Drive-in theatre rebirth here to stay

By Tom Purcell, Special to the Katy Times
Posted 7/21/22

I’m going to the drive-in this weekend – for the first time in 42 years.

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Drive-in theatre rebirth here to stay


I’m going to the drive-in this weekend – for the first time in 42 years.

You see, the COVID pandemic has disrupted and rearranged our lives forever, but it has also given birth to some wonderful trends, such as the comeback of the drive-in movie theater.

According to CNN Business, the drive-in has made a rebound in the past few years and it is a trend that “looks like it’s here to stay.”


During 2019, drive-ins accounted for just 2.9% of total box office revenue.

But during the summer of 2020, thanks to the COVID lockdowns, drive-in theaters generated as much as 95% North American box office revenue.

Even as people begin trickling back to brick-and-mortar cinemas, drive-ins are still doing significantly more business than they did prior to COVID.

“Through the first 30 weeks of 2021,” reports CNN Business, they were “still gobbling up a greater share of box office revenue than they did pre-pandemic: averaging 6.2% of weekend box office dollars this year versus nearly 1.9% for the first 30 weeks of 2019.”

I’m very fond of the American drive-in theater in part because its creation is unique to America.

According to Kerry Segrave, author of “Drive-in Theaters: A History from Their Inception in 1933,” only two other countries, Canada and Australia, were able to come close to America’s “intense love affair with drive-ins.”

He writes that before drive-ins could spring up all over America during the post-World War II boom, a unique mix of conditions had to exist.

First, there had to be an abundance of relatively inexpensive land.

Second, families needed to be able to afford comfortable automobiles, such as our family’s wood-paneled Starship Enterprise station wagon.

Third, drive-ins needed lots of kids and the Baby Boom era produced plenty of those.

My family certainly took full advantage of this affordable entertainment option every summer.

And so I have many vivid memories of my father driving the station wagon around to several parking spots before finding a window speaker that worked.

He’d open the tail gate and set cheese curls and chips and ice-cold soda pop on it — one of the rare times we could devour these treats with abandon.

Soon, the blue sky fell dark, the film projector began rattling and black and white numbers — “5, 4, 3, 2, 1…” — flashed onto the screen.

Next came yellowed 1950s footage advertising hot dogs, popcorn and other concession items we could never get our father to buy. The feature film, “The Love Bug,” would finally play and our family event was under way.

I think the last time I went to the drive-in theater was my senior year of high school in 1980 — we were a bunch of would-be “American Graffiti” knuckleheads.

We went in my friend Gigs’ Plymouth because it had a trunk large enough for two or three of us to hide in.

Our ploy of getting past the theater owner and only having to pay for one ticket never worked — we always got caught, but it was great fun trying.

I won’t be hiding in my friend’s trunk, but I’m going to the drive-in theater this weekend.

We’ll go in my convertible with the top all the way down.

We’ll enjoy cheese curls and ice-cold orange soda, as we forget our worries for a little while, whiling the night away enjoying the rebirth of the great American drive-in theater.

Tom Purcell, creator of the infotainment site, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Email him at