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.

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

Harry Potter Fans Are Waiting 10 Hours or More to Ride Hagrid’s Roller Coaster

Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando

Muggles will do anything to be a part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Universal Orlando opened up its newest ride this week at its version of Hogsmeade, the village that surrounds Hogwarts castle. Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure takes wannabe wizards and witches on a twisting, high-speed flight through the mystical Forbidden Forest.

Diehard fans began waiting overnight outside the park in anticipation of the ride, and it looks like just about everyone had the same idea. At 8:30 a.m. on opening day, the line was already eight hours long, and quickly stretched to 10 hours long by 10:30 a.m., CNN reports.

The line is worth the wait for many fans of the franchise. As Potterheads already know, Rubeus Hagrid, beloved friend of Harry Potter and the gang, has a special affinity for mysterious creatures. So who better to see the beasts of the forest with than the half-giant?

Participants on the ride can choose to sit in Hagrid’s sidecar or in the driver’s seat. The winding track includes appearances by some of our favorite wizards, like Arthur Weasley, and creatures benevolent and otherwise, such as Cornish pixies, massive spiders, and the three-headed dog, Fluffy.

Fans aren’t the only ones wanting to experience the ride. Some of the stars of the film series had a little reunion in Orlando this week to celebrate the opening, including Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) and Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood).

Unlike the fans, however, they have magic (fame) to keep them from having to wait in 10-hour lines.

Happy riding, Potterheads!

[h/t CNN]

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