Drive-In Movies – Reviving the 1960s


Movies are projected from the top of this building

Drive-In theaters are movie theaters where you can park your car in front of a huge screen on which a movie is projected and watch it from your car. Some Drive-In theater companies also have cafes that sell snacks and soda which will often be brought right to your car window. The first Drive-In Theater was created in the 1930s in New Jersey. The popularity of this culture peaked in the late 1950s and early 1960s and died out after that with the advent for modern technology and soaring land prices. Mid 2000s saw the revival of these Drive-In theaters.

Different movie screens

Today, there are a bunch of active Drive-In theaters across the country. We visited the Capitol Drive-In in San Jose, California. They have 6 screens, each showing a double feature i.e for an adult ticket price of $6.75 you get to see 2 movies back to back. The double feature combination for each screen is pre-determined and you are not allowed to drive your car to another screen after the first movie (though I think I saw a couple of cars doing that).

Buying Tickets

This was our first Drive-In movie experience and we were celebrating my birthday with this unique movie night experience. We chose the double feature combination of ‘Expendables’ and ‘Inception’. The first movie started playing at 8:30pm and the second one at 10:30pm. By the time we got home, it was 2am.

Drive-In Movie Theater

You can drive up to the main entrance and buy tickets right from inside your car. The attendant at the ticket counter will direct you to drive up to your screen and tell you the FM channel you need to tune into, for the audio of the movie you are watching. The quality (both audio and video) was really very good!

The Snack Bar

You are allowed to bring your own food into the theatre. We had some snacks and water with us, but we also bought food from the theater’s snack bar which sells hot dogs, popcorn, sodas, ice cream and Mexican food like Tacos and Quesadillas.

I would have loved to see better signage leading to each of the 6 screen lots. It was especially hard to find our way to the exit at the end of the movie night. In each lot, there are rows of cars. The rows towards the back have an incline for the front wheels so that you have an unobstructed view of the screen. Bigger trucks, vans and tall cars need to park in the last rows. Headlights need to be turned off so as not to disturb the public.

Some of the screens were very close to each other and the constant movement on nearby screens was distracting. Also, there were a few large lights far behind the screen but right in front of you which can be annoying as well. However, you will get used to the distractions and will easily ignore them as you get engrossed in the movie.

Tips for a great Drive-In experience:

  1. Get there early for prime car parking.
  2. Have a clean windshield. It helps.
  3. Roll up your windows to block out all noise from outside. But I did have the windows down for a while as the insides of the panes had begun to fog up and found that the noise from outside wasn’t a big deal really.
  4. Bringing your own food is a cheaper option.
  5. Bring a blanket to snuggle in on a cool night.
  6. If like me, you are bothered about the screens playing in the next lots, bring something to cover the side windows. I was bothered a little by movement on the nearby big screen caught by the corner of my eye!

Drive-In theatres do have the following advantages over conventional movie theatres:

  • Car seats have more room and can recline better
  • I can actually talk to my companion in a non-hushed voice during the movie and not attract the hostility of other viewers
  • Great alternative for parents with young children
  • You can watch the movie snuggled in a blanket in whatever pose to choose to adopt

Although I had an awesome first experience, I don’t see why I couldn’t create the same experience using my recliner couch, some junk food, a blanket and our large screen at home. The only things I would miss out on are brand new movies (not yet released in DVD/BluRay) and the fresh air!

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