Drive-In Theaters Are Fine, I Guess

Illustration for article titled Drive-In Theaters Are Fine, I Guess
Photo: Bradley Brownell

Aside from cars, the thing I really love is going to see new movies. For the last handful of years I’ve generally gone to see new releases about 40 times a year, and have caught at least a dozen more as rentals or on airplanes. Watching a movie makes for a great date night, a great way to spend a hot summer afternoon in air conditioned comfort, or just a way to forget about your problems for a couple of hours. Of course, in 2020 you’d have to be positively insane to want to attend a crowded blockbuster release.

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This year I’ve been perfectly happy to sit at home and give Google or Apple my $20 to watch a new movie, but last week the first new film of the year with a theatrical release came out, Marvel’s New Mutants. I wanted to see it, but there’s no way I was going to an indoor theater to see it. That was when the seemingly long-dead tradition of the American drive-in theater started to make a whole lot of sense.

Illustration for article titled Drive-In Theaters Are Fine, I Guess
Photo: Bradley Brownell
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I can pull in to park my own car in my own space and enjoy a flick without the threat of catching a hellacious virus from the mouth breather shoveling a movie theater hot dog into their maw. Seriously, who the hell buys a hot dog at the movies? Grow up. I love movies, but none of them are worth catching a bug that might kill you, or cause long-term brain damage. Not even the greatest movie of all time, 1993's Jurassic Park. My brain is damaged enough as it is, thank you very much.

Last week we went to see New Mutants and it was, well... Let’s just say that if I’d risked my life to see this movie in a theater, I’d be really pissed about it. Watching it in a drive-in wasn’t much better.

Drive-in theaters used to mean parking next to a speaker on a post that you could put on your car’s window and then shut the car off. I haven’t been to a drive-in for years, so I figured that would be the case here. Unfortunately, it’s now a radio station that you tune into to get the movie audio. If I’d done a bit of research I might have brought a battery-operated FM radio with me to make the experience a little better.

As it was, we had to use our car radio for the movie audio, which meant the car had to stay on. My wife and I took the Buick Regal TourX to the theater because it has comfortable enough seats for a two-hour sit. We didn’t anticipate that the car’s infotainment screen would need to be on for the whole show. Similarly, if you turn the engine on the running lights aren’t easy to defeat so everyone gets pissed at you for having tail lights and front ambers illuminated in the dark. If you turn the car off and run it in accessory mode, every 10 minutes the dome light comes on. I realize this is an issue with our car and audio choices, rather than the drive-in itself, but it was an incredibly annoying procedure.

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When it comes to new movies, from here on in, I’d prefer to watch them from the comfort of my couch, as we did last night with Bill and Ted Face The Music (which I do, in fact, recommend). But, if the movie is only going to be released in theaters, well, a drive-in will do the trick.

Maybe next time we’ll fold the back seats flat, bring a radio, a blanket and some pillows, and watch the movie out the back window instead. Tenet is out this week, maybe I’ll test that theory and report back to you.

Jalopnik contributor with a love for everything sketchy and eclectic.

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DISCUSSION

The biggest problem is the reason why the traditional theater business was on the ropes even before COVID: home setups have just gotten too good. When 4K 65 inch screens are $500 and decent sound systems another $500, there just isn’t that much benefit of the theater itself. Plus, at home, I can pause the movie if I need to and can start it whenever I wish.

We’ve come a long way from fuzzy VCR tapes on grainy 24 inch screens.