The drive-in has become vital alternative to cinemas for fans of seeing films on a big screen.

By Clark Collis
July 23, 2020 at 03:22 PM EDT
Drive-in movie theater
Credit: J. R. Eyerman/Life Magazine/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

In March, sibling filmmakers Brett and Drew Pierce thought their dream of seeing their low-budget horror movie The Wretched on big screens was over when the pandemic shuttered cinemas six weeks before the film’s planned release. Then the movie’s distributor, IFC Midnight, suggested opening the movie at drive-ins.

“Every week IFC [said], ‘We’ve got these drive-ins that are open, that are safe and willing to play it,’” says Drew. “They eventually opened it up on 12 [screens]. We were like, ‘That’s probably the best we’re going to do.’ [But] each week they kept adding more.” Months after the movie’s May 1 debut, the brothers’ supernatural tale about a teenager who finds himself living next to a murderous witch is still playing at drive-ins, and by the start of July had grossed $1.6 million. That’s an impressive figure for an indie horror release and ample evidence that drive-ins are enjoying a renaissance at a time when watching a movie under the stars is the only way to see a film on the big screen.

The Wretched
Credit: IFC Midnight

Other movies are following the same path — or highway — to success. The Kevin James-starring thriller Becky has earned almost $1 million playing at outdoor venues. An advance screening of Dave Franco’s directorial debut, the IFC Films-distributed horror movie The Rental, was held at L.A.’s Vineland Drive-In in June and featured a post-screening Q&A with Franco, his wife/Rental star Alison Brie, and others, who answered questions from inside their cars. The movie will open (including in drive-ins!) on July 24.

Josh Frank, who owns the Blue Starlite Boutique drive-in in Austin, says drive-ins have “all seen a spike in interest and in attendance. People are so grateful that they feel safe coming to our movie experience.” Walmart has announced it is transforming 160 of its store parking lots into drive-in movie theaters and will start showing films in August.

Not everyone who visits a drive-in does so purely to indulge their cineast desires. Horror expert and drive-in aficionado Joe Bob Briggs warns outdoor-movie virgins that matters can get hot (and heavy) inside the most air-conditioned of vehicles. “All sorts of things go on inside cars on the back row of drive-ins,” says Briggs, the alter ego of journalist John Bloom. “If you’re not interested in that, don’t get on the back row!”

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