Drive-In Movie Nostalgia: Our Personal Tips If You Plan To Visit A Drive-In Movie Theater

by Lynnette

Movies & TV, z1

If your idea of a drive-in is SONIC, then you need to read this. This is how old I was when drive in movies were the thing to do back in the day and Tiger Beat Magazine was the hottest teen magazine around!

It’s time to take a step back in time. My first drive-in movie was with my MOM (circa 1976) and we went to see the double-feature: “Ode To Billy Joe” and “Return To Macon County“. I was about 10. But I remember it like it was yesterday… (From that day forward, Robby Benson posters from Tiger Beat magazine lined the walls of my room!)

The only other time I went to a drive-in was in college when I saw the double-feature: “Soapdish” and “Beetlejuice“. That one was with a date… not a great date… not great movies.

Fast-forward to present day…

drive in cinema for a triple feature

Jim and I went to a drive-in movie the other night. We had a blast, and we learned a few things about drive-in movie theaters at the same time!


Drive-In Movie Theaters: Making A Comeback

drive in movie old time speaker polesFirst, to give you an idea of the rise and fall of drive-in theaters through the years, consider the fact that Tennessee alone has gone from a high of 112 drive-ins (1958) to an all-time low of only 14 (1999).

Fortunately today, drive-ins are starting to make a comeback. There are approximately 17 drive-ins currently open in Tennessee, and every so often you hear of another one that someone decided to fix up and open back up again. (…we love ya man!)

I guess everything old IS new again… if you wait long enough!

As a tribute to what was good and now is gone… check out the MANY Tennessee Drive-Ins that are no longer with us! (…or search “open” or “closed” drive-ins in any state)

Here’s an entire list of Tennessee Drive-Ins.


Why Go To A Drive-In?

Truth is, drive-ins are known for being:

  • A low-cost form of entertainment for the whole family.
  • A nostalgic activity — like a blast from the past.
  • A great and unique idea for dates.
  • A way to enjoy the great outdoors.
  • The closest thing to being at home watching a movie.
  • Yet another fun thing to do in a convertible.
  • One of life’s simple pleasures you can still enjoy.

I think there are 2 main factors at play here, which will serve to increase the number of drive-in theaters across the country:

1. Everyone’s enjoying this whole “retro” style right now… from the clothes we’re wearing to the games we’re playing and the way we’re decorating our homes. Today, it’s “cool” to take a step back in time!

2. A less expensive option to the outrageously priced movie theaters… aside from the fact that movies in theaters are getting so darned EXPENSIVE, people are seeking enhanced movie-going experiences these days. Who can afford to take the entire family to a movie these days? Depending on where you live, movie theater ticket prices range from $8.00-$11.00 (per person), while drive-in theater ticket prices are only $5.00-$6.50… and that’s usually for a double-feature!

Drive-ins are America’s answer to “family entertainment on a budget”.Big Mo... the Monetta drive in movie theater near Aiken, South Carolina.


Great Things About Drive-Ins

In case you’re thinking that today’s drive-ins are only showing “old” or “out-dated” movies… consider the fact that MOST drive-ins are showing current releases; the two of us saw two movies (“The Wedding Crashers” and “Red Eye”) for only $12 total.

We also took in a Big & Nasty burger and fries (I mean Big & Tasty!) for our pre-show entertainment, some M&M’s for dessert (which also provided another source of entertainment), and we purchased some classic movie-theater buttered popcorn and soda at the concession stand. Mmmmmm… What a great date!

pink cadillac drive-in theater - where we brought hot food and m&ms for a great date  we brought our own food to the drive in movie for a great date

Here are some other great things about drive in movies:

  • Double Features: You (almost always) get a double-feature… that’s two movies for LESS than the price of one in a “regular” theater.
  • Bring Your Own Food: You get to bring in your own pre-popped popcorn, candies and drinks — or even a Big Mac if you like!
  • Kids Get In FREE: Kids (usually) get in FREE (check the drive in theater before arriving).
  • No Noise To Distract You: You don’t have to worry about crying babies or ringing cell phones (yours or someone else’s) because everyone’s in their own car and the speakers drone out any “extraneous sounds”.
  • No Drive In Speakers: You don’t have to put those awkward, clunky speakers on your window anymore… these days you simply tune your radio to a set station.
  • You Can Smoke: While I’m not in favor of smoking, those who smoke will appreciate the fact that you can puff till your heart’s content at the drive in theater.
  • You Have Your Own Space: You’re not squeezed into one room with a few hundred of your closest friends (as in a “regular” theater) with people talking through the whole movie.


A Review Of Our Experience At The Pink Cadillac Drive-In

Jim’s take: “You go to a drive-in for the atmosphere and the novelty of it. It’s a great date, but probably not the best way to see a movie you’ve had your heart set on seeing.”

pink cadillac drive-in movie theater - clarksville, tennessee

the small drive-in screens that have weathered years of abuse in the great outdoors don’t even come close to matching the quality of today’s multi-story projection screens found at “regular” movie theaters.

for most of us, there’s no comparison between the standard car speakers found inside our vehicles and the dolby digital surround-sound found at traditional movie theaters.

pink cadillac drive-in theater - clarksville, tennessee

My take: Drive-ins are a great piece of history that I, for one, would like to preserve. There’s nothing like a movie under the stars… especially in a convertible (like a Jeep). Truth is, the movie itself doesn’t even have to be that good. It’s the whole package that makes a drive-in worth going to.

One thing’s for sure, we’ll be visiting the drive-ins around here a couple times each summer. There’s just nothing like it…


Things To Take If You Go To A Drive-In…

We were glad we brought window cleaner to the drive in movie.

  • Window cleaner — those disposable window cleaner wipes are great in times like these; whether you do it before you go or while you’re waiting for the movie to start, make sure you windows are clean!
  • Something to block the dashboard lights in your car — we found the bright lights which display the digital radio station to be annoying (until we covered it up with an old map). Others might find a red ignition light or some other dashboard light glowing all night.
  • Pillows — for added comfort, even blankets if it’s going to be chilly or you plan on sitting outside the car (many do).
  • Bug spray — mosquitoes can be a pain at certain times of the year.
  • Penlight or handheld flashlight — great for making your way to & from the bathroom or concession stand.
  • Wet Ones — I add this one for those who take kids, and for those who don’t enjoy “the great outdoors”. A drive-in is not the cleanest of environments… kinda like a bowling alley!


More About Enjoying The Nostalgia Of A Drive-In Movie