The 14 Coolest Drive-In Movie Theaters in America

iStock/smodj
iStock/smodj

On June 6, 1933 the first patented drive-in movie theater opened in Camden, New Jersey, and the phenomenon only grew from there. At the peak of their popularity, America was home to approximately 4000 active drive-ins, but that number now hovers around the 355 mark.

The expensive move to digital projection and the rising costs of land hurt a lot of drive-in theater owners, forcing many of them to pack up their snack bars and close up shop. However, much like record stores and independent bookstores, drive-in theaters are in the midst of a comeback—and have upgraded their amenities to appeal to a wider demographic. Stale popcorn and overpriced sodas have been replaced with gourmet meals and alcoholic beverages at some theaters, while others have invested in digital technology. Dogs are welcome at many drive-ins around the country, and some theaters even offer camping facilities, so that your night out doesn't have to end with the credits roll. In many cases, it’s cheaper for a family to spend an evening at the drive-in than it is their local cineplex.

With the summer season upon us, and National Drive-In Movie Day happening on June 6, we've rounded up a list of some of America's coolest drive-ins. What exactly makes them cool, you might be wondering? It’s more than just an attention-grabbing Art Deco sign (though that helps). It’s theaters that offer mini golf, beer gardens, locally sourced foods, a lineup of classic films (not just first-run features), and even a giant potato sitting in the back of a pick-up truck as a landmark. Here are some of our favorite drive-ins across America.

1. Four Brothers Drive-In // Amenia, New York

Generic photo of a car at a drive-in theater
iStock/Darwin Brandis

In 2015, Four Brothers opened in upstate New York, less than two hours from New York City. By mixing modern amenities with retro touches, it redefines what a drive-in can be. From spring to fall they show movies every night. Known as a “boutique theatre,” the drive-in films tend to be family-friendly, but they also sometimes screen “cultural indie films.” On Throwback Thursdays, for example, they screen three films, including one ’80s classic. The drive-in includes an EV charger, food trucks, mini golf, and Hotel Caravana, an airstream moviegoers can rent overnight. The theater's concessions break the mold, too, in serving locally sourced foods and housemade items like rice pudding, salmon burgers, shakes made with Nutella or wine, affogatos, and a full craft cocktail menu.

2. The Mahoning Drive-In Theater // Lehighton, Pennsylvania

Located about 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia, Mahoning’s tagline is “where film never dies”—and they mean it. Instead of showing first-run flicks, they opt to do weekend-long themed festivals. Zombie Fest takes place over three nights and screens cult horror films. (You can camp overnight.) Second Chance Weekend, meanwhile, features critically panned films that deserve a closer look, like pairing Howard the Duck with Masters of the Universe. Bite Night brings 35mm prints of Jaws and Jurassic Park, and July brings Christmas films.

3. Blue Starlite Mini Boutique Drive-In // Austin, Texas and Minturn, Colorado

When the Blue Starlite opened in 2009, it became “the world’s one and only mini urban boutique drive-in movie theater.” They operate two locations: a year-round version in Austin, and a seasonal theater in Colorado. The appeal of the boutique experience is that it creates a sort of intimacy instead of piling hundreds of cars into an abandoned parking lot. Their three areas hold up to 50 cars, or hundreds of pedestrians. They screen “childhood favorites” like the original Star Wars trilogy, and the once held a Burt Reynolds festival. October is usually dedicated to horror films, and December features holiday films.

In 2016, the Starlite expanded to Minturn, a small Colorado town in the Rockies, not far from Vail. At 7898 feet, the Starlite might be the highest drive-in theater in the country. Like its sister theater, it alsos screen classic films, like The Goonies, Back to the Future, and a Grease sing-along while moviegoers eat s’mores and local donuts.

4. Greenville Drive-In Outdoor Cinema // Greenville, New York

The Greenville Drive-in, which is located about two-and-a-half hours from New York City, opened in 1959 but has since evolved with the times. Their snack shack sells locally sourced foods, and the Projectionists’ Beer Garden serves local brews. The double features focus on ‘80s and ‘90s films like Footloose, Dirty Dancing, Office Space, and Dazed and Confused, and they sometimes schedule live music. They say they like to “partner with emerging filmmakers to provide them with a space to screen and discuss their work.”

5. Doc’s Drive-In Theatre // Buda, Texas

In 2018, Doc’s opened in Buda, Texas, which is located about 15 miles southwest of Austin. Doc’s offers gourmet concessions: pretzels with beer cheese, nachos with shredded brisket, chips and salsa, pulled pork sandwiched, fancy hot dogs, waffles, and and on-site bar Mama Merlot’s. The two screens pair first-run films with classics like The Birds, The Breakfast Club, and The Dark Crystal, and some head-scratching combos like Risky Business and The Meg (though we're not complaining).

6. North Bay Mobile Drive-In // Novato, California

In the past decade, a group of people have created what’s known as Mov Mob or guerilla drive-ins in which a “drive-in theater” pop ups at different locations in a city. The North Bay Mobile Drive-In (located about 25 miles north of San Francisco) uses a car to project the movies onto a wall of the shuttered Old Hamilton Theater. They screen free movies every other week, year-round. Most of the films are classics—movies like A Fish Called Wanda, Spaceballs, The Day the Earth Stood Still—and come with a 20-minute pre-show of trailers and cartoons. They also offer concessions and a raffle.

7. Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre // Wellfleet, Massachusetts

The Wellfleet Drive In welcomes its guests to their outdoor theater before the start of their feature movie
iStock/Kirkikis

The Wellfleet Drive-In opened in 1957 and remains Cape Cod’s only drive-in—one where you can at oysters while watching double-feature first-run films. The theater’s located within a complex of a flea market, a mini golf course, and restaurants. In the flea area, you can drink beer, eat breakfast sandwiches, and order soft serve, root beer floats, and hard ice cream from the Dairy Bar. When the summer season is not in full swing, the theater screens lots of retro classics like Beetlejuice and Jaws (which was shot not too far away on Martha's Vineyard).

8. Bengies // Middle River, Maryland

At 52 feet high and 120 feet wide, Bengies boasts the largest outdoor movie theater screen in America. Bengies opened in 1956 near Baltimore and shows triple features on weekends for one price. On Memorial Day weekend, they screen movies from dusk until dawn. The concession menu includes craft sodas, egg rolls, hot dogs, burgers, donuts, cotton candy, and a pickle on a stick. In between movies, they screen classic cartoons and vintage trailers. And while it can get cold in Maryland, they offer in-car heaters so that they can stay open during colder months.

9. Blue Fox Drive-In Theater // Oak Harbor, Washington

Opened in 1959, Blue Fox screens first-run movies but also has a GoKart track that operates on weekends, as well as arcade games. And in 1989, Danny DeVito stopped by. As far as concessions, they offer Philly cheesesteaks, gluten-free items, 50 kinds of candy, and Big Gulp-like mugs of soda aptly named Really Big Mugs. Choose between a 64-ounce or 100-ounce mug; refills are only $3.75.

10. Coyote Drive-In // Fort Worth, Texas

The backdrop for the Coyote, a four-screen drive-in, is downtown Fort Worth—so you have quite the view. The Coyote Canteen features a large menu of pizza, hot dogs, Frito pie, kobe sliders, churros, and an even longer list of wines, ciders, and beers, including local ones. For the kids, they can play at a playground, and adults can have fun in their own playground, which is called a beer patio.

11. Spud Drive-In // Driggs, Idaho

Idaho likes to celebrate its potato-farming heritage, even at the drive-in. The Spud closed in 2011 but is back up up and running again, much to the delight of locals. Located in the rugged Teton Valley, they show first-run movies next to a pick-up truck carrying a giant potato. They sometimes have concerts, and motorcamping.

12. The Swap Shop // Fort Lauderdale, Florida

With 14 screens, The Swap Shop in Fort Lauderdale has the most screens of any drive-in theater in the country, and they have late shows that start at midnight. It’s not only the largest drive-in but it’s also the largest daily flea market in the world. Come to shop but stay to see first-run movies. The drive-in opens every night and screens one movie per ticket—so no double features here.

13. Shankweiler's Drive-In Theater // Orefield, Pennsylvania

What’s cool about Shankweiler’s is that they opened in 1934, making them the state’s first drive-in and the second drive-in theater in the U.S. And unlike the first drive-in, Shankweiler’s is still open—making it the longest operating drive-in in America. They screen first-run movies and vend standard concessions like funnel cakes, ice cream novelties, and BBQ.

14. Falconwood Park Drive-In // Omaha, Nebraska

Falconwood is the Omaha metro area’s last drive-in, which makes it all the more special. Located in a sprawling 26-acre park, the drive-in (or walk-in, as pedestrians are allowed) screens new and old films, including classics like Die Hard and the original The Lion King. During screenings, moviegoers can order from a food truck and a bar. The park offers sand volleyball, badminton, a vintage Ferris wheel, and a rustic lodge. Every summer, the park hosts the Hullabaloo Music Fest. Unfortunately, because of severe flooding, the drive-in season has been delayed. But they should be back on schedule later this summer.

The First Full Trailer for The Crown Season 3 Is Here

Des Willie, Netflix
Des Willie, Netflix

Star Wars obsessives aren't the only people in for a trailer treat today: Nearly two years after the second season of The Crown debuted, the award-winning series about the early days of Queen Elizabeth II's reign is just weeks away from its return. And on Monday morning, Netflix released the first full trailer for The Crown's new season.

While we've known some of the basic details about the new season—like the time frame in which it takes place and that Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies would be taking over the roles of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip—this is the first in-depth glimpse we've gotten at what's in store for season 3.

The role duty plays in the lives of the British royal family appears to be an overarching theme, with the trailer showing the country in distress but each of the characters putting on a smiling face for the public. While Elizabeth and Philip's relationship will continue to take center stage in the pricey period drama, Princess Margaret (now played by Helena Bonham Carter) will struggle with her role of being the Queen's sister. And Prince Charles (Josh O'Connor) will have to choose between his love for Camilla Parker Bowles (played by Killing Eve writer Emerald Fennell) and his duty as the heir apparent to the throne.

