The U.S. States With the Most Drive-In Movie Theatres

A DriveIn Movie Experience

The Media C-Suite continues to support Stacker’s research via news reports and entertainment outlets to understand where the Drive-In still stands tall as the Streaming Wars continue.

By Aine Givens, Stacker.

Americans may never loose their love affair with the automobile.  The Drive-In continues to captivate, despite the economic deck being firmly stacked against it.  Regardless, Drive-In theatres evoke nostalgia, a pleasant step back to the 1950s simplicity and out of our post-Pandemic streaming age.

The first Drive-In movie theatre opened in New Jersey in 1933.  Opening night drew people from at least 20 states to watch movies in the cool fresh air and the comfort of their own cars.  Drive-Ins flourished, reaching their peak in popularity in the mid-1950s with more than 4,000 operating across the United States.

But by the late 1970s, exploding property values, television, and multi-plex cinemas conspired to lure movie fans away from the Drive-In experience.  Fifty years later, the coronavirus pandemic drove movie-fans back to the Drive-Ins, which saw a resurgence as public health regulations and common sense prompted a reluctance to sit for hours in a crowded cinema.  But the problems bedevilling Drive-Ins have persisted.


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Stacker examined County Business Patterns data from the U.S. Census Bureau to determine which States have the most Drive-In movie theatres today.  Rankings were determined by the number of Drive-Ins per 1 million residents.

According the data, there are currently 177 Drive-In theatres operating in 25 U.S. States.  For the count, film festivals or other types of outdoor exhibition were not included.

Drive-In theatres becoming harder to find

The once ubiquitous Drive-In has suffered from a number of economic realities, from increasing land values to competition with both cinemas and streaming services.

Here is a list of the 25 U.S. States that still hang on to the Drive-In love affair according to Stacker (in alphabetical order).

California

– 0.5 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 18 Drive-Ins total

Befitting the home of Hollywood, California has among the most Drive-In theatres in the country.  The Rubidoux Drive-In in Riverside once had a petting zoo and miniature railroad.  Those are gone but it still has its art deco-styled original screen.  In northern California, the West Wind Drive-Ins have three locations: Concord, Sacramento, and San Jose.

Colorado

– 0.7 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 4 Drive-Ins total

The only original Drive-In still open in the greater Denver area, the 88 Drive-In theatre in the town of Commerce dates to 1972.  The Holiday Twin Drive-In in Fort Collins shows both classic and modern movies, and although pets are allowed, the theatre notes: “Barking is disruptive.”

Florida

– 0.2 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 5 Drive-Ins total

Drive-In have long been popular in Florida, with the first opening in Miami in 1938.  The Silver Moon in Lakeland has been in operation since opening in 1948, except for a few months in 1950 because of tornado damage.  There are plenty of other spots where you can still pull up in front of a big screen: Ocala Drive-In in Ocala, the Ruskin Family Drive-In in Ruskin, Joy-Lan Drive-In Dade City, and Nite Owl Drive-In in Miami.

Georgia

– 0.4 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 4 Drive-Ins total

The Starlight Drive-In theatre on the outskirts of Atlanta has been in operation since 1949.  The theatre encourages you to make sure your car battery is strong enough to power the radio through the show, but if it fails, jump starts are available.  Other spots for a movie under the stars: the Swan Drive-In in Blue Ridge, whose name comes from the swans in England, the Tiger Drive-In in Tiger—which had closed but reopened exactly 50 years after its first showing—and the Jesup Drive-In in Jesup, which opened in 1948.

Idaho

– 1.5 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 3 Drive-Ins total

In the history of the Parma Motor-Vu, Karen Dobbs Cornwell writes that the Dobbs family bought the Parma, New Plymouth, and Wilder Drive-In theatres in 1944.  Her father, Bill Dobbs, drove to Wilder each night while she and her mother, Gladys Dobbs, spent each night at the Parma.

