Top 5 Best Drive-In Movie Theaters15.11.09 # Top Ten # 18 Comments
As the drive-in movie theater soared in popularity in the middle of the last century it did not just offer a fresh way of watching movies, it also spawned entirely new types of movie to watch. The rise of the drive-in theater signalled the arrival of creature features and teen pictures specifically targeted at the younger audience who were the most frequent attendees of those emporiums. And film-watching was not the sole attraction of the drive-in. By the 1950s the sexual revolution was already in its nascent stages and a pair of back-row seats in a cramped, darkened theater could no longer offer adequate staging space for all that adolescent fumbling. The Atomic Age teenage couple now required an entire automobile in order to have sufficient room in which to conduct all their amatory explorations. The 50s of course was the decade in which the drive-in phenomenon reached its zenith, with thousands of screens dotted all across North America, and other countries following suit as they attempted to attract the business of the youthful movie-goer. Alas, times change and trends turn and the latter part of the 20th century saw the numbers of drive-in theaters dwindling dramatically. Yet many survive and thrive to this day, continuing to offer al fresco cinema to those movie-lovers desiring of a slightly different viewing experience. So here are five of the best such venues…
Shankweiler’s Drive-In, Orefield, Pennsylvania, USA
Remember that bit in Twister when one of those naughty tornados pulverises a drive-in movie theater, just as the assembled punters are enjoying a bit of Jack Nicholson freak-out in Kubrick’s The Shining? Well that scene had a true-to-life precursor from forty years previous, when Shankweiler’s Drive-In felt the full force of Hurricane Diane back in August 1955. However a meteorological pummelling is nowhere near enough to keep a good Pennsylvania outdoor picture palace down, and Shankweiler’s not only subsequently reopened, but remains open to this day (technically it’s closed at the moment for the winter break, but you know what I mean). Founded by Wilson Shankweiler in 1934 as only the second drive-in in the United States, the first screen at the theater was simply a white sheet hung between two telephone poles, while past features also included a landing strip for small aircraft. Shankweiler’s is the oldest drive-in still to be doing business, and film fans regularly make the pilgrimage out there during the April-thru-September season for some double-feature action.
Sunset Drive-In Cinema, Ahmedabad, India
Considering that Asia constitutes almost a third of the total land surface of the entire world, any drive-in cinema which can boast the largest outdoor screen on that entire mammoth continent must surely find itself as the biggest game in a decidedly massive town. That is precisely the status enjoyed by the Sunset Drive-In in Ahmedabad in northwest India, which has the space to play to 6000 audience members at a single time. Primarily screening home grown fare from the febrile Bollywood industry, the Sunset is also one of the more democratic drive-ins around, seeing as you do not actually need a car to check out the films. Pedestrians can stand under a special covered area, but with temperatures climbing as high as 30 degrees Celsius even in the depths of winter, an automobile with a fully-functioning air-con probably offers the most comfortable spot to watch the movie from.
DRV-IN, New York, USA
Manhattan’s only drive-in movie theater, and the smallest the world has ever known. Six people can enjoy a classic film from a 1965 Ford Falcon convertible accompanied by an artificial starry sky and a “live” oak tree.
Menlyn Park, Pretoria, South Africa
The perfect booking for the drive-in theater at Menlyn Park would surely have to be Dawn of the Dead. For not only is George A. Romero’s second ‘Living Dead’ flick a splendid example of the kind of low-budget horror that is such a classic staple of the drive-in movie, but the shopping mall setting provides a particularly apt fit for the outdoor picture facility at Menlyn Park – their drive-in theater being the first in the world to be constructed on the roof of a retail complex. Located in the city of Pretoria in north-eastern South Africa, Menlyn Park offers screenings seven days a week and also gives its customers the opportunity to book one of six restored ‘veteran’ automobiles from which to enjoy their drive-in experience. And if that isn’t novel enough then Tuesdays are pay-once cram-in night, where one entry fee will gain admittance for you and however many you can squeeze into your vehicle.
Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, UK
Famed around the world as a film production site – in particular for its historical links to the James Bond series – this autumn also sees Britain’s Pinewood Studios offering a drive-in programme of screenings, with the movies on show all having shot at either Pinewood itself or sister facility Shepperton. More normally used for outdoor water filming, Pinewood’s Paddock Lot is set to play host to the world’s largest cinema screen, on which Richard Donner’s The Omen will be the first feature available for view. Amongst the movies due to be screened between now and early December are 2001: A Space Odyssey, Batman Begins, and Dr. Strangelove, but most unusual of all has to be a promised double-bill of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Full Metal Jacket. And what the latter’s Gunner Sergeant Hartman would make of the former’s Augustus Gloop is probably a damn sight scarier than anything The Omen can deliver.
To close, here’s a nice report from CBS on the current state of the drive-in movie industry:
Is there a great drive-in movie theater you’d recommend? When was the last time you went to one? What was your experience? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
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