For most people, evenings and weekend mean streaming something from Amazon, Hulu, or Netflix. These services make entertainment easy, and who doesn’t like ease? But there’s still something fun about heading out to the movies and seeing your favorite stories or characters on the big screen. Is there anything better than watching It or Us in a theater full of people jumping at the same scares? For those looking to combine the comfort and privacy of home viewing with the large screens and sense of community of theaters, we have drive-ins.
Or… had drive-ins. They’re almost all gone now.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, drive-in movie theaters were at peak popularity. There were roughly 4,000 of them across the country and cars filled with families and groups of teens flooded in as the sun went down to take in a film or two. But there were a few inherent problems in the drive-in set up. Firstly, they were limited by the weather. No one was showing up in snow and torrential rain to squint at the giant screens. Secondly, they could only show movies after dark meaning no daytime revenue. And, thirdly, they couldn’t compete with the appeal of home viewing offered by VCRs and movie rentals. Blockbuster killed the drive-in star.
Today, the number of operating drive-ins has dwindled to about 350 around the country. Still, there’s something iconic about the experience. It’s a lovely slice of Americana. And it creates a great set-up for a make-out session.
We gathered ten of the best drive-ins still operating today. Support them as much as you can, so we don’t lose them forever.
Coyote Drive-In — Fort Worth, Texas
This three-screen drive-in set on 20 acres prides itself on functioning as a movie venue, as well as a beer garden and hang out spot just like the other Coyote theaters in this chain. They were founded in 2011 by four men looking to find a more laidback employment situation. Given all the planning that went into this venue and what it takes to run a hospitality business, they may not have totally succeeded.
Compared to a lot of the theaters on this list, this Fort Worth location is huge — accommodating 1,300 cars each night. But you can forget all about finding space if you ride a horse. The theater provides hitches for tying up your transport while you grab a double feature and a chili cheese dog. Heck, given the large list of craft, domestic, and imported beers and red and white wines, you might as well grab a drink too.
The owners have a 10-year lease with the Tarrant Regional Water District, and the plan is for the land surrounding Coyote to be developed during that period. It is somewhat worrisome that the plan is also to remove the film screens, though they say it won’t be during the first lease. And, should the drive-in be profitable, it might never happen.
Admission: $8.00 for people 12 and older
Field of Dreams — Liberty Center, Ohio
This drive-in is appropriately named after the film Field of Dreams. The owners, Rod and Donna Saunders literally decided to plant grass in place of the usual crops in 2007 after reading a handbook they found online for twenty bucks. Next, they solicited some neighbors for help and installed a movie screen. They wanted to establish a business that both engaged their entire family and helped keep the drive-in movie culture alive. Basically, it was some serious “If you build it, they will come” action. And they weren’t wrong because people did indeed come, which is impressive when you consider that this theater sits on a sleepy two-lane road in rural Ohio.
Seriously, the entire enterprise can be hidden from view by corn in the summer, and Donna Saunders has her cell number up on the website with the suggestion that callers “tell her what road you are on” if you find yourself turned around. We also think it’s fun to play putt-putt golf, sand volleyball, corn hole, hillbilly golf, and bocce ball when you aren’t taking in a double feature.
We like the original location where it all started, but the family has expanded at this point — they run a theater in Tiffin, Ohio as well. They purchased an existing drive-in from owners who were about to retire and shutter it. When the Saunders took over, they made a ton of repairs, added a second screen, and installed their son as the on-site manager.
Admission: $8.00 for teens and adults or $25.00 for a vehicle
99W Drive-In Theatre — Newberg, Oregon
One of only four drive-ins left in the state of Oregon, the 99W has been owned by the Francis family for three generations. It was built by J.T. Francis who worked six nights a week at one of the family’s other theaters (the Cameo) until a few weeks before his death at 98 years old. The family clearly loves movies. This drive-in opened in August of 1953 with a double feature of Sea Devils and Under the Sahara and has continued drawing in patrons ever since.
