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Top 5 Best Drive-In Movie Theaters

Top 5 Best Drive In Movie Theaters 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

Drive In Theater List
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

Drive In Theaters
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

Drive In Movies
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

Drive Ins
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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18 Comments »

  • Sheridan Passell said

    The last time I went to a drive-in was about 10 years ago while living in Albany, New York State. We watched The Horse Whisperer – one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen. It was an awesome experience though.

    There’s so much farming land here in the UK now that isn’t used for anything somebody should do it. The popularity of the Pinewood Studios drive-in at the moment shows the demand is there for something more permanent.

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  • fft5305 said

    I can’t believe you left out Bengies Drive-In Theater in Baltimore, MD! It has been open since 1956 and is the largest movie screen in the U.S. It has been a while since I’ve been, but I always enjoy it and can’t wait to go back!

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  • Stephanie Swearingen said

    In the little spec of a town, Gibson City, Illinois, there is a fantastic drive-in. It has 2 screens and is now utilizing wind power to make it more green. Check it out.
    http://harvestmoondrivein.com/
    It is really the only form of entertainment in the surrounding area. Since it reopened when I as in grade school, it was the only thing to really look forward to during the summer months. It was a treat to bring friends from college to see a movie and even now 6 years later I still try and make it to see at least one movie a summer.

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  • LeeAnna said

    I watch movies at the Drive-in in Vegas from a nearby intersection while I wait for the light to turn green.

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  • Sarah said
  • Gary said

    We are about an hour drive from Shankweiler’s. It was great seeing Wall-E (last year) and Up this past summer at a drive-in with our kids. I’d love to see more of these pop up but I have no idea how expensive they are to open and maintain.

    If you’ve never been to one I’d say take the time to make a trip out to a drive-in before they’re all gone!!!

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  • Laura Brown said

    The best drive-in is the Silver Lake Twin Drive-In in Perry, New York. It’s the ultimate drive-in experience.

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  • Marita said

    I try to make it to the Drive-In every summer. There is one near my hometown called the Route 66 Drive-In Theatre. It’s in Carthage, Missouri and, I believe has been around nearly as long as Shankweiler’s. I grew up fairly poor and the drive-in was the first time I ever saw a movie outside of my own home. In the early 90s, one car load of people cost $5.

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  • Drive In John said

    Please some justification what makes these 5 Drive In Theatres the BEST…perhaps the oldest or the largest, BUT THE BEST???

    I’ve been to the Shankweiler Drive-In, The Bengies Drive-In Theater and Silver Lake Twin Drive mentioned above and would agree of the three Silver Lake Twin Drive is the grandest of them. But what is it that qualifies a Drive In Theatre as one of the best 5 Drive In Theatres in the world? The great thing about Drive In Theatres is they are all unique with their individual qualities.

    I would like to nominate the Midway Drive In Theatre in Minetto NY as the best, surely the most beautiful in terms of landscape, Marquee, Staff and upkeep. I beleive it is one of the oldest in NYS opening in 1948, also from one what I understand one of the top grossing screens in the country.

    Support you local Drive In Theatre, their numbers continue to dwindle, of the 383 remaining I’ll bet over half of them would qualify by the local patrons as the BEST!

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  • Peter George said

    One of the greatest drive in movie theaters I ever had the pleasure of visiting was located in a small, out of the way town of Monte Vista Colorado. The Best Western Movie Manor is where you can stay for the evening in a nice, clean room while watching the movie through a wall-sized picture window while listening to it from the overhead speakers. You can also play a round of mini-golf while the kids play at the playground. All rooms automatically recieve admission.

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  • ZNokes said

    Shame it went without mention… The Redwood Drive-in in Salt Lake City (the lovely Oquirrh range in the background)- Chucky Heston is Moses in your opening shot. An error of flick fatigue, I guess.

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  • Apollo said

    How about the Movie Manor in Monte Vista, Colorado–the only drive in I’ve ever heard of that has a motel on site and where you can watch a movie from your motel room (speakers built into the room)!

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  • Dhawan Jayswal said

    Sunset Drive-in at Ahmedabad is one of the best place to see in India… it obviously Very comfortable to watch movie but also a very time to spend with friends and family specially during weekends…. me my friends usually watch movies in Drive in every weekend…. tickets also cheap and on other hand we get good quality movie…

    Must see once in the life time for the outsiders….

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  • Sarah Crow said

    I have only ever been to one drive in movie theatre and that was in Epping, Essex, UK. I had a great time and can’t wait to go again!!!

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  • Robert Walters said

    The Drive-In Theatre is a great experiance so different than an indoor theater,in my opinion much better because you have the option of the freedom and privacy of your own vehicle or sitting outside enjoying the outdoors, a better value and just a great nastolgic feel.Despite all the Drive-Ins that were around locally and operating when I was a child in the 70’s I had never been to one until 1996,I had thought by that time there were none operating until I was traveling around my state and discovered The Hartford DI in CT,I was so happy to be able to experiance a part of mid-century Americana that I thought that I had missed out on.I started looking up DI’s in my state and had discovered that there were four operating in CT. at that time and had made sure that I visited them all,unfortunetly 1996 was The Hartford DI’s 49th and final year in operation,this was an original great old 1947 DI with a large screen, and great old neon marquee.There are now townhouses where it once stood,sad but a continuing trend that started about Thirtyfive or more years ago.I still continued to visit the Southington Twin DI until it closed after the 2002 season,later most of it torn down including the large CinemaScope screen,but luckily the later added rear screen was kept and a new steel building was built for the new park they had put there and now they show older movies on the weekends in the summer.The parking capacity is down by a third of what it used to be.The Pleasant Valley DI in Barkhamstead CT is (a small single screen DI) still operating showing two first run movies (I believe on the weekends).The Mansfield DI is still in operation,I had been going to this one since 1997,It is a Three Screen DI showing two first run movies on each screen (the original 110′ 1950’s screen is the largest of the three) nightly in the summer.They just spent around 300k converting over to digital,the picture is just as clear and bright as an indoor theater and the sound is awesome on your car stereo.This DI does very well and I see to it that I visit it at least a few times during the season.The Hartford DI was my favorite,now the Mansfield is.The website for The Mansfield Drive-In is mansfielddrivein.com . Some people may like the bug free,air conditioned mulitpex better,but myself and now discovering many other people also prefer the Drive-In for the value,freedom,and nostalga.

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