa describes and they have a concession stand, so you can bring your own or pay for theirs.

ssidawg

June 11th, 2013
6:42 am

We love the drive-in in Jesup. Pile up in the back of the truck, buy a bunch of junk food from the concession stand, settle in for the movie. It’s a lot of fun!

Litt

June 11th, 2013
7:24 am

Sadly drive-ins will be forced out of existence in short order. It was recently announced that starting this year that film prints of new releases will no longer be distributed in the U.S.

NeverAgain

June 11th, 2013
7:32 am

I’ve been to the Starlite on Moreland a number of times, but we won’t go again– ever since the murder there (http://m.ajc.com/news/news/crime-law/starlight-drive-in-shooter-sentenced-to-life-plus-/nXkpK/) it just hasn’t felt safe to me. It is a shame because I love the drive in!

FCM

June 11th, 2013
7:42 am

@ Litt why can’t a drive in move to digital?

I am sticking with my $1.75 movie place. They even upgraded the seats, painted the outside and I am hopeful they will redo the bathrooms soon too. We saw Oz there a week or so back and it was fabulous.

Lyric is doing Joesph and the Technicolor Dream Coat at the old Strand Theater off Marietta Square. The old theaters can be repurposed. In fact I think the Strand housed a church for awhile.

I just don’t see why a drive couldn’t either. Though granted, they are subject to the elements and are not centrally located, they need a great deal of open space (most current theaters share a lot with other businesses). Box theaters make more sense. However with the prices of the tix (and yes the concessions where they make their money) more and more folks are stayng home.

Which makes me wonder, since I have one getting close to a dating age, with dinner and movie easily around $50 or more; just what (besides making out/or other non wanted comments) are teens able to afford to do when they date?

Becky

June 11th, 2013
7:52 am

Loved going to the drive in when I was growing up and our two love going now..There is one in Blueridge that we usually go to at least once during the summer..Sadly this year that won’t happen as both are in FL. with their parents and the girl says that she wants to stay with them..Real heartbreaker for me..

@MJG..We love that movie..We have the movie and the book..

FCM

June 11th, 2013
8:09 am

Becky I am hoping to in Blue Ridge on Friday. Depends on the weather and if the U pick is open or not :)

Techmom

June 11th, 2013
8:10 am

One murder isn’t enough to keep us away from Starlight. It’s in a shady part of town to say the least but it wasn’t a random murder (like the Colorado massacre that happened IN a theater!) Once you’re inside Starlight it’s fine. That being said, we don’t go to scary movies or movies that might attract a seedier crowd and tend to stick with the comedies or family movies.

@FCM – my son rarely takes his girlfriend to dinner and the movies. Sometimes when they go, they’ll each pay for their own movies and he’ll pay for dinner. It’s not cheap!

FCM

June 11th, 2013
8:11 am

No Movies Will Be Shown on June 19th and 20th due to the filming of “Need For Speed” on site at the Swan Drive In. We will not be open to the public those 2 nights

FCM

June 11th, 2013
8:15 am

@ Techmom that is wat I was wondering about. What do they do (loiter at a mall?) for a “date” these days.

My oldest is 13 so it is a bit off still. I plan to re-work the basement “playroom” into a tween/teen hang out while they are with their Dad this summer. Not sure what all that will entail. Am hoping it will encouarge them/their friends to want to hang out down there as they grow into the “mixed groups” hanging together step.

DB

June 11th, 2013
8:19 am

@FCM: What do teens do when they date? They go to the mall and hang out, they buy their movie tickets at Costco, they go to school events, they go to friends’ parties (CALL AHEAD OF TIME, just sayin’), they go roller skating, ice skating, they go out and eat sushi, they come back to the house and watch a DVD or Netflix, they go to music festivals, they go to the neighborhood pool, they go to Whitewater/Six Flags, they go to trivia nights at local restaurants and go to karaoke nights at others, Dave & Busters is popular, putt-putt/mini-golf is classic, picnics, Fernbank, special exhibits at the High, concerts, tennis, golf, Zoo Atlanta, tubing, cooking dinner together . . . the list goes on . . .

Sk8ing Momma

June 11th, 2013
8:19 am

We love going to the drive-in. Thankfully, Atlanta has one that is not too far from our home. We usually send out a blast email to our friends to let them know we’re going and ask for everyone who is available to meet. We typically end up with 5 – 10 families meeting! It’s always a good time.

One reason I’m guessing that most drive-ins have gone the way of the dinosaur is that the cost of the real estate is more valuable if repurposed or sold….Just my $.02!