Indiana

– 1.5 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 10 Drive-Ins total

The Georgetown Drive-In, established in 1951, opened for its 72nd season in May 2023.  The Starlite Drive-In opened in 1955 and has had only five owners since then.  And the Tibbs Drive-In, family owned and operated since 1967, is the last Drive-In theatre in Indianapolis.

Kansas

– 1.0 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 3 Drive-Ins total

The Boulevard Drive-In says it was the first Drive-In theatre anywhere to install digital sound and 4K resolution digital projection.  The original screen was made completely out of wood but a strong wind tore out about a third of it in 1971, which led to a replacement metal screen.  The Kanopolis Drive-In in Kanopolis is located along the Prairie Trail Scenic Byway.

Kentucky

– 1.3 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 6 Drive-Ins total

The Knox Drive-In is located in Barbourville City Park.  The local city council wanted to offer ​​something different from neighbouring cities, according to its website.  The Sauerbeck Family Drive-In in La Grange notes that “unfortunately for those looking to catch a free show,” it positioned its screens to minimize any view from the road.

Maine

– 2.2 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 3 Drive-Ins total

The Narrow Gauge Drive-In in Farmington opened the 2023 season with screenings of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.”  The Drive-In mixes movies with live music shows.  The Skowhegan Drive-In, which opened in 1954, saw a surge in attendance during the pandemic, followed by a subsequent drop-off.  But it has opened for the 2023 season.

Michigan

– 0.5 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 5 Drive-Ins total

A nod to the cherry harvest of northern Michigan, the Cherry Bowl Drive-In theatre in the city of Honor opened in 1954 and also features a playground, volleyball net, and a 1950s-style mini-golf course.  The Ford-Wyoming Drive-In in Dearborn was once the largest Drive-In theatre in the U.S. with nine screens and parking for 3,000 cars but has since reduced the number of screens to five, viewable from 2,500 cars at a time (only).

Minnesota

– 0.5 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 3 Drive-Ins total

The Long Drive-In theatre in Long Prairie is one of the few Drive-In theatres that allows you to stay overnight.  Because the movies run late and some people have driven long distances, tents and RVs are permitted with reservations.  Other Drive-Ins in Minnesota: the Starlite Drive-In in Litchfield, Verne Drive-In theatre in Luverne, and Sky-Vu Drive-In theatre in Warren.

Missouri

– 0.5 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 3 Drive-Ins total

The aptly named Sunset Drive-In theatre in Aurora opened in 1951 and kept its original wooden screen until it burned down in 1979.  The sound system was upgraded after it was struck by lightning in 2001.  An old Drive-In theatre in Blomeyer was revitalized in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic and is now the Rock ‘N’ Roll Drive-In.

New Hampshire

– 2.9 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 4 Drive-Ins total

The Milford Drive-In theatre was built in Milford in 1958, with several contractors from the area contributing labour and materials in the hopes of sharing in the profits, according to the theatre’s history.  A group of local people owned the Drive-In, which opened with a single 84-foot wooden frame screen. Also popular: Weirs Drive-In Theatre at Weirs Beach, whose motto is “Let the popcorn fly.”

New Jersey

– 0.3 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 3 Drive-Ins total

The first Drive-In movie theatre in the U.S. opened in Camden on the Pennsauken border in 1933. It promised that “motorists and their guests will see and hear talking pictures while they smoke, talk, or partake of refreshments without annoying others in the audience,” Tyler Hoffman, a professor at Rutgers University told the South Jersey Times.  Today one place you can watch movies in the open air is the Delsea Drive-In Theatre in Vineland—rain or shine!

New York

– 0.9 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 18 Drive-Ins total

The state’s first Drive-In movie theatre was on Long Island when the Sunrise Drive-In opened in 1938 in Valley Stream with a showing of “Start Cheering.”  It was demolished but the Finger Lakes Drive-In in Auburn retains its vintage charm now as New York’s oldest open-air theatre.  It dates from 1947.

