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The Great American Drive-In Theater

Drive-In Theaters

Movie Venues in the United States

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I've spent some time researching drive-in movie theaters around the U.S. and compiled a list to help keep this amazing American tradition alive by giving visitors to Classics and Performance a chance to conveniently find one near them.

Although there are drive-in movie theaters around the world, the drive-in is an American invention and there are over 300 still in operation throughout the U.S. — even if the numbers are down some 90% since their heyday in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s.

Primarily, they're family owned businesses with low profit margins that just keep the doors open. Most are survivors from the '40s and '50s, but there are also quite a few newly opened and re-opened theaters since the turn of the 21st century due to a resurgence in drive-in interest, and even a few dating all the way back to the '30s. It won't be long and the oldest drive-in still standing will mark its 100-year anniversary. In case you're curious, it's Shankweiler's Drive-In Theatre in Orefield, Pennsylvania, which opened in 1934.

I hope you'll take the time this summer to go check them out and take in a movie the most amazing way possible — under the stars and in your car!


When you go, there are a few things to be aware of — especially if you've never gone. This list is by no means complete, so check with the theater your visiting for their tips and rules:

  • A lot of drive-ins don't take credit or debit cards — they're cash only.
  • Some sell tickets by the car load while others sell them by the individual.
  • Many don't allow outside food or drinks — they keep the theater running from concession sales, not tickets. Those that do, require you to purchase a food pass of some sort with your ticket.
  • Most theaters don't start movies until dusk or even as late as 10 pm — and as is traditional, most are double features — so it's a late-night affair.
  • Many theaters are only open on the weekends and most are seasonal, often running from May through September — especially in the northern climes.
  • Unlike indoor movie theaters, many of the drive-ins have full service restaurants or concession stands with burgers, fries, hot dogs, popcorn, drinks, and more — check with your theater.
  • The lots can fill up fast, so you may need to arrive up to 2 hours early and — for those that allow it — bring some lawn chairs and a radio just in case the one you're visiting fills up and you have to walk in.
  • Depending on the time of the year and prevailing weather conditions, consider bringing jackets, sweatshirts/sweaters, hats, scarves, gloves and/or blankets — it can get surprisingly chilly and/or damp by the second feature. Of course, because you're outside, you can stretch your legs and warm up, so, bonus there.
  • For those of you who've never been to a drive-in, loudspeakers were a convention of the oldest theaters, losing favor with the later drive-ins of the '40s, '50s and '60s. Today movie soundtracks are transmitted over FM radio signals — some of the coolest ones, though, still offer the in-car speaker boxes to hang on your window. When I was a kid, I got to go to the local drive-in in my Mom's '66 Mustang and use the window speakers — how nifty is that?
  • Be aware that parking is often two cars per stall — with the speaker box poles on either side.
  • Start your car at intermission to charge your battery and bring a cordless battery jumper just in case you kill it while watching the movies — especially if you're going for hero points and pull up in your classic Muscle Car or vintage Hot Rod — personally, I'd totally go for hero points. Lots of them. I'm talking the 1965 Shelby Cobra 427 S/C-level of hero points — if I had or could afford a Cobra. Of course, '65 Cobras don't have radios, so, if that's your level of car enthusiasm, you're probably good there.
  • I don't know many theaters that allow or offer alcohol, and none that allow smoking or drugs. Many are very family oriented, so please keep that in mind.
  • Not all states have drive-ins and many regions within states are without theaters, so a road trip may be necessary if you're yearning to experience this piece of Americana.
  • Last and most awesome, some theaters have special nights for vintage cars and may offer reduced or free tickets for people cruising in with their prized classic iron — but as much fun as it is, they probably don't allow burnouts. Check with your drive-in for details.

Welp, that just about does it — have a great night at the movies!

State List

Theaters by State

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