For the first thirty years, it was a single screen movie venue, but the family built an indoor Twin Cinema in 1983 to bring in money year-round. The eighties and nineties were not kind to drive-ins and small family owned businesses really scrambled to keep their heads above water. Unfortunately, when the industry moved primarily to digital, the Twin had to close. Now, it is once again a single screen that accommodates 275 to 300 cars. Luckily, a resurgence in drive-ins and a lack of competition means the lot is generally full, with people coming from all over Oregon and even neighboring Washington. Cars literally end up lined down the highway waiting to enjoy a summer night with a flick.
The 99W was voted the number one theater in the country in a USA Today poll, so it has a lot of fans. We get it. Even though it is a relatively traditional theater in a small Oregon town, it is a hell of a lot of fun, and the weather in that part of the country makes for perfect summer drive-in temps.
Admission: $9.00 for adults or $14.00 for vehicles with a single occupant
Bengies Drive-In Theatre — Middle River, Maryland
On June 6, 1956, Bengies Drive-In Theatre was opened by Jack, Hank, and Paul Vogel. They named it to celebrate the surrounding Bengies community, which was named for 23rd President Benjamin Harrison. Hank Vogel actually managed the theater from opening day until his death in 1978. And, Paul Vogel instituted the tradition of starting each night with the National Anthem, something which continues today. It’s quite a serious matter with staff and patrons pausing to face the screen; some even sing along. And who wouldn’t feel like singing when admission on Friday and Saturday nights covers a triple feature?
Bengie’s has made a name for itself by boasting the biggest movie theater screen in the United States. It measures 120 feet wide and 52 feet high, which means that films needn’t be cropped to fit on it. Audience members get to enjoy a perfect picture.
At one point, the owners of Bengie’s were involved in a lawsuit with their neighboring Royal Farms convenience store. The lights from the store next door were interfering with drive-in business, which obviously depends on things being dark to project films. Though a jury initially sided with the theater, the judge set aside the verdict and further appeals were denied.
Admission: From $5.00 to $10.00 per person
Four Brothers Drive-In — Amenia, New York
Four Brothers Drive-In is on record as the newest drive-in theater in the country, so whereas a lot of comparable theaters are simply dirt lots with a big screen and a dream, this little baby is shiny and new with a bit of a hipster vibe. That means locally sourced foods, unique services, and first-rate aesthetics that include an art deco painting by famous local artist Peter Wing. All of the signs, art, and furniture are custom and made in America, as well.
Only 125 cars fit in the parking area, but that includes charging stations for a few electric vehicles. And there is car hop delivery to all of them. You can order through a free app. They will also clean your windshield and jump any batteries that die. Guests are welcome to say the night and camp should they want to keep the night going or feel too tired to get home. There are lounge areas, a firepit, bathroom facilities, and the restaurant will deliver room (tent) service.
Pets are also welcome. There is a large little box available for all pets to use, although we can’t quite imagine what it looks like to haul your cat to the drive-in.
Hull’s Drive-In — Lexington, Virginia
This drive-in has a very sweet story that separates it from its contemporaries. Originally opened as the Lee Drive-In in 1950, this community hotspot became Hull’s Drive-In when Sebert W. Hull and his wife purchased it in 1957. They ran it as a beloved local, family-friendly business until Mr. Hull’s death in 1998. His wife sold it to W.D Goad who owned an adjacent auto body shop, but he was only able to operate it for one season before the rising costs of necessary repairs made it impossible for him to continue.
Two months after the drive-in failed to open, a diverse group of 50 people met up to discuss options for getting the drive-in running. That summer, the group grew to 500 “Hull’s Angels.” Over the next year, they legally incorporated as a non-profit and formed a board of directors before signing a two-year lease/purchase agreement. Now, the drive-in is run as a non-profit, community-owned biz — likely the first drive-in to ever do so.
