10 of the Best Drive-In Movie Theaters in America
The very first drive-in movie theater opened in June of 1933, in the heart of Camden, New Jersey, and Americans immediately took to watching the silver screen beneath a blanket of stars. According to the New York Film Academy, Americans loved heading to the drive-in with their friends and family so much that, at its peak in the 1950s, there were more than 4,000 drive-in theaters across the nation. Today, there's just about 350 left, according to Quartz, and most are located in rural destinations across the United States since city-dwellers were the first to make traditional cinemas popular. They're hard to find—but if you know where to look, you can still enjoy a new film and a delicious snack while parked in the summer evening air.
Some believe that the drive-in theater is making a comeback due to how luxurious they can feel compared to the traditional cineplex today. Most theaters charge by the car, not by the person, and many serve delicious eats that are a fraction of the price of convenience stand snacks—plus, you can even bring your dog along for the trip. Some of the places on this list even offer access to motels or camping sites, or host flea markets and community hubs during the day when film isn't rolling.
While luxury movie theaters continue to dominate the market, cinema buffs are flocking to drive-in theaters like these due to the amenities we're about to feature here. Whether it's grassy fields adjacent to vacation destinations or paved lots in the heart of America's motorland, each of these places let you take in a movie (or two!) in style.
Located in the heart of Cape Cod, the Wellfleet Drive-In theater is a destination for family fun all day long. Start out by heading to the flea market during the day, then enjoy a round or two of mini-golf with your friends and family. Finally, finish the day with a double-feature and a trip to the on-site dairy bar, which is well stocked with soft serve and scoops of all flavors.
The very first theater of its kind to be built in Maine, the Saco Drive-In is located on Route One in proximity to many other family-friendly amusement parks. According to WJBQ Portland, this theater was the 17th drive-in to be built in the United States, and it's the second oldest drive-in theater currently operating in America. When it first opened in July 1939 the cost for a car to attend a movie was just 35 cents.
One of seven drive-in theaters left in Virginia, this theater originally opened in 1950 with room for 300 cars. In 1957, it was sold and renamed the Hull's Drive-In—it operated in stride up until 1998, when it had to shut its gates. But in 2001, a community-led group of organizers raised enough funds to purchase the drive-in outright, reopening it to the public; it's America's only non-profit community-owned drive-in today.
Greenville, New York
Nestled in the valleys of upstate New York, just about three hours away from Manhattan, the Greenville Drive-In (also known as Drive-In 32) originally opened in 1959. Today, the theater is known for their snack "shack," which sells farm-to-table foods and meals alongside a beer garden stocked with local brews. Sometimes, the theater also hires live bands to perform music alongside classic black and white films.
Middle River, Maryland
At Bengie's Drive-In, you'll watch the latest movies on the largest outdoor screen in America—it's a whopping 52 feet high and more than 120 feet wide. Near Baltimore, it first opened in 1956, and they still provide families access to triple features on weekends for one flat price. In between each movie, they also screen classic cartoons and vintage trailers.
Some of the old drive-in theaters became a place you could stay for the entire night—even after credits have rolled, nearby motels would allow you to book a room to enjoy films into the wee hours. The Fairlee Drive-in and Motel is one of the last combination destinations in the United States, and this theater boasts an on-site motel where you can watch films from the comfort of your room.
Shankweiler's Drive-In Theater has been open for nearly 85 years since 1934, making it the first drive-in theater to open in Pennsylvania. Current owners claim it is the longest operating drive-in in America as it hasn't closed since then. Maybe it's because fans keep coming back to their classic snack bar, which dishes out hot funnel cakes, ice cream sundaes, and barbecue classics.
While cars do create a strain on environmental resources, this drive-in theater does everything it can to offset that—including powering their theaters with renewable energy. According to TreeHugger, the Harvest Moon Drive-In Theater in Gibson is the first—and likely the only—theater to be completely powered by nearby wind turbines. To cement their commitment to the environment, the staff at the theater also use recycled packaging and service ware at their snack bar, and uses LED lighting inside the grounds.
This is the only theater on this list that has earned status on the National Register of Historic Places. The 66 Drive-In, as it's name suggests, is just off historic Route 66—it originally opened after World War II ended in 1949, and it had room for 400 cars that were traveling along the route out west. It originally closed in 1985, but it was reopened in 1997 and has been showing double features ever since.
One of the later additions to the state, the Bangor Drive-In opened in June of 1950, but it boasted enough room for a whopping 900 cars. While it closed in the 1980s, a Boston-based culinary group reopened it in July 2015 to much fanfare with a full-service snack bar selling state classics like whoopie pies. It's central location allows Mainers or tourists in Vacationland to catch a flick in the summer without driving down south to other areas.