Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Movies Businesses

The Death of the American Drive-in 236

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Claire Suddath writes in Businessweek that the number of drive-ins in America has dwindled from over 4,000 in the 1960s to about 360 today. Since Hollywood distributors are expected to stop producing movies in traditional 35 millimeter film by the end of this year and switch entirely to digital, America's last remaining drive-ins — the majority of which are still family-owned and seasonally operated — could soon be gone. 'We have challenges that other movie theaters don't,' says John Vincent, president of United Drive-In Theater Owners Association and the owner of Wellfleet Drive-In in Cape Cod, Mass. 'We have fewer screens and can only show one or two movies a night. Now we have to spend tens of thousands of dollars just to stay in business.' According to Vincent, only 150 drive-ins have converted to digital so far — the other 210 have until the end of the year either to get with the program or go out of business. It may seem silly to fret over the fate of 210 movie theaters whose business model is outdated, even compared with regular movie theaters, but Honda Motor Co. is offering help with a program called 'Project Drive-In.' The car company is planning to give away five digital projectors by the end of the year. Winners will be determined by voting from the public, which can be done online through Sept. 9 at ProjectDriveIn.com. 'Cars and drive-in theaters go hand in hand,' says Alicia Jones, manager of Honda & Acura social marketing, 'and it's our mission to save this slice of Americana that holds such nostalgia for many of us.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Death of the American Drive-in

Comments Filter:
  • http://projectdrivein.com/ [projectdrivein.com]

        502 Bad Gateway

  • No kidding? (Score:5, Funny)

    by newcastlejon ( 1483695 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @08:46AM (#44599485)

    'Cars and drive-in theaters go hand in hand,'

    Someone give her a coconut.

  • by Stumbles ( 602007 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @08:47AM (#44599487)
    were a blast, much more of a social event or rather gathering and just plain fun.
    • Actually, they just built a brand new one in my area. So if it's dead, it sure didn't stop them from spending money to build the place. I been there a few times, brings in more of a crowd than the regular theater here.

      This guy down there, AC, asking about demographics. They were mostly teenagers and parents with young kids in SUVs and I'm early-30's. Is that what you expected or did you expect elderly people? lol.

    • There are three drive-in theaters within reasonable distance of Cincinnati, two of which are using digital projection already. I'm all set.

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      One advantage of drive-ins is that every one I have visited, my last drive-in experience was a couple of years ago, has had a playground for the kids. It reduces the load on the parents when they want to see a real movie.

  • Dude... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @09:10AM (#44599565) Homepage Journal
    Those things were dead when I was a little boy, 30 years ago. I seem to recall running across two or three rotting corpses of drive-in theaters in my travels and have never seen one that didn't look like something that had been through a zombie apocalypse. Drive in theaters were a prop for sitcoms of my parent's generation. You know what I never heard growing up? "Hey! Let's all go to the drive-in theater!" I think mom may have mentioned going to one with her family a couple of times when she was a little girl, and she was a little girl back when we still had military bases in Libya. Saying drive-in theaters are dying is like saying faith in the flat earth is dying. If they were ever healthy, it was over half a century ago. There may be a handful of people trying to keep the games the pilgrims played alive, or writing yn fhe olde ftyle wyth ys for "i"s and fs for "s"s, but that doesn't mean those things are still alive!

    Therefore the headline "The Death of the American Drive-In" comes about 50 years too late. It's not "news" anymore, and it hasn't been for as long as I've been alive.

    • by Tx ( 96709 )

      It's a shame. I've never been to one, I don't think the exist here in the UK, but I can see some reasons why they would be cooler than a standard cinema. My car is much more comfortable than typical cinema seating, and I guess you're not forced to buy overpriced snacks, since I can't see them trying to police what people have in their cars. I guess people dicking around or using their phones would be less of an issue. If they broadcast the audio on an FM channel, so you could use your in-car audio rig to li

      • Re:Dude... (Score:5, Informative)

        by gigne ( 990887 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @09:27AM (#44599627) Homepage Journal

        Dude from the UK here. How the hel would we watch a movie through all the rain?

        • by Tx ( 96709 )

          Good point :).

        • How the hel would we watch a movie through all the rain?

          That and Ofcom was slow to adopt a counterpart to the US's Part 15 rules that allow the theater operator broadcast a movie's sound over micropower FM radio. Only in December 2006 were even personal FM transmitters legalized [ofcom.org.uk].

          • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

            That was a development that came after FM radios were in cars, before 1970 the only FM car radios were aftermarket radios. There were wired speakers hanging from poles that you hung on the car's window. It was the '80s before the FM broadcasts in drive ins started, and they've been around since 1932.

        • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

          With the windshield wipers... er, windscreen wipers, of course. I've done it lots of times. I was working at one the night Armstrong and Aldren too their stroll. [slashdot.org] Business was usually down when it rained, but rain never kept people away like the moon landing did. As chronicled in the linked journal, we had one car, and they came in to the concession stand asking "is there a TV in here?"

          We all watched on my little black and white 12 inch set I'd brought. IIRC the projectionist missed a reel change that night,

          • by gigne ( 990887 )

            nice story. I can't imagine watching a movie with wipers on is a pleasureable experience

    • Last year I went to a drive-in cinema [galaxydrivein.com.au] (the only one in WA though) and it was pretty busy with lots of families setting up camp for the evening. It was a pretty enjoyable experience. (First time for me.) Nice mood all around. We could control the volume and we could even talk if we wanted to. (BTW, my girlie and I did actually watch both the movies from the front seats of the car. Just sayin'.)
    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      Drive in theaters and theaters in general are not popular because for many people the additional cost is not reflected in additional quality and user experience. Four people will cost $80 as opposed to $10 at home. Many movies are targeted to teen and young men as they will pay to take dates to silly movies, not drive ins as they were not raised on it.

      That said implying the outdoor theatre is dead simply because operators are making a rational decision not to invest in their firms is a bit overreaching.

      • Four people will cost $80 as opposed to $10 at home.

        More like $25 to $30, Exclusive of $10 a car promotions.

      • Judging from the comments and my own experiences, your ticket prices are way off. My local one is $8/person, the snack bar is reasonably priced and much cheaper than the local theaters, plus you can bring in whatever you want. I almost forgot to mention, that $8 ticket gets you 2 movies!

    • Those things were dead when I was a little boy, 30 years ago.

      Indeed... as I commented elsewhere in the thread [slashdot.org], Wikipedia claims that they've been in serious decline since their heyday in the late-50s and early-60s, i.e. for the past 50 years!

      Drive-ins are one of those things that people associate with tail-finned cars of the late 50s. Indeed by the early-1970s they were *already* being invoked as a nostalgic symbol of that past era in David Bowie's retro-futuristic Drive-In Saturday [youtube.com]. Listen to the start of the song, which is pure late-50s doo-wop pastiche.

    • I seem to recall running across two or three rotting corpses of drive-in theaters in my travels and have never seen one that didn't look like something that had been through a zombie apocalypse. Drive in theaters were a prop for sitcoms of my parent's generation.

      The successful Drive-In is regional and community oriented: Google Earth Drive-In Theater Map [drive-ins.com]

      Hull's Drive-In [hullsdrivein.com] in Lexington, Virginia (pop. 7,000) is non-profit and digital, purchased for $75,000 in 2000 ---- roughly the cost of single-screen digital projection in 2013. Lexington is a university town, home to VMI

      Locally we have some striking examples of art deco era theatrical restorations. It is a very different experience than the multiplex Not all of them are big city, big budget, projects. The cost of

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      Bring out your dead!
      CUSTOMER: Here's one -- nine pence.
      DRIVE IN: I'm not dead! [google.com]
      MORTICIAN: What?
      CUSTOMER: Nothing -- here's your nine pence.
      DRIVE IN: I'm not dead!
      MORTICIAN: Here -- he says he's not dead!
      CUSTOMER: Yes, he is.
      DRIVE IN I'm not!
      MORTICIAN: He isn't.
      CUSTOMER: Well, he will be soon, he's very ill.
      DRIVE IN I'm g

  • Not dead yet (Score:5, Informative)

    by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @09:12AM (#44599577) Homepage
    A new drive-in [dannyboysdrivein.com] (a mom-n-pop type operation) opened this year in West Michigan, and seems to be doing quite well, and there's a long-standing 4-screen drive-in complex [celebrationcinema.com] (owned by the local cinema chain) – already converted to digital – about an hour away. Meanwhile there's a popular weekly free-movies-in-the-park program in East Grand Rapids. Watching movies outdoors is still pretty popular, so if they're run properly, offering a social experience that people can't get in the living room or crowded into theater rows, there's no reason drive-ins can't stay in business.
  • Insanity (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sponge Bath ( 413667 )
    Poor picture, poor sound, extra traffic headache getting in and out, constant noise and movement from other attendees. The drive-in was never about the film as anything but tinny, poorly reproduced background noise to the party.
    • You should get a better car stereo if you have poor sound. They can't control that. Of course, if your drive-in is one of the tiny handful in the country which didn't convert to FM radio for their audio, then that's a problem... but it's not a problem inherent to drive-ins.

