For many Americans, drive-in theaters are a fondly remembered part of their youth. Starting in the late 1980s, however, many of these theaters were closed as Americans became more interested in other forms of entertainment and maintenance costs made the theaters too expensive to run. Recently, however, more American families are discovering this form of entertainment again; drive-in theaters have slowly started to increase in number. The Malta Drive-In Theatre on Route 9 was built in 1949 and has been in continuous operation since then. It is one of only 450 drive-ins left in the US. If you’ve never been to a drive-in, here’s what you need to know.
Unlike their swankier shopping-center multiplex counterparts, most drive-in theaters are locally owned and operated. This typically means that the amenities are not nearly as fancy as they are uptown. Most drive-ins have cars park next to poles with a speaker box attached. This speaker box plays the audio from the movie. A single, large screen will play the movie, but much like a “regular” theater, you’ll want to arrive early to get a good seat. Getting as close as possible is the ideal location to make sure your view isn’t blocked by a larger car or truck.
One big advantage to this low-tech system is that ticket prices are much cheaper. In many parts of the country, drive-in theaters still charge by the car. That means that if you have a large family (or your kids have a lot of friends) you can save a lot of money on admission just by packing everyone into a single car. Don’t worry, once you get to the theater you can spread out. Just remember to bring lawn chairs or a picnic blanket.
Depending on where you live, it is possible to see first-run movies at the drive-in. While many of these theaters switched to a second-run or classic format during the 1990s and early 2000s, the growing popularity of these establishments has meant that owners are now able to show first-run movies. Be prepared for the choices to be limited, however. Many smaller theaters have only one or two screens. Check beforehand to make sure the movie being shown that night is appropriate for everyone on your family. Fortunately, many theaters have family nights during which they only show G or PG rated movies.
Finally, remember to have fun. The great thing about watching a movie in your car is that you get a lot more freedom than you do in a theater. Bring your own snacks, or buy something from the snack bar; most drive-ins offer a much broader menu than a “typical” movie theater. In fact, some are known for serving gourmet meals and making top notch picnic baskets. If your family loves to talk through movies, let them (just remember to roll up your windows).
Drive-ins are a great option for parents who don’t want to disturb fellow movie goers with a fussing baby or toddler. They’re also a good idea for families with kids who just can’t sit still through an entire movie. You’ll save money and have a great family trip.