Netflix, Hulu, HBOGo, SlingTV, and so much more has crowded our television screens with whatever we want, whenever we want. Streaming channels are a good go-to, but they don't have what a drive-in theatre has: magic.
Imagine you're sitting in the backseat of the family van, you and your siblings are in your favorite pair of pajamas (and Mom never lets you wear your pajamas outside), and you're using streetlights to help you see while you play another GameBoy game. Then, you smell it. The popcorn, the candy, all of it. You see the biggest outdoor screen you've ever seen and perhaps you're thinking you're in heaven. And maybe you are.
That's the nostalgic feeling at drive-in movie theatres, and that's exactly what they are selling. At least, that's what Pam Friend, sole projector at the Star Drive-In Theatre, believes in.
"Not only are we selling nostalgia, it is a gathering for the family to spend quality time together, and that is so lacking in our society,” Friend says, “and we really need more of that."
And trust us, she knows what she's talking about! She's been at the Star Drive-In Theatre since she was a baby. While her parents built up the business, she slept in a side room safely and soundly. The Star Drive-In Theatre is one of the oldest drive-in theatres, and 2019 marks its 70th year running. The first movie to play there was a western called The Younger Brothers, and admission was only 50 cents for adults and nine cents for kids.
Courtesy of Mesa Drive-In Facebook
Of course, a lot has changed since then. Today, you would normally pay $9-$10 per person, which isn’t bad considering you’re paying to see two to three movies in one night. Kids under 12 are usually free and senior and military discounts are almost always available across the board.
Keeping prices affordable and low are important to drive-ins. Just ask the good people at 88 Drive-In in Commerce City, Colorado. “We have fought Hollywood's demand for higher ticket prices, and so far, we are winning! How? You! Our customers. As long as you keep coming to the 88 Drive-in Theatre, the movie companies will allow us to keep low ticket prices!”
At the height of popularity in the 1950s, there were more than 4,000 drive-in movie theatres across America. People would flood the drive-ins for a good time and four hours of fun. Drive-ins even played important roles in movies. Remember how America’s bad boy, Danny Zuko, sang his heart out for Sandy? Danny sang his melancholic song at a drive-in theatre.
Courtesy of Giphy
Today, there are less than 300 and nine are left active in Colorado:
• Best Western Movie Manor: Monte Vista
• Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In Theater: Minturn
• Comanche Drive-In: Buena Vista
• Denver Mart Drive-In: Denver
• 88 Drive-In: Commerce City
• Holiday Twin: Fort Collins
• Mesa Drive-In: Pueblo
• Star Drive-In: Montrose
• Tru Vu Drive-In: Delta
So, what happened?
Take the Starlite Drive-In in Sterling, Colorado, for example. They shut their doors for good in 2014 due to rising costs of keeping the doors open. “It was around 100,000 to get one of the screens going,” Todd Allen says. “We really tried to keep it going, but it’s hard.”
Most drive-in movie theatres are privately or family-owned. If there was real money to be made in it, big movie companies would have their own hands in drive-ins. With the rising costs of land, equipment, and the drop in attendance, drive-in theatres can’t seem to keep up with the changing times.
At the Star Drive-In, they faced near closure due to an equipment update. Friend recalls 10 years ago when the drive-in needed a “clean room” for the new digital equipment. And again, the cost was roughly $100,000. The cost ended up being covered by family and public donations.
There is hope yet still for drive-in theatres. After the Starlite shut down, the Denver Mart Drive-In was built in the downtown area so the magic could be kept alive. Although they are not in their 60th or 70th year running, they’re still happy to be here. The owner of the Denver Mart just built it because he loves drive-ins so much.
And what’s not to love? A cool summer night enjoying two movies with a group of pals or family. Your truck bed has that sick air mattress and thick blankets. Your lawn chairs have cup holders for your drink of choice. Two movies play as you watch them under the stars in the fresh air, not disturbed by any pesky cell phone users right next to you.
That’s a slice of American pie worth saving. Do you remember any good times at a local drive-in theatre? Share your memories down below!