Here’s Why Drive-In Movie Theaters Are Thriving During the Pandemic

By Rosunnara RothLast Updated Sep 16, 2020 1:21:44 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: J. R. Eyerman/Life Magazine/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Tired of Netflix? You aren’t alone, but escaping the house still requires some caution due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, some companies and individuals came up with a creative idea to help people safely enjoy a night out: drive-in theaters. That’s right — outdoor movie venues are no longer a thing of the past. They’re a fun answer to the problem — at least for the foreseeable future. Even as theaters and concert venues reopen, drive-ins have a lot to offer people who are feeling stir-crazy but also uncomfortable about going out in public while the virus is still spreading. 

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Some drive-ins that have opened up have even worked to upgrade the cinema experience by offering more than the chance to watch great movies. Concerts and other outings provide extra entertainment opportunities at select locations. These venues serve as a refreshing reminder that social distancing doesn’t have to be boring, and you can still go out with friends if you take the right approach. Ready to say goodbye to your couch and say hello to fun at the drive-in? Here’s a deeper look at how drive-ins are thriving during the pandemic.

Drive-In Theaters Have New Tricks Up Their Sleeves

For some movie lovers, the old-fashioned drive-in experience wouldn’t cut it anymore, even in desperate times. This is where the brand-new experience comes in. Several revamped drive-in locations offer movies and a view, which makes it harder to pass up. For instance, Skyline Drive-In NYC provides patrons a movie with the lovely Manhattan skyline in the backdrop. It’s not a mundane NYC skyline either; it’s a popular filming location for well-known companies like SNL and Converse.

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Photo Courtesy: Skyline Drive-In NYC

When it comes to food, some drive-ins are turning to fancy food trucks and onsite culinary options that far exceed the appeal of popcorn and candy. At Lefty’s Alley and Eats, you can order crab wontons or bruschetta as an appetizer and move on to an entree like roasted frenched chicken breast or crab cake sando — all while enjoying a great movie.

Some aspects of the outdoor cinema experience are the same, but there are some subtle changes. Many drive-ins have modified their ticket purchasing process, for example, requiring all tickets to be purchased online through the company’s website or Facebook page. However, you have to be quick at many locations. Tickets are in hot demand and sometimes sell out in minutes.

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One problem business owners still face for now is access to brand-new movies. Without the permission of movie studios, drive-ins can’t show the latest flicks, but this situation has already started to improve with new film releases picking back up at the end of August. Older movies like Jurassic Park, Grease and Dirty Dancing have done well in drive-ins through the summer, so we may see a blend of new, old and recent movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Mary Poppins Returns playing at drive-ins moving forward.

Welcome to Drive-In Concerts

For those who love music but are a little sick of social media live concerts, businesses have found an innovative solution to your problem: drive-in concerts. Germany got the trend started by hosting a few drive-in rave concerts with all the works — DJ performances, lasers, smoke, special effects and dancers (wearing masks, of course). Although people aren’t allowed to get out of their cars to dance and mingle, they can party inside them and even honk to the music.

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Photo Courtesy: Hauke-Christian Dittrich/picture alliance/Getty Images

In the U.S., many music artists have jumped on the bandwagon and hosted small drive-in shows. One of the most popular stars to jump on this trend is country singer Keith Urban, who surprised fans in Tennessee with a spontaneous drive-in concert in May. That’s not all — the singer dedicated the show to front-line medical workers.

How Are Drive-Ins Keeping Customers Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Besides requiring online ticket sales, business owners have implemented other safety and social distancing measures to ensure everyone safely enjoys the entertainment. Most drive-ins have the same set of regulations, such as requiring patrons to stay in their cars, except to use the restroom. If you leave your car, you must wear a face mask, and each car must be parked 10 to 20 feet away from the next car. Some venues stagger car spots, so everyone can easily view the movie screen or performance. Also, only a certain number of people are allowed in the restroom at one time. Of course, you can expect a few troublemakers who don’t want to follow the new rules, but you can also expect those customers to be kicked out.

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Photo Courtesy: Dasril Roszandi/NurPhoto/Getty Images

If you’re wondering about food and drinks, many venues are trying to keep the experience contact-free by encouraging patrons to bring their own snacks and beverages to give both customers and workers peace of mind during the pandemic. However, those who want snacks at some locations can order items online for contact-less car delivery or pick up. For instance, food trucks at Miami’s Carflix Cinemas deliver food to customers’ vehicles while they watch outdoor movies. Houston’s Rooftop Cinema Club allows customers to pre-order food and drinks online for onsite pickup.

Thanks to drive-ins, people have the chance to leave their homes and have some fun together (while still apart) during these challenging times. How’s that for some movie magic?

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