CREATION OF AN AMERICAN ICON-THE DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATRE

The Drive-In Theatre was created by Richard Hollingshead Jr. In the early 1930s, many indoor theatre seats were small and uncomfortable, with crowds sitting shoulder to shoulder, so Richard developed a concept where people could watch movies in the comfort of their own cars.

Hollingshead experimented on creating the perfect layout for an Outdoor Theatre in the driveway of his home. Using a home movie projector and fastening a small screen to trees, Hollingshead tested sound levels and positioning the cars for the best movie viewing angles.

Hollingshead quickly recognized the problem of viewing movies from cars on a flat surface - with cars parked in front of each other, the viewers would be looking at the rear of the car in front of them, not the screen.   This led Hollingshead to create the ramp system, a vital part of any Authentic Drive-In Theatre. 

Hollingshead created mechanical lifts which the cars would drive their front two wheels onto. The lifts would then raise the front end of the vehicles slightly; providing guests a better, unobstructed view of the screen. The curvature and height of the ramps put the vehicles of the Drive-In Theatre guests into the most desirable position to view the screen. Later Drive-In Theatres would use sloped mounds of gravel and dirt on the ground to achieve the effect of raising the front end of the cars. 

 

THE FIRST DRIVE-IN THEATRE

Having completed his plans, Hollingshead applied for a patent, which he received on May 16, 1933. He opened his Drive-In, the first in the country, in Camden, New Jersey, on June 6, 1933.

The second Drive-In Theatre, the Shankweiler’s, opened in Pennsylvania on April 16, 1934. The Shankweiler’s is still in operation and is now the oldest continuously operating seasonal Drive-In Theatre in the United States. 

Though the existing Drive-In Theatres were busy, the growth of the number of Drive-In locations was slow.  Just 100 were located across the United States by 1942.  This may have been due to the patent that Richard Hollingshead owned on Drive-In Theatres. Since Hollingshead controlled the patent for Outdoor Theatres, any prospective Drive-In Theatre owner needed to license the concept from Hollingshead and pay royalties. The start of World War II further slowed the spread of Drive-In Theatres as America turned its attention to the war efforts. 

DRIVE-IN THEATRES – THE PEAK YEARS

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After World War II, millions of U.S. soldiers returned home to their loved ones and started families, resulting in the baby boom. Americans also renewed their love affair with the automobile. These two factors - families and cars, helped to fuel a major increase of Drive-In screens across the country.  Another factor was that Richard Hollingshead Jr. lost the patent to his creation and by 1950, Drive-In Theatres started opening without licensing from Hollingshead. Without having to pay profits or royalties to Hollingshead, new Drive-In Theatres opened every day and soon there were over 4,000 Drive-In Theatres across the United States. 

Soon, the number of Drive-In Theatres across the country (now over 4,000!) rivaled the number of indoor theatres. As indoor theatre attendance declined in the 50s due to several factors (including TV and the Paramount Anti-Trust Consent Decree), the attendance at Drive-In Theatres went through the roof, and the box-office grosses from Drive-In Theatres helped save the movie industry!

How big were Drive-Ins?  Movie newspaper ads used to read at the bottom “Now Playing at a Theatre or Drive-In Near You”. 

 

DRIVE-IN THEATRES – THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE

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The public LOVED Drive-In Theatres. A visit to a Drive-In Theatre was and still is simply a magical experience. You arrived early and enjoyed the company of your family, friends, and loved ones as you waited for the sun to set. You visited the concession stand and selected from a menu of taste tempting treats. You enjoyed the fresh air and beautiful scenery and stood with pride as our National Anthem played before the movie.  The classic concession ads during intermission became an anticipated part of the evening as well. The larger-than-life movie presentation on the enormous Drive-In screens under the stars created an extraordinary experience. All of this transformed Drive-In Theatres into “Nature’s Auditoriums Under the Stars”. 

The entire Drive-In experience came to represent American values. Many say that it is Drive-In Theatres that are America’s greatest pastime (sorry baseball)!

