The first drive-in theatre opened in 1954 and at the height of their popularity, there were more than 300 of them scattered across Australia.
But as technology and social practices have changed, the crowds that once flocked to drive-ins have steadily dwindled, with only a few holdouts remaining.
At last count, there were just 16 drive-ins still operating in Australia.
In the United States, however, which once boasted thousands of drive-ins, business is booming, as they’re one of the few entertainment venues that you can still visit.
“We’ve seen a resurgence in interest across the country. Our shows are selling out every night. It’s the best market I have ever seen in all my years in business,” says Jim Kopp, owner of The Family Drive-in Theatre in Stephens City, Va.
The open-air venues are uniquely suited to COVID-19 restrictions, while many bricks-and-mortar theatres have closed temporarily.
Though there aren’t many left in the US — about 330 still exist, compared to over 5400 multiplexes — they’ve been bright spots of entertainment, comfort and nostalgia at a difficult time.
“We’ve heard from a lot of folks that they didn’t even realise drive-in theatres still existed [before the pandemic],” Kopp said.
The Family Drive-in Theatre, which has been a staple in the community since 1956, has reopened with an abundance of caution to protect patrons.
Movie-goers must buy tickets and concessions online, don face masks outside and maintain a proper social distance from fellow guests and their cars.
Theatre management has also limited the two-screen drive-in to half capacity, closed the children’s outdoor play area and covered movie speakers in protective wrap.
Bathrooms are sanitised by attendants after every use.
“Folks want to come, have fun and feel safe in their automobiles all while maintaining proper social distancing,” says Kopp. “Our lifestyle has been so disrupted [by the pandemic] and our theatres provide a chance for people to return to normalcy.”