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How drive-in movie features have been revived during a time of social distancing

Drive-in features are keeping the entertainment industry afloat during venue closures.

By Marcos Franco, Staff Writer


A Regency employee ushering vehicles to their designated parking spot. The Van Nuys Regency Theatres - Plant 16, is hosting drive in showings throughout November. The Nov. 5 showing featured the 1990 sci-fi film "Tremors." According to district manager Andrew Gualtieri, this night was particularly slow. Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo By Ava Rosate/The Valley Star)

As traditional in-person movie theaters remain closed throughout most of California, drive-in style film features have become an increasingly popular alternative for the entertainment industry.


With drive-in movie features having reached its peak during the 1950’s and 60’s, the old-school form of cinema date-night has been revived in the age of COVID-19 and is quickly gaining popularity once again. As society slowly makes its way back to a more normal way of life, social distancing guidelines are still in place for public spaces. In order to be in compliance with these regulations, the entertainment industry has adapted by offering drive-in movie showings.


“It's no surprise drive-ins are becoming popular again,” said Eric Swelstad, Media Arts department chair at Valley College. “It’s safe and a great way for an entire family to have the moviegoing experience while getting to leave the house and do something, even if it’s for a few hours.”


While most tend to associate drive-in movies with the classic 50’s era of greaser slick backs and leather bomber jackets, the first drive-in was opened on June 6, 1933. Originally marketed to families, Richard Hollingshead debuted his drive-in cinema in New Jersey as a solution to small and uncomfortable theater seats. It was not until two decades later that drive-in movie features peaked in popularity with more than 4,000 drive-ins scattered throughout the country at the time.


Although drive-in movie pop-ups have been around prior to the coronavirus, the pandemic has forced other sectors of the entertainment industry to offer in-car style features. Concerts and comedy shows have also transitioned to drive-in showings.


Despite adapting to pandemic-safety guidelines in order to continue performing, the money earned through these features is only a fraction of what it was before the pandemic. Over the course of the next five years, the film and television industries are projected to suffer a $160 billion loss in revenue.


After setting a global record at the box office last year with a massive $42.5 billion in ticket sales, global sales for 2020 do not appear to be as promising. According to The Hollywood Reporter, worldwide cinema revenue is expected to drop 66 percent from last year.


While drive-in showings are especially advantageous in a time of social distancing, the halt of filming and production earlier this year has caused most drive-in screenings to show older films rather than newer features. Pricing for these events can be high depending on the location. Prices can be calculated either by the amount of people in the group or by the size of the vehicle itself. Payment can range anywhere from $10-$25 per person or $40-$75 for flat rate pricing based on the vehicle.


“It can be pretty expensive at times, and the movie selection isn’t always the newest,” said Swelstad. “I look forward to going again, but I’ll wait for the A list new releases.”


In Los Angeles County, drive-in showings are permitted to offer viewers on-site food services as long as they adhere to all applicable safety protocols. Though the county allows “permitted concession stands,” temporary concession stands, food trucks and carts are not allowed.


Walmart has also begun offering drive-in movies at 160 of their supercenter locations. Showings are free, but reservations are required. The superstore has partnered with celebrities such as Drew Barrymore, Neil Patrick Harris and LeBron James to virtually host the events. Walmart does not have any features scheduled in California yet.


Although drive-in movies may not be as exciting to watch as the newest high resolution features on the Imax big screen, it is the only option for Californians at this time. What was once a dying piece of America’s pastime has now become the primary method of a night out at the cinema.

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