The drive-in theater has seen a resurgence in popularity over the last few weeks. Traditional movie theaters have been shut down since the middle of March and it seems like even some big chains like AMC might not open their doors again. Cinemark is struggling, and the same can be said about the independently owned theaters across the country as the world deals with staying inside and practicing social distancing. Even with all of the streaming material at our disposal, moviegoers still want to be able to leave the house for some entertainment, which is where the old school drive-in theater is coming into play.
Drive-ins started in the 1930s, but they didn’t really become popular until the 1960s, when there were over 4,000 across North America. People could watch movies with their families in the privacy of their own vehicle, thanks to better audio technology. While the drive-in theater enjoyed success for the next few decades, it took a big hit, along with traditional movie theaters, when the VHS tape came along. Things went south even further when projection systems went over to digital.
Now, the drive-in theater is seeing a resurgence in popularity, thanks to the world’s current state of affairs. While there definitely aren’t as many as there used to be, people have been bringing the family out to the drive-in to catch a movie all over the country. Some establishments are offering online ordering, which is then delivered to the car once on site. Some of the theaters have cars placed ten feet apart in order to exceed current social distancing norms. People can still get out of the house safely and support the movie industry at the same time. New York governor Andrew Cuomo recently talked about drive-in theaters in the state remaining open. “Where is the public safety issue? It’s a drive-in theater. You’re in the car with the same people,” he said when stating his case for the theaters to remain in business.
While drive-in theaters are an excellent idea for now, there are still some drawbacks. For one, there aren’t very many of them that still exist. Plus, movies can only be shown once the sun goes down, which puts a limit on how many movies can be shown a night. This also limits how much money can be earned per day. Weather is another huge factor. A heavy storm in North Carolina recently destroyed one of the largest drive-in screens in North America, causing over $100,000 in damages. Finally, the studios aren’t releasing the newest and hottest movies until later this year.
Analysts have been predicting the end of the traditional movie theater for years now, but nobody thought it would happen like this. While some are hoping to open theaters again in July, it remains uncertain if the general public will want to step foot in them after all of this. For AMC and Cinemark, who are both trying to desperately keep their doors open, it could be wise to partner with some drive-ins or start their own pop-ups in order to bring some sort of positive cash flow in. There are a lot of things to take into consideration and it will not be easy, but now is a time to adapt before everything ends up streaming at home.