They may be vanishing in real life, but on the Internet they're playing to full parking lots

By Chris Willman
Updated July 12, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Drive In: Henry Groskinsky/Timepix

If it seems like aeons since you heard the tag line ”Now playing at a theater or drive-in near you,” that’s because odds are there aren’t any ozoners (as Variety used to call ’em) within cruising distance of your crib. A car-crazed America once sported nearly 5,000 drive-ins; that tally has shrunk to fewer than 500. Blame it on moviegoers impatient with speaker boxes that don’t come with Dolby surround; Wal-Marts willing to pay premium prices for big chunks of real estate; and relaxed sexual mores that no longer require kids to make out by the light of a Roger Corman cheapie.

But the scarcer drive-ins become, the more obsessive their partisans get. Some alfresco fanatics categorically refuse to enter a multiplex, preferring to travel dozens, or hundreds, of miles to see ”The Blair Witch Project” surrounded by actual woods or a ”Star Wars” sequel under, well, you know. You can find a few hundred such folks by joining a D-I discussion group, where topics range from the restoration of vintage dancing-hot-dog intermission films to which concession stands still carry the mosquito-repelling smoke bomb in a tube known as Pic.

At least 60 U.S. drive-ins have their own websites, and regional devotees maintain plenty of pages dedicated to the ozoners in their states. But in honor of summer-road-trip season, now in full swing, here are some national sites outdoor cineasts should find worth the digital drive.

DRIVE-INS.COM Pretty much a one-stop-shopping spot, Jen Sherer’s site features the most thorough and consistently updated database of both open and closed drive-ins, complete with photos, descriptions, and links to driving directions. Plus (of course) weather reports. You can search by zip code to find the roofless theater nearest you or sign up to have movie listings and times e-mailed to your inbox (in case the traditional ”show at dusk” doesn’t suffice). Photo essays and road-trip reveries help make this mecca the next best thing to sneaking into a theater in the trunk. A

DRIVEINTHEATER.COM Tim Thompson’s site, which has been around since the early ’90s, is the granddaddy of comprehensive outdoor-cinema guides. Unfortunately, the state-by-state listings are only occasionally updated. (Nothing like heading out to the movies only to find a new Best Buy store there.) But its starry graphics will put you in just the right nostalgic/celestial mood, and the comprehensive links page instantly immerses you in dozens of local D-I icons. B

DRIVEINWORKSHOP.COM In case you’ve inherited a fortune and want to turn a Home Depot back into an ozoner, or just have an unnatural interest in gravel-ramp construction and outdoor projection, here’s everything you need to know about the technical specs of low-tech drive-ins. Laymen will find sufficient trivia too, like the fact that in 1955 there were 171 American drive-ins sharing the name Starlite, far ahead of the 107 Sunsets and 79 Sky-Vues. B+

PHOTO TOURS Got a hankering to see some of the cool marquees of yesteryear, back when drive-ins worked extra hard to lure the CinemaScope-starved interstate traveler? Or some of the massive, mural-covered screen towers that used to play proscenium to 90-foot Marilyns and Deans? Roadside Peek provides a good region-by-region look at this waning American architecture. And Don and Susan Sanders, who’ve published two ozoner books, use their Take a Drive-In Tour! site to show off at least a few vintage and current shots from every state in the Union. You don’t even have to wait for sundown to enjoy these shows. B

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