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Save The Drive-Ins!

by Leonard Maltin
August 19, 2013 12:32 AM
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Photo Courtesy of Project Drive-In Honda

I don’t know how this campaign eluded me until now, when the summer is almost over, but a friend just sent me a link to a website touting a promotion by Honda to help save America’s remaining drive-in movie theaters. How? By raising money to purchase digital projectors so they can stay in business. (By voting for your favorites, you qualify them to win complete new systems courtesy of Honda.) Just like “hardtops,” especially in seasonal communities, the cost of digital equipment is beyond the reach of many drive-in owners. A number of the outdoor theaters that do survive are either mom & pop outfits, run as a labor of love, or operated as non-profits by their communities as a gathering place for families during the summer months.

A decade ago, a film industry think tank agreed that if digital projection were to replace traditional 35mm film, the cost should be borne by the studios, but the sudden success of 3-D enabled those Hollywood distributors to get theater owners to foot the bill, lest they lose out on a new profit stream. Of course, that stream has diminished to a trickle as the public has lost interest in 3-D, but the die is cast: no theater chain could afford to say no to digital projection when it was the only way to show hit 3-D titles like Avatar. Is it any wonder the people who show movies are always grappling with the people who make and circulate them?

Photo Courtesy of Project Drive-In Honda

As a baby boomer, I grew up in the heyday of drive-ins. I remember my parents putting my brother and me in our pajamas and toting us off to the outdoor screen in Paramus, New Jersey (now long gone), where we would usually fall asleep at some point during the program. I can’t forget the garish ads for even more garish-looking refreshments, and the fact that when you looked up a movie’s showtime in the local newspaper, chances are it would say “dusk.”

I vividly recall the crackling of the always-inferior portable speakers that hung in our car window, but my strongest association with drive-in movies is the constant presence of mosquitoes.

So why should I have any fondness for this once-forward-thinking, now quaint presentation of movies? Call it rose-colored nostalgia, if you like, but it was an experience like no other, a genuine slice of Americana.

If you want to relive those memories, or learn what it was that captured the imagination of post-War moviegoers, I heartily recommend Don and Susan Sanders’ book The American Drive-In Movie Theater, along with their companion documentary, Drive-In Movie Memories (in which I appear), written and directed by Kurt Kuenne. It’s available for instant viewing at

But most important, check out the Honda’s Project Drive-In and get involved. Click HERE to watch the trailer and get more information.  


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  • Ian Moore | September 10, 2013 6:27 PMReply

    I was extremely pleased to read this post and find out there is an organized attempt to help salvage these beautiful and important pieces of movie history. We often think of the advancing technologies and evolution of the film industry as a great thing for the movie goer. Today we can see things that years ago may have been impossible. However, when we take a step back from the flashy new spectacles and look at the state of things, we can see that this advancing technology has some negative impacts. The near extinction of drive-in theaters is a sad reminder that sometimes advancing technology leaves people behind. As the writer of a blog about technology and its impact on film, I think that this initiative deserves applause and we should take an interest in preserving these historical and glorious pieces of American movie history by pushing them forward into the digital age and giving audiences the chance to step back in time for an amazing evening of films under the stars.
    Ian Moore-

  • Bob Lindstrom | September 10, 2013 1:10 PMReply

    Drive-in theaters were a lousy way to see a movie, but a great way to spend an evening. Between daylight savings time, inflated value of prime real estate, and the light spill of urban sprawl, I fear that the drive-in is well past its sell-by date. I do admire Honda's effort to preserve at least a few manifestations of this quirky piece of American nostalgia. In addition to adding a social/family aspect to film going, in the '70s, the independent ownership of drive-ins meant they were often the only place to see the European/Asian horror and exploitation titles that many of us craved but would never be exhibited in the big chain theaters.

  • Alex Krajci | August 27, 2013 9:43 PMReply

    I Don't Like Drive-In Movies Theaters.

  • james | August 19, 2013 3:54 PMReply

    I miss the drive-ins. There used to be one in Burlingame, CA but they closed it down years ago. Too bad.

  • mike schlesinger | August 19, 2013 3:47 PMReply

    Ah, swell memories. But when Daylight Savings Time kicked in, it drove "dusk" back to as late as 9:30 in Ohio! And remember those "dusk to dawn" shows? Five movies, usually. A friend and I once made it through an entire night of Roger Corman's Poe movies, and the one thing about that night that remains most vivid in my memory is the stock shot of a flaming wall toppling forward that appeared in ALL FIVE FILMS!

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