Ohio

– 1.4 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 17 Drive-Ins total

At the Field of Dreams Drive-In theatre in Liberty Center, free games such as putt-putt golf, corn hole, and sand volleyball are available before the movies begin.  It opened in 2007 after the owners planted grass instead of crops on their property and added a second screen in 2010.  The Toledo Blade once warned that the theatre can be surrounded by so much corn by midsummer that you might miss its narrow entrance.  

Oklahoma

– 0.7 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 3 Drive-Ins total

At the Winchester Drive-In theatre in Oklahoma City, moviegoers are greeted by a vintage neon cowboy.  The landmark has been in operation since 1968.  The Admiral Twin Drive-In is just off Route 66 in Tulsa and was used for Francis Ford Coppola’s famous Drive-In movie scene in “The Outsiders.”

Pennsylvania

– 1.5 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 20 Drive-Ins total

The Mahoning Drive-In theatre, established in 1949 in Lehighton, offers a retro 35 mm film program, in which movies are shown reel-to-reel via the original 1940s Simplex projectors.  “At the Drive-In” is a documentary about the theatre.  Becky’s Drive-In was begun by William D. Beck, known as Becky. He started out showing movies outside at Uncle Charlie’s Lunch in the 1930s.

Tennessee

– 1.1 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 8 Drive-Ins total

The Stardust Drive-In theatre in Watertown holds Retro Wednesdays.  Coming up this summer are showings of “Steel Magnolias” from 1989, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” from 1982, and “Back to the Future” from 1985.  The Parkway Drive-In in Maryville shows movies rain or shine but will keep its gates closed in the event of a tornado warning by the National Weather Service.

Texas

– 0.6 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 17 Drive-Ins total

Drive-In theatres in Texas date to 1934 when the third Drive-In in the country opened in Galveston. At its peak, the State had more Drive-Ins than any other.  To name a few, there is the Big Sky Drive-In theatre, its name celebrating the big sky of the West Texas Permian Basin between Midland and Odessa.  And there is The Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In in Austin, which accommodates only 15 to 40 cars per night.

Utah

– 0.9 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 3 Drive-Ins total

The Erda Dive-In in the town of Tooele opened in the late 1940s or early 1950s (accounts conflict, according to its website).  Whatever the year, it operated seasonally, from May to October depending on the weather.  The screen had to be rebuilt in 1991 after it was destroyed by a tornado.

Vermont

– 4.6 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 3 Drive-Ins total

 The Fairlee Drive-In theatre in Fairlee also has a motel.  The theatre came first in 1950 and six motel rooms were added a decade later in 1960.  Bethel Drive-In in Bethel opened in 1954 and operates on weekends from early June to Labor Day.  Sunset Drive-In in Colchester was established in 1948 and has four screens.

Virginia

– 0.5 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 4 Drive-Ins total

The Family Drive-In theatre in Stephens City advertises itself as the only Drive-In theatre in the Washington D.C. metro area.  Also in Virginia are Goochland Drive-In in Sandy Hook (open only since 2009 but with a retro vibe), the Starlite Drive-In in Christiansburg, and the Park Place Drive-In in Marion.

Washington State

– 0.5 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 4 Drive-Ins total

The Skyline Drive-In Theatre in Shelton featured “Lady and The Tramp” and “Billy Budd” on its opening night in 1964.  The Rodeo Drive-In Theatre in Bremerton was originally the “Rodeo Motor Movies,” built in 1949 as part of the United Drive-Ins chain and claims it is the largest outdoor theatre complex north of California.

Wisconsin

– 1.0 Drive-Ins per 1 million people

– 6 Drive-Ins total

The Skyway Drive-In theatre opened in 1950 and is now the longest continuously running Drive-In found in Wisconsin.  It remains a one-screen theatre, the snack bar has not changed much, and it continues to show cartoon advertisements created decades ago before the movies.  Another historic theatre, Highway 18 Outdoor theatre, 2 miles west of Jefferson, first opened in 1953 and then reopened in 2000.


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