This summer might have been the last for some of the country’s surviving drive-in movie theaters. Most of them have yet to make the switch to digital projectors, as Hollywood phases out film. This month carmaker Honda will pick five drive-ins to supply with the new technology, but what about the rest of them? Are they worth saving too?
At the peak of their popularity, there were more than 4000 drive-ins in the U.S., but now we’re down to fewer than 400. “I’d say there’s not enough. I mean they don’t have to be a quarter mile apart from each other like they were back in the 50s and 60s,” says Todd Ament, who owns the Riverside Drive-In in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania.
He says he grosses an average $150,000 per season. Going digital will cost him $60,000-$80,000. But from Ament’s perspective, it’s worth doing.
“You know, to continue providing a piece of Americana that has been, like, lost and forgotten about,” he says. He adds that drive-ins can be more affordable for families than the cineplex.
They still have a strong customer base, too, according to Kipp Sherer with Drive-ins.com. “I think it’s definitely a labor of love. However, they do make money too,” Sherer explains. “And some of them are only open for a handful of months out of the year.”
Sherer says thriving drive-ins have the same business model as indoor theaters; most of their profits come from selling popcorn.