Sk8ing Momma

June 11th, 2013
8:21 am

One more thing…We don’t sit in our car/truck to watch movies at the drive-in. We take our chairs and do it tailgate style. If we take our pick up truck, the kids take their sleeping bags and pile in the back. They LOVE it!

Sunny

June 11th, 2013
8:21 am

I love the Starlight Drive-In. We get there early and make a fun day of it, we set up the grill and have a cook out prior to the movie. The kids are allowed to run around and burn energy, then relax once the movie begins. Also, Starlight has recently converted to digital movies which have a great picture.

FCM

June 11th, 2013
8:22 am

@ DB…honestly never thought about any of those. Like I said this is a bit further up the path, but then texting with boys (as opposed to just girls) just started this summer. I do appreciate your insight.

Deanna

June 11th, 2013
9:31 am

When you leave the back door of your vehicle open like you have pictured there, the people parked behind you can’t see. Just a note for future trips!

cobbmom

June 11th, 2013
9:35 am

A double feature drive in is located near my parent’s home. We have been several times and enjoyed it. Theresa is correct that you can converse with your car mates without disturbing others and take in your own food, but nothing homemade equals movie theater popcorn. You can play the movie as loudly or quietly as you want, even turn down the sound for the loud action scenes. Just make sure to clean the bugs off your windshield before you go!

Techmom

June 11th, 2013
10:27 am

We bring a radio instead of using our car speakers- much better sound.

@FCM – they hang out at friends’ houses mostly. We live south of town in the burbs so while they go to Atlanta on occasion, they mostly just hang out around here. There aren’t a lot of “fun” things around here (no putt-putt, ice skating, zoo, Dave & Busters, etc.) They do a lot of stuff at school during the year and during the summer it usually consists of hopping between each other’s houses and pools.

We have an unfinished basement and let our son turn it into a hang out space. Most weekends we have a group here who grills hamburgers and plays ping pong, sits around a fire and just hangs out. I’m actually thinking I’ll remind him about drive in and see if he wants to get a group to go.

jarvis

June 11th, 2013
11:05 am

It’s been 20 years for me. Went to the old Twin Drive In on 85 right after I graduated from high school.

Movie was terrible, but we found managed to fight off our bordem. I’d deem my last drive-in experience a success.

Beck

June 11th, 2013
12:09 pm

NeverAgain –

If you avoid all the places where crime happens, you’ll end up never leaving the house.

jarvis

June 11th, 2013
12:29 pm

@Beck, until you’re killed in a home invasion.

beth

June 11th, 2013
12:40 pm

I LOVE LOVE LOVE Drive ins. We grew up going to the drive in regularly in Ohio. And every year, when we go back to visit, we load my kids and all the cousins (and there are alot) and go to the drive in. SO MUCH FUN!

Starlight is intriguing but I can’t in good conscience take my kids down to a bad area of town after dark to go to see a movie. The risk just isn’t worth it to me.

I don’t know why drive ins went away. I guess when the idea of a indoor mall movie theaters came about, they were the new hot thing. But they are nowhere near as fun as a drive in. I was re-introduced to the drive in when I was in my mid 20s and living in Washington State. The town we lived in had a drive in that was PACKED every Saturday night with everyone from families, to teens, to couples in their 20s. It was fun. I’m grateful I can still share the experience with my kids, even if it’s only once a year in Ohio.

jmb

June 11th, 2013
1:23 pm

FCM – is there a lake around you for them to go to? We live on the water and at any given time my kids had 3-5 kids over jumping off the dock and floating around. Our lake has tons of beaches and most the kids around here hang out there. On topic – I’ve often thought about how much I miss the drive-in. My ex and I use to go every Saturday until they sold the land and built some ugly apartments on it. Like the other poster said, they consume a lot of property and with taxes and overhead they most likely don’t show any profits.

MatthewH

June 11th, 2013
1:28 pm

The drive-in here in Virginia (Goochland Drive-In) is 100% Digital and does not allow you to bring in outside food. They state very clerly on their web site that the only way to make money is through concessions. Nothing at the concesion stand is priced over $3.75, so that’s good. I still don’t know how they can tell if you are bringing food in.
They also show first run movies-for instance Man of Steel is playing there this week-end.

zachs mom

June 11th, 2013
9:14 pm

We have one in North GA in Tiger….good family fun!

KittyDuran

June 12th, 2013
8:09 pm

Lots of drive-ins in Ohio – one just a few miles away from me. And it just went digital! Like MatthewH in VA our local drive-in plays first run movies. You can bring in outside food but you have to buy a food voucher to use at the concession stand. Does great business in the summer (obviously) but stays open for select showings in the other seasons. They have an annual Halloween triple feature and a New Years Eve party.