Netflix will debut The Crown season 3 on November 17, 2019.

10 Facts About the Beastie Boys's 'Sabotage' Video

Beastie Boys via YouTube
Beastie Boys via YouTube

With their raucous mix of rock and hip-hop, the Beastie Boys were a band everyone could love. They also made killer music videos, and their 1994 video for “Sabotage” is arguably one of the greatest in the history of the medium. Directed by Spike Jonze and inspired by ‘70s cop shows, “Sabotage” finds the Beasties in cheesy suits, wigs, and mustaches, cavorting around L.A. like a bunch of bootleg Starskys and Hutches. If you were alive in the ‘90s, you’ve seen “Sabotage” a million times, but there’s a lot you might not know about this iconic video.

1. It all began with a photo shoot.

Spike Jonze met the Beastie Boys when he photographed them for Dirt magazine in the early 1990s. The band showed up with its own concept. “For years, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz had been talking about doing a photo session as undercover cops—wearing ties and fake mustaches and sitting in a car like we were on a stakeout,” Adam “MCA” Yauch told New York Magazine. Jonze loved the idea so much he tagged along when the Beasties went wig shopping. “Then, while he was taking the pictures, he was wearing this blond wig and mustache the whole time,” Yauch said. “For no apparent reason.” So was born a friendship that begat “Sabotage.”

2. Spike Jonze filmed “Sabotage” without permits.

The Beasties weren’t big fans of high-budget music videos with tons of people on the set. So they asked Jonze to hire a couple of assistants and run the whole production out of a van. “Then we just ran around L.A. without any permits and made everything up as we went along,” MCA told New York. They’re lucky the real cops never showed up.

3. The Beastie Boys did all their own stunt driving.

After binge-watching VHS tapes of The Streets of San Francisco and other ‘70s cop shows, the Beasties knew they needed some sweet chase scenes. “We bought a car that was about to die,” Mike D told Vanity Fair. “We just drove the car ourselves. We almost killed the car a couple of times, but we definitely didn’t come close to killing ourselves.”

4. “Sabotage” inspired the opening sequence of Trainspotting.

Danny Boyle's 1996 film Trainspotting famously opens with Ewan McGregor and his buddies running through the streets of Edinburgh to the tune of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.” In the DVD commentary, Boyle revealed that the scene was inspired by “Sabotage.”

5. Two cameras were harmed in the making of “Sabotage.”

“Sabotage” was supposed to be a low-budget affair—and it would’ve been, had Jonze been a little more careful with his rented cameras. He destroyed a Canon Scoopic when the Ziploc bag he used to protect the camera during an underwater shot proved less than airtight. He apparently told the rental agency the camera stopped working on its own, but he wasn’t as lucky when an Arriflex SR3 fell out of a van window. That cost $84,000, effectively tripling the cost of the video.

6. MCA crashed the stage of the MTV Video Music Awards to protest “Sabotage” being shut out.

At the 1994 MTV VMAs, “Sabotage” was nominated for five awards, including Video of the Year. In one of the great injustices of all time, it lost in all five categories. When R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” won Best Direction, MCA invaded the stage dressed as Nathanial Hörnblowér, his Swiss uncle/filmmaker alter-ego. “Since I was a small boy, I had dreamed that Spike would win this,” MCA said as a confused Michael Stipe looked on. “Now this has happened, and I want to tell everyone this is a farce, and I had the ideas for Star Wars and everything.”

7. There’s a “Sabotage” comic book you can download for free.

After MCA’s death in 2012, artist Derek Langille created a seven-page “Sabotage” comic book in tribute to the fallen musician and filmmaker. You can download it for free here.

8. There’s also a “Sabotage” novel.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Sabotage,” Oakland-based author and Beasties super-fan Jeff Gomez wrote a five-act novel inspired by the video. He spent months researching cop movies and real-life police lingo, and he watched “Sabotage” about 100 times, keeping a detailed spreadsheet of all the action unfolding onscreen. “They created a really great universe, and I just wanted to play around in it for a little bit,” Gomez told PBS.

9. There’s a “Sabotage”/Sesame Street mashup on YouTube.

In 2017, YouTuber Is This How You Go Viral, a.k.a. Adam Schleichkorn, created the video “Sesametage,” a reimagining of “Sabotage” made with edited bits of Sesame Street. It stars Big Bird as himself, The Count as Cochese, and Oscar the Grouch as Bobby, “The Rookie.” Super Grover, Telly, Cookie Monster, and Bert and Ernie also turn up in this hilarious spoof of a spoof.

10. “Sabotage” nearly became a movie—kind of.

Jonze and the Beasties had such a blast making “Sabotage” that they wrote a script for a feature film called We Can Do This. The movie, which they later abandoned, was set to feature MCA in two roles: Sir Stuart Wallace, one of his “Sabotage” characters, and Nathaniel Hörnblowér (whom he portrayed during that 1994 VMAs protest). Jonze told IndieWire the film would’ve been “ridiculous and fun,” which sounds like the understatement of the century. “There were no 1970s cops in it, but it was definitely in the same spirit,” he said.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER