As Hollywood studios push back their major releases and movie theater chains close their locations across the country, it seems like it would be a long time before we can go back to the old American tradition of watching movies on the big screen.
But as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic spreads, an older American moviegoing tradition may be seeing a surprising resurgence: drive-in movie theaters, baby! But instead of the poodle skirts and leather jackets, the remaining drive-in movie theaters are being populated by families who are itching to get out of the house.
Once a common staple of American suburban life (or at least, the ones we’ve seen in movies), drive-in theaters are mostly seen as a novelty experience now. There are only 305 drive-in theaters remaining across the country and until now, they were treated as an “anachronistic diversion,” according to the LA Times. But now, they’ve become a boon for self-quarantined families trying to fight off the cabin fever.
The LA Times reports that drive-in theaters are seeing an unexpected surge in popularity, as traditional movie theaters are forced to close in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Owners of drive-ins in California, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri tell the times that they have seen increases in business in recent days. The outlet reports:
Ticket sales Tuesday at the two-screen Paramount Drive-In were “at least double” what they typically would be, said Beau Bianchi, whose family has owned the facility in Paramount since 1946. In all, the drive-in — which offered a double feature on both of its screens — welcomed 136 cars and sold 320 tickets. The family’s neighboring 11-screen indoor cineplex closed Sunday, but Bianchi said he expects business to continue to grow at the drive-in.
But some operators have temporarily closed their drive-ins to comply with government ordinances or in their own business’ interests. There is uncertainty with whether drive-in theaters would fall under the designation of gatherings of 50 people or more, because of the relative isolation that all the guests enjoy, in the privacy of their own cars. Doug Mercille, owner of the Starlite Drive-In in Cadet, Mo., told the LA Times it’s a “gray area.” Some operators “have taken steps to minimize interaction among people, including shutting down or limiting their concessions,” according to the Times. Operators who spoke to The Times they they remain open, but are mindful of restrictions on large gatherings and would close if required to do so. In addition to the CDC’s recommendation against events including 50-plus people, in situations where high-risk populations are involved, the CDC has been cracking down on gatherings of 10 or more people.
But drive-in theaters could still be hit hard if studios continue to delay theatrical releases or release films early on digital platforms. But at the very least, with families eager to get out of the house and no theme parks or camps to let their kids loose in, perhaps drive-in theaters could enjoy the biggest comeback they’ve had since the ’50s.
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