 

DRIVE-IN THEATRES – THE AMERICAN DREAM

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The ownership of Drive-In Theatres, most of which were independently owned and operated, represented another aspect of the greatness of America, that of Entrepreneurism.  Average working Americans, often having no experience in the Theatre Industry, had a vision and a dream and were driven to create a business and work for themselves to provide a service and experience for the public. If you build it they will come indeed!

For Drive-In Theatre owners, the movie business was (and still is) a labor of love. If you went to a Drive-In, you would most likely see the owners working with pride.   They created promotions and lived and breathed showmanship to make a visit to their Drive-In Theatres a wonderful experience.  This enthusiasm and hard work by the Drive-In owners also helped to increase the popularity of Drive-Ins.

 

OUR FAVORITE DIRECTORS MADE DRIVE-IN MOVIES

A film category labeled “Drive-In movies” emerged. Horror, action, and southern flavored crime dramas and car chase movies were among the movies being filmed with their primary intended market being the thousands of Drive-In Theatre screens across the country.

These movies gave directing opportunities to filmmakers who would become America’s finest directors. Drive-In Theatres gave nation-wide exposure to early films by famed “New Hollywood” directors such as Francis Ford Coppola’s “DEMENTIA 13” (1963), Peter Bogdanovich’s “TARGETS” (1968), and Martin Scorsese’s “BOXCAR BERTHA” (1972).

 

HORROR MOVIES AT THE DRIVE-IN

Horror movies were especially popular at Drive-Ins. Cinematic masterpieces were made by directors given creative control and the opportunity to direct by the vast Drive-In Theatre market.   Drive-Ins were once the primary theatrical outlet for Horror films and helped to build the careers of legendary directors including George A. Romero (“NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD”), Wes Craven (“THE HILLS HAVE EYES”),  Tobe Hooper (“THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE”), Don Coscarelli (“PHANTASM”), and John Carpenter (“John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN”).  

In 1979, young filmmakers Sam Raimi (The original Marvel “SPIDERMAN” trilogy, “DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS”) and Bruce Campbell (“Ash” -The “EVIL DEAD” trilogy) went to Drive-In Theatres in Michigan to research Horror movies before making their own Horror film classic “THE EVIL DEAD” (1981), itself a movie intended for the Drive-In market.

 

DRIVE-IN THEATRES – THE DECLINE

What was responsible for the decline in the number of Drive-In Theatres during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s?

One reason was the increase of land values.  Many Drive-In Theatres had been built on the out-skirts of large cities, where there was plenty of undeveloped land. But with expansion across the nation, the properties on which Drive-Ins sat became very valuable and were sold.  Many shopping centers now sit on land which was once a Drive-In Theatre. 

Another factor was as Drive-In owners reached retirement age, many of their children did not want to take over the business.  So, the Drive-In owner parents wound up selling their beloved Drive-Ins to land developers.

However, one of the main reasons was that film studios shifted film release patterns from single screen film bookings to favor the emerging multi-plex theatres with multiple screens.  This affected single screen indoor theatres as well as Drive-In Theatres.  Many Drive-In Theatres had to wait long periods of time after the initial release of a Hollywood blockbuster - sometimes over a year, to book a print such as “ET: THE EXTRESTRIAL”.  Without the ability to show new movies, many Drive-In Theatres had to close.

There were once over 4,000 Drive-In Theatre screens in America, and by the summer of 1999 that number had decreased to just over 680!

Another reason for the decline was an oversight the Drive-In Theatre owners had made.  It should be noted that when Drive-In Theatres were at their peak, with both film-industry power and their largest screen count, Drive-In Theatre owners did not come together for the common good by forming a trade organization to represent their interests within the film industry.  They should have. This may have led to the decline of Drive-In Theatres as much as the other factors. Decades later, a group of Drive-In owners would remedy that and create an organization which would save Drive-In Theatres for future generations.

