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Drive-in Theater and Outdoor Theaters Make a Comeback

Nostalgia and fun create a rebirth of community and drive-in theater


Like their children and grandchildren, baby boomers have filled their lives with all of the modern entertainment options—from DVD players to i-Pods—but in their hearts many baby boomers long for the entertainment icon of their own youth: the drive-in movie theater.

How Drive-in Theater Got Started
The drive-in theater was invented on June 6, 1933, when Richard M. Hollingshead nailed a bed sheet between trees in his backyard to use as a screen, mounted a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car, and placed a radio behind the screen for sound. Hollingshead lined up cars in his driveway, and placed blocks beneath the front wheels of the rear cars so that all viewers could see the screen. Hollingshead patented his invention and the drive-in theater was born.

By the 1940s, drive-in theater was found in 27 states, but drive-in theater reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, about the time many baby boomers started driving and going on dates. Many younger baby boomers remember going to the drive-in theater with their parents, wearing their pajamas on the playgrounds below the giant screens, and trying to stay awake through the double feature.

Drive-in Theater is Coming Back and Outdoor Theater Begins
The number of drive-in theaters operating today is about one-tenth as many as the 4,063 that dotted the U.S. landscape in 1958, according to the United Drive-in Theater Owners Association.

During the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of drive-in theaters closed as new entertainment options such as television and multiplex theaters continued to drive down attendance, land values increased, and aging owners chose to finance their retirements by selling to developers. In the 1990s, the downward trend leveled off and began to reverse. New drive-in theaters were being built and some former drive-in theaters were re-opening.

Today, the upswing of drive-in theater is continuing. Baby boomers’ nostalgia for drive-in theater is creating a nationwide resurgence in drive-in theaters across the United States. Drive-in theaters are operating throughout the United States and Canada, and in countries ranging from China to Australia to South Africa. (To find a drive-in theater near your home, check the listings on www.drive-ins.com.)

In many communities across the US, outdoor theaters are becoming popular. By projecting movies onto walls, screens and even bedsheets, people get together on warm summer evenings and enjoy movies together.

Drive-in Theater Found…on the Internet
Still, baby boomers haven’t abandoned modern technology in favor of drive-in theater nostalgia. Some have even combined the old and the new. Jim Koop, who reopened the Raleigh Road drive-in theater in North Carolina bought his drive-in theater on eBay.

"Once you see a movie on the big screen underneath the stars with your family and your friends, you will never want to see a movie any other way," Koop said in an interview with an NBC affiliate station.

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