While it seemed for about a ten-year period from the mid-80s to the mid-90s that drive-in theaters were an iconic U.S. entertainment form that was headed for extinction, baby boomers' nostalgia for cinema under the stars created a nationwide resurgence in drive-in theaters. The upswing of drive-in theater continues today, as twenty new locations opened across the country between the summer of 2005 and the summer of 2006 alone. Along with new locations, old vintage theaters have been renovated and reopened, providing a space for baby boomers to symbolically return to their youth and to share those fond memories with their children. Currently, drive-in theaters of some variety operate in nearly every U.S. state.
Songs about Drive-Ins
Music has provided a popular medium in which to celebrate and memorialize the experience of going to drive-in theaters. Artists such as the Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, the Beach Boys, and Jim Croce, among many others, dedicated songs to drive-ins and the memories they forged in the minds of their respective generations. Listening to the words of the Beach Boys, and the song, "Drive-In," written in 1964, one is reminded of the ways in which drive-in theaters affected the patrons that flocked to their lots on warm summer nights back in their heyday.
"Every time I have a date,
there's only one place to go
That's to the drive-in
It's such a groovy place to talk
and maybe watch a show
Down at the drive-in"
In the Movies
Along with several documentaries created about drive-in theaters, such as "After Sunset: The Life & Times of the Drive-In Theater" (1995), many feature films have taken up the subject of the drive-in as a setting or reference point for their cinematic drama. Recognizing "ozoners" as a changing aspect of the American landscape, locations have been used to evoke multiple meanings and have appeared in comedy, drama, and horror films. Most notably, the 1978 film, "Grease," starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John, revolved around this pair of lovers who sang, danced, and lived the 50s culture in which drive-in theaters found a central and distinguished place.
Art of Drive-Ins
While scads of photographs have been shot of drive-ins across America, in terms of painting, Beaumont, Texas, artist Randy Welbourne is most well-known. His series, "Moments to Remember," includes two paintings of Beaumont drive-ins in the mid-1950s. "Goin' Steady" depicts the Circle Drive-In which opened in 1948, and "A Summer Remembered" shows the South Park Drive-In which opened in 1950. His use of bright colors and unreal perspective reflect the era in which drive-in flourished, one of big cars, bright lights, and big screens.
In the digital era, websites have become a premier medium in which to look back on and promote drive-in theaters. Keeping aficionados updated about openings and showtimes and providing a place of nostalgic return for baby boomers, these sites combine various multimedia elements to create a visual and historical experience that reminds visitors of drive-ins lasting legacy. Check out our resources page for a list of sites related to drive-in theaters if you are interested in learning more.