      • Of course, if your drive-in is one of the tiny handful in the country which didn't convert to FM radio for their audio, then that's a problem

        That depends on which country. The UK, for instance, didn't legalize personal FM transmitters until the end of 2006.

        • That depends on which country. The UK, for instance, didn't legalize personal FM transmitters until the end of 2006.

          And they didn't give out low-power licenses for a reduced cost, either? Typical. Guess that's what you get with a Monarchy [theguardian.com].

          • > Guess that's what you get with a Monarchy

            Notice that the Guardian article presents a list of bills, but doesn't make it particularly easy to see their content, nor does it make much of an attempt to show WHY the Queen vetoed them. Dig a little deeper, and the usual theme can be summarized as, "Parliament was attempting to ramrod something that had strong support from the governing Party, but was unpopular with voters".

            The crazy thing about Britain's monarchy is the fact that as a practical matter, the

  • Drive-In Revival (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tmosley ( 996283 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @09:15AM (#44599585)
    At least here in North Texas, there has been a bit of a drive-in revival. Some guy built several of them, and they are really quite nice. So nice, in fact, that any time I want to see a movie, I go to the drive in rather than a regular theater. Their tickets are cheaper, at $6 per person, you always get a double feature (even sometimes one of the movies is garbage), and the snack bar has really good food for the same price you would pay at any other restaurant. Of course, you can bring your own food and drink as well.

    Any drive ins that are struggling are likely mismanaged. They need to look at what the successful ones are doing and mimic them. So long as there aren't competing theaters in smaller towns, they should do just fine.
    • by pongo000 ( 97357 )

      The only one I know of is down I-45 in Garrett. Where are the others?

    • Where are these drive-ins? I know the one out in Granbury is looking for votes from the Project: Drive-in site: http://projectdrivein.com/vote_39 [projectdrivein.com]

      It's a great drive-in, but it's suffering from the exact problem described here. The projector is a bit outdated. I'd love to see it with a new projector and a new FM stereo transmitter.

  • Maybe 15 years ago I went to a drive-in with my grandparents (I was a kid at the time). Their town (a small rural town) had the only drive in theater I had ever seen and I wanted to see what it was like. The picture was terrible and the sound sucked. The experience really wasn't worth repeating.
  • by TomGreenhaw ( 929233 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @09:26AM (#44599621)
    My kids are grown up now, but when they were very young is was a great way for us to see a movie without having to get a baby sitter. Next time you hear a child act up in a theater, think to yourself, gee I wish those parents could take their kid to a drive in.
  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @09:35AM (#44599671)
    Heavy Metal back in 1981 or 1982 when it first came out, back then the war on drugs was not intensified by Ronald Reagan and sneaking a 6 pack of beer and smoking a little weed at the drive-in was no big deal about half the people at the drive-in was doing it

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy_Metal_(film) [wikipedia.org]
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @09:52AM (#44599787)

    The local theatre in our town shows first run movies for about $3 a ticket. (Or about $8/person if you add popcorn and a drink.). Earlier this year we (and everyone else who has a family) chipped in a hundred bucks or so to a $70k kick starter campaign to switch two projectors over to digital. Mission accomplishes -

  • Part of the problem is that they're seasonal in a lot of parts of the country. Who wants to go to a drive-in in the North in the middle of winter? It also occurs to me that cars aren't as convenient for this as they used to be - larger cars, low bench seats up front so you could get several kids up there, plus the people in the back could see over better, more convertibles, etc.