 

UDITOA – A MAJOR FORCE FOR DRIVE-IN THEATRES

In 1999, a group of Drive-In Theatre owners came together to form a trade organization for Drive-In Theatres.  The United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association (UDITOA) was incorporated as a not-for-profit business league in 1999. This organization would be a voice for Drive-In Theatres and would greatly help the owners during many industry changes during the next decades. UDITOA also established a list of qualifications and standards to ensure that our guests receive the genuine Authentic Drive-In experience.

 

UDITOA's MISSION

To be the premier organization serving drive-in theatre owners. To promote commercial motion picture exhibition at drive-in theatres world-wide. To ensure that drive-in theatres remain a viable and competitive part of the motion picture industry.

UDITOA will achieve the mission through these goals:

To form a strong brotherhood (and sisterhood) of drive-in owners / operators / managers who can help one another with problems and educate the public, the media, and association members by providing a benchmark to the industry.

 

UDITOA SAVES DRIVE-IN THEATRES DURING THE DIGITAL TRANSITION

When the Movie Studios transitioned from 35mm film prints to DCP digital projectors for Theatrical Exhibition, this was a very expensive project which threatened Drive-In Theatres. Drive-Ins would need to purchase expensive Digital Projectors which cost in excess of $75,000.00 in order to screen first-run movies which would now only be available in the new Digital DCP format. 

UDITOA worked very hard with the Film Studios, trade organizations, and Digital Projector manufacturers, and was able to secure programs which helped Drive-In Theatres make the expensive conversion to Digital Projectors. Due to the hard work of UDITOA, the vast majority of Drive-In Theatres were able to make the transition to Digital Projectors.

DRIVE-INS ARE BACK!

While the institution of Drive-In Theatres never went away, Drive-Ins are now back in the game!  During the 1990s, movie studios shifted their release patterns to include as many screens as possible for a first-run release, providing over 4,000 prints for a typical big blockbuster opening.  Drive-In Theatres suddenly became in demand again with the movie studios.

Drive-Ins contain parking for hundreds of cars, translating to a very large attendance capacity and huge box office numbers.  Drive-In screens have a much greater attendance capacity than the largest indoor theatre screens.  Many of the studio’s biggest releases are summer releases which times perfectly with the Drive-In Theatre season and provide Drive-Ins with the best first-run movies to play during the summer.

 

AUTHENTIC DRIVE-IN THEATRES & STATE-OF-THE-ART TECHNOLOGY

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The original Drive-In sound systems were large speakers which blasted the sound into the atmosphere. Then, Drive-In Theatres had the iconic in-car speakers, which to be honest, never sounded all that great. The next sound innovation was AM sound broadcast directly to your car radio. When FM stereo arrived, audiophiles LOVED the quality of Drive-In sound!  

While there is much Nostalgia regarding the Audio and Visual presentation history of Outdoor Theatres, today Drive-Ins are very much in the present and future.  We now offer a state-of-the-art movie presentation featuring bright digital projection, FM digital stereo, and the largest screens in the country. Not to mention that most Drive-Ins offer a double feature, giving movie lovers a complete evening’s worth of entertainment.

 

UDITOA PRESENTS AUTHENTIC DRIVE-IN THEATRES!

UDITOA is proud to present www.authenticdriveins.com, the first official Drive-In Theatre news website created and administered by Drive-In Theatre owners.  This website lists the UDITOA Authentic Drive-In Theatres along with movie and show-time information.

Authentic Drive-Ins gives Drive-In fans a direct line of communication with Drive-In Theatre owners.  We have big plans and many special events planned, including nationwide events and screenings of classic movies at our Drive-In Theatres across the country, celebrity guest appearances, concerts, and more! Please visit this site frequently for the latest Drive-In Theatre news.  Also please like and follow all of our official Authentic Drive-Ins social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you own an Authentic Drive-In Theatre and are interested in joining UDITOA to have your Authentic Drive-In Theatre listed on this site, please click the “Join UDITOA” link at the bottom of this site.

 

AUTHENTIC DRIVE-IN THEATRE OWNERS THANK YOU!

We thank you for your support of Authentic Drive-In Theatres and for helping us to preserve this ageless American Tradition.  As the Drive-In movie critic Joe Bob Briggs says, “The Drive-In will never die”!

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