Because Hull’s doesn’t make a profit, it’s important to support them by buying snacks on site, and they have a huge menu of classics to choose from. They also sell t-shirts and souvenirs to raise funds to keep the movies showing, so that’s another option.
Admission: $7.00 for double features
Apache Drive-In Theatre — Tyler, Texas
This is an adult theater. There. We said it. Not adult like “no kids allowed.” Adult like naked people boning in movies. It opened in 1979 an operated as a traditional 300-car theater for decades before it transitioned into the rare drive-in porno theater.
The owners and employees are completely tight-lipped, so getting information about this skin flick drive-in is difficult. It is located in a relatively isolated part of town. Cars park in a dirt lot and the screen tends to be dimly lit, but these obviously aren’t the draw. Say what you will about erotic cinema, the chance to watch it from the privacy of a vehicle obviously appeals because the seedy spot has been undergoing small renovations to the ticket stand and former concessions area.
The Apache’s concession stand has actually been turned into an adult video and bookstore, so if you want to take a break from all the action in your car, you can dip in here and pick up things to play with there or at home. If your car isn’t doing it for you, there is also an indoor movie theater on the property, as well as private video rooms.
Admission: $13.00 for an individual and $20.00 for a couple
Star Drive-In — Monte Vista, Colorado
Like other drive-ins, Star began with a 300-car capacity and a single screen on April 19th, 1950, during the heyday of watching films from your car. Though owners added another 200-car screen in 2003, that’s not what distinguishes it from most of its competitors. In 1964, a 14-room motel was constructed in the theater’s backfield.
The Best Western Movie Manor, as it is known, is still in operation today, and it appeals to people by offering rooms overlooking the drive-in screen. Forget parking, flop down in your bed and watch the films on the big screen from the comfort of your room.
This year marks the 70th year of continuous family ownership, which is rad. Most drive-ins are family owned, and that’s worth celebrating with your time and money.
Admission: $8.50 for people 12 and older
Midway Drive-In Theatre — Minetto, New York
Opened for crowds of 1948 car owners looking to take in a quality film (and probably do a little necking), Midway Drive-In Theatre is the oldest currently operating drive-in remaining in the state of New York. It changed hands once in the late 1960s but has remained in the ownership of John Nagelschmidt since he acquired it in 1987.
This is a fairly standard single screen arrangement designed to park 600 cars at designated posts with overflow on the spacious lawns. But they rock triple features, so that single screen is doing its part. And the audio comes via radio station, so you pick it up in your car or on a smartphone app. No trying to make a wonky speaker do your bidding.
What we think is hella cool is that this is the first drive-in in the country to start regular open caption showings for the deaf and hard of hearing communities. A text display of every sound and piece of dialogue is displayed throughout the film.
Admission: $8.00 per person
Fairlee Motel and Drive-In Theater — Fairlee, Vermont
This is another drive-in-movie-motel combo, the oldest. What can we say? We love them. Plus, there are only two currently running in the United States, making them both rare and valuable. Built in 1950, this drive-in was originally called the Holiday Park Drive-In, and its proximity to Route 5 (the main road at the time) led to the building of six motel rooms in 1960. In 1966, an additional six rooms were added, and around this time it became the Hi-Way 5 Drive-In. The second set of owners took over in 1987, and they changed the name to the Fairlee Motel and Drive-In Theater.
The current owners are the third, and, in addition to upgrading all the equipment, they extended the theater’s schedule to include weekdays. They also continue to run the small, one-story motel. The rear windows have a view of the drive-in that makes it possible to watch movies from your room. Plus, with the sound coming via an fm station, getting the audio is easy. Although, you are kinda screwed on the popcorn with real butter unless you venture to concessions.
The owners of the Fairlee also run a cow farm and the burgers in the snack bar are made from these cows. Further, the pickles are made by one of the owners. Beat that, commercial theaters.
Admission: $9.00 for people 12 and older