    At the same time, I'd love to see them become more popular again in places with a lot of seasonal visitors, etc. Why? Because peopl

  • this isnt of course something new, as all theaters have experienced marked decreases in attendance. the problem with driveins is they couldnt compare to indoor theater projection quality and audio quality and so were quickly usurped. indoor theater owners in turn sat high on their horses raking in ticket and concession sales while theaters rotted. Todays theater, either outdoor or indoor, cannot compare with the average home theater. plush couches or dedicated recliner seating, audio systems that meet o
    • I love a good drive in but they are few and far between around my current place.

      of course that said I watch more movies ondemand the week after they are released. I pay $4-5 and I get to change which spot I am sitting in during the movie if I want.

      • Another reason for the death of drive-in theaters is because the United States has become increasingly urban.

        Drive-ins work best where open land is plentiful and cheap. You buy one or two acres of useless scrub and throw up a big screen and a few cheaply built structures for the projector and conveniences and you're done. It's a small initial outlay of cash and - more importantly - low maintenance and taxes. And in the 1940s and '50s, when the drive-in was king, enough of the population was out in the count

    • TFA was likely penned by a nostalgic baby boomer. the kind that force nat king cole over the PA systems of every major retailer in november

      Nat King Cole was mainly popular with adult audiences during his heyday of the late-1940s and the 1950s, i.e. mainly the *parents* of the baby-boom generation, and they'll be long-retired (and very elderly if they're still around).

      Unless you were thinking of the second-hand nostalgia that seems to see a lot of 40s and 50s American tracks still associated with Christmas (and which I find cliched and boring- give me Slade any day!)

  • While I sort of share in the nostalgia for drive-ins (I first saw Star Wars at a drive in!), they seem very anachronistic, relying on cars, large amounts of real estate used really inefficiently, etc.

    It makes me wonder, why is there no other innovation in the world of movie theaters? Incorporating good restaurant food, bars, better seating, etc? I can think of one theater with a bar and better food.

  • saw some family movies with parents when I was about six, and certainly not since I was ten. Never had urge to find or drive to one as teen or young adult, nor did any of my friends, though some might have lingered in Chicago area.

  • My local drive in theatre just went digital. All the other local theatres closed for lack of funds to go digital and then reopened when the local population raised the funds to buy them projectors. I am assuming the same thing happened with the drive in.

    I have no problem driving 45 miles to see a movie, especially when it is in a leather reclining seat. Other people didn't like the drive and made sure their local theatre stayed open.

    This is not in a hugely populated area, but upstate NY.
  • squeezing from the movie studios. I know they've been trying to get a cut of concessions for years now, and raising rates on movies in general. It probably doesn't help that it's damn near impossible for a small mom and pop to skirt the law and show stuff without paying full pop anymore. I've heard movies shipping on sealed, tracked DRM'd hard disks with their own network adapter that phones home these days.
  • I actually had a date to a drive-in! Late 1970s to the Skyview Drive-in near Santa Cruz, CA. and even did a little making out. But she thought it all was a "conspiracy" because the movies (they showed two back in those days) was "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and something else. Maybe she thought I was rushing (hey, don't we all young guys do that?) because she had blonde hair and star of that movie the same. oh well, not much happened after that but at least can say for what it's worth I have drive-in e

  • Nothing is forcing a drive-in to show the latest and greatest films. There's 90 years of back catalog to show. Make theme nights.
  • by Hartree ( 191324 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @01:44PM (#44601151)

    It's interesting to see this. the closest drive in to where I live just completed raising the money to go digital through donation drives. (Harvest Moon Drive In, Gibson City, IL).

    There's a lot of the nostalgia factor driving the place, but it's definitely a good time to get a bunch of friends together to go. Set up lawn chairs around the car and kick back. There's usually a good crowd. The weather's the big problem if it rains.

  • They didn't "preselect" the drive-in somewhat near me that I've gone to growing up, instead they selected one ten miles further away as the crow flies, and in the opposite direction.

  • Movie theaters closing because they can't afford to upgrade? Same thing happened when talkies started coming out. In the silent era all you needed was a dark room and a projector -- maybe a piano player. You could practically set up a movie theater in a big living room (assuming you could afford the projector.) But suddenly you needed an expensive sound system wired into the building. Many local theaters went out of business. There were also a lot of stars that could no longer get work. A big all American l

  • by gatzke ( 2977 )

    Anyone near Augusta GA or Columbia SC should check out the big mo. Three screens and apparently going strong!

    http://www.thebigmo.com/ [thebigmo.com]

    Kids activities, good food selection, and double features on each screen. They started talking about the transition years ago, hopefully they will survive.

Been Transferred Lately?