Drive-In Theaters Returned in 2020, Immediately Vanished Again
We asked readers for some of the best and worst things about going to the movie theater. The theater's good because you actually ended up paying the film your full attention, says Lori S. "Whereas at home, I tend to half watch, and half play around on my phone or tablet." The big screen is a selling point for many of course. You might think a professional sound system is too, but it doesn't seem to be among the people we asked. Says Barbara S., "The sound is at 200 decibels and makes your ears bleed."
"When the seats have the stench of a billion farts," says Andy C. He doesn't specify if this is the best part or the worst part, but if he's going out of his way to sniff the seat cushions, we have to assume the former.
Bob W. points to crowd reactions. "When I saw Captain America finally mutter 'Avengers ... assemble' on the big screen during Endgame and that theater ERUPTING? That just hit different." Tamao K. agrees, the best part is "the crowd reaction to big moments, twists in the storyline and the big reveal." The worst part? Also "the crowd reaction to big moments, twists in the storyline and the big reveal."
Overall, the most common answer we got for the worst part was some variation on "other people," whether it's their interruptions, their smell, or just their proximity. And yet there's a type of theater where you get the giant screen—much bigger than your screen at home and potentially even bigger than the screens at most multiplexes—but are freed from immediate contact with anyone outside your own party. You even have a personal sound system whose volume you can control. It's called the drive-in, and while most drive-in theaters shut down decades ago thanks to the rise of malls, in 2020, we were told they were coming back.
For a little while when COVID shuttered traditional theaters, drive-ins popped up and attracted quite a bit of business. Besides being the only type of theater that allowed for social distance, they were for a little while the only form of entertainment outside the home permitted at all. In fact, due to their many advantages, drive-ins were here to stay, even post-pandemic, said many an optimistic report.
That did not turn out to be the case. Conventional theaters reopened, and their business continued to suffer thanks to many non-COVID factors, from which drive-ins are not shielded (competition from streaming, advances in home entertainment tech, laziness, cost). Some drive-ins are still open (we'll surely be hearing from commenters who point out that their personal drive-in is still running), but many shut down, including most of the ones that popped up in 2020 as well as others that existed before that.
Also, of course, drive-ins offer one disadvantage over indoor theaters: What if you don't want to have sex? What if you really want to watch the movie? However, this is an even larger problem when watching movies at home and is a primary reason that some of us insist on paying for the theater experience.
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Top image: Thomas Hawk