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One upside to the current state of movie theaters.
Did you know that a movie 40 years old led this summer’s box office at one point? Yeah, really. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. I’ve seen it twice so far this year. Along with Ghostbusters, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, and Jaws, studios have decided to shelve their blockbusters of the present, and re-release the best of the best. For the movie theaters that have been able to reopen this summer, their lineups have consisted of 2020 releases that were shelved early, indie releases with larger than usual theatrical runs, and nostalgia-loaded summer blockbusters of the past.
Movie theaters are hurting right now. It’s no secret. In many areas, they are still closed. In the places where they were able to reopen, people don’t want to visit an indoor location where you breathe the same air as other people for a couple hours. Understandably so. There have been, however, a few upsides to reconsidering how we watch movies.
This year, there has been a resurgence of drive-in movie theaters all across the country.
It’s really the ultimate social distancing night out. Drive up, enjoy a retro double feature, go home. You don’t even need to leave your car.
Drive-ins have always been there. Sure, we’ve lost quite a few. Before the pandemic, they didn’t enjoy the popularity that they used to. But now, they are being rediscovered by a whole new generation.
“I’m hoping that because we have gotten some new people who came only because they wanted to get out and have never been to a drive–in before, that they like it enough that they will turn into regular customers and our customer base will grow.” Lee Burgess, owner of The Highway 18 Drive-in in Jefferson, Wisconsin
Unconventional and pop-up drive-ins have also been sprouting up all over the country. The side walls of churches, empty parking lots, and farmers markets have all been converted to makeshift movie screens. Walmart even got in on the action, converting 160 of their parking lots into theaters, showing movies like Wonder Woman and Space Jam.
And there’s nothing like a great double feature.
Most drive-ins (and I’m talking about the vintage ones, not the pop-ups) program double features, as they have for most of their lifetime. With studios only releasing a handful of films from their catalogue, the pairing of 1975’s Jaws and 1993’s Jurassic Park is a total blast, but nothing out of the ordinary. But some theaters have been able to lineup more inventive pairings with interesting relationships. Feel like baseball just isn’t right in the midst of a pandemic? Relive baseball’s heydey with 1989’s Field of Dreams and 1992’s A League of Their Own at my local drive-in, Bengie’s. Want to experience The Empire Strikes Back, one of the most beloved franchise films of all time, on the big screen and pair it with Mel Brook’s ultimate sendup 1987’s Spaceballs? Look no further. Have a really specific hankering — that usually of a stormchaser — and want a Double Twister Feature? Take flight with 1939’s The Wizard of Oz and 1996’s Twister.
This summer, with the help of Amazon, actor Michael B. Jordan and his production company have hosted free screenings all across the country. On more than 70 screens nationwide, audiences have been able to see Jordan’s pairings of great (and diverse!) films. Yes, there was the night where you could see the two films in which Jordan is looking his best and most ripped, Black Panther and Creed, but not every movie has included the toned actor. I had the pleasure of seeing Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece Do the Right Thing tacked with Jordan Peele’s impressive debut, 2017's Get Out. What a pairing! Two tales of the dangers of racism in the midst of this year’s BLM conversation billed as “Movies To Make You Open Your Eyes.” And what a night it was sharing that collective experience with so many others, an experience so rare in 2020.
So here’s my pitch: visit your local drive-in.
The risk is minimal, the reward may be greater than you realize. In their prime, there were over 4,000 drive-ins across the country. Now there are just over 300. Those that hung on need you to keep doing what they do best: screen great films, pop fresh popcorn, and jumpstart cars who didn’t run it in accessory mode.
You’re supporting a local business (even at the Amazon events! Jordan has purchased snacks from minority owned businesses that you get for free!) and showing them that they have a long future ahead of them.
“It’s the safest way to see movies this summer.” Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations
So pack the up the kids, bust out the camping chairs and your portable radio (for an al fresco experience) and open your wallet to your community’s landmark. And feel confident you are being safe and taking the right precautions while getting out of the house for something other than groceries.