The return of drive-in movies


Wendy Guffy

(Left to right) MHS seniors Tess Wyniemko, Aspen Snyder, and Sadie Guffy enjoying a movie at the Plymouth Summer Drive-In.

Mackenzie Vigh, Staff Writer

Our world as we know it has changed drastically over the past six months. These unprecedented times have required us to alter our normal routines and develop a new form of normalcy. Many luxuries we used to enjoy are no longer an option; one of them is going out to the movie theater and enjoying a delicious bucket of popcorn. Due to the social distancing regulations, the theaters are still closed, but a blast from the past has resurfaced — the drive-in movie. Our generation is now experiencing something that we’ve only heard about in the stories told to us by our parents or grandparents. 

Drive-in movies originated back in the 1930s when sound and color were not an option. After technical advancements, they became extremely popular in the 1950s-1960s. According to living history, tickets ran for about 70 cents per car. Marian Roth, who grew up during the 60s, says, “I loved the drive-in; we used to use the change that we found lying around in our car to pay, that’s how cheap it was.” Going to see a drive-in movie was an affordable way to have fun.

Although drive-in movies are making a comeback, many question why they declined in the first place. One major reason was due to the energy crisis that took place in the 70s, which caused the adoption of daylight saving time and lower use of automobiles. Additionally, home entertainment systems had just hit the market, which would allow drive-in moviegoers to enjoy the movie in the comfort of their own home. This left the drive-in movie industry in shambles. As time went on, drive-ins became less and less popular; by the 1980s there were less than two hundred drive-in sights left in the US.

After the drive-in was nearly driven to extinction, COVID-19 has brought back the drive-in movie. Most families have access to at-home entertainment systems but due to months of quarantine, the desperation to leave the house has kicked in. Younger generations are shocked by this “new” concept of watching a movie from your car. MHS senior Helena Wilson explains, “I was kind of confused because I didn’t know how it worked but after going, I wish I would have gone more.” Decades later, drive-ins still seem to be a hit, especially since theaters are now closed.

Although drive-ins are making a comeback, things seem to be a little different this time around. Tickets are going for thirty dollars per car at Emagine theaters in Novi, which is definitely a boost in price since the 60s. “Back then, popcorn was fifty cents per bucket,” Roth explained. What a deal! Nowadays, a bucket of popcorn costs upwards of nine dollars. The overall experience of going to a drive-in no longer seems to be an inexpensive one. 

Aside from the price, several upgrades have been made to drive-ins. For instance, the sound quality is much better. According to Roth, “The sound in the 60s was horrible; they gave you a small box speaker to hang on your car window.” Nowadays, you are able to turn your radio to a specific channel that is streaming the movie.

The return of the 60s-style drive-in movie has given today’s generation a glimpse of the past. For anyone who is interested, there are several locations throughout metro Detroit, including theaters in Flat rock, Lake Orion, Waterford, and Plymouth. With all of the negative events occurring in the world today, it’s nice to see something positive come out of it. Many hope for Drive-in movies to continue beyond COVID-19 but as of right now, the future is unknown.