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Catch a summer flick with the family in a nostalgic setting

Once considered cinema dinosaurs, drive-in movie theaters are making a comeback. As an entertainment option in this season of physical distancing, drive-ins are attracting multi-generational legions of the quarantine weary. Here are eight drive-ins we think are worth the trip.

Kenda Drive-In, Marshall, Arkansas 

Located about 40 miles south of Harrison, via U.S. Highway 65, a night at this drive-in is a journey back in time. The giant single screen still glows in the dark and sound radiates from speakers perched on car windows.

“Those are the original speakers we’ve used since 1966,” said owner Kenda Dearing. “We just gutted them and retro-fitted them with radios. People love them.” 

During summer months, enjoy Throwback Thursdays, a vintage car night held the last Thursday of the month through September. Anyone who arrives in a vintage car—defined as older than 1980—gets in for free. Tickets and concessions are cash only.

Skyview Drive-In, Belleville, Illinois

Fans of mid-century modern signs and double features should add this theater to their bucket list. When it opened in 1949, Skyview attracted visitors with its pink paint and rocket ship neon sign. The pink paint is gone but the iconic rocket sign, minus the neon, remains.

“The sign went up the year after my grandfather and his two brothers opened the place,” said owner Steve Bloomer. “It was flattened once by the 1956 tornado, but it went right back up. It’s not lit by neon anymore, but it’s still considered a unique sign in the industry.”

Skyview, just 30 minutes east of St. Louis, Missouri, has doubled its attendance this season with reports of some nights selling out. Moviegoers might consider lining up early or reserving a prime parking space ticket online. Double features are shown nightly. Cash only for tickets; cards accepted at concession stand.

Skyview in Belleville

The marquee at Skyview Drive-In has been in place since 1949. | Photo by Jim Corbett photo

Holiday Drive-In, Rockport, Indiana

Over the years, when other drive-ins were closing, Holiday Drive-In grew. Debuting a sixth screen in 2016 and parking to accommodate approximately 1,100 vehicles, the theater’s been in business since 1955. Just 21 miles south of Santa Claus, Indiana, the drive-in is a cash-only business.

Boulevard Drive-In, Kansas City, Kansas

This drive-in theater opened in 1950 with a large wooden screen. Twenty years later, a storm rolled through making it necessary for the screen to be replaced with a bigger metal one. More than 600 metal speakers still hang from poles between each car and help deliver a state-of-the-art sound system. Yet, in spite of the technical updates, the Boulevard’s charm hasn’t changed. The movies show rain or shine, and admission is cash only at the gate. No concessions are available, but moviegoers can bring in food.

66 Drive-In, Carthage, Missouri

Take a drive through rural Missouri on old Route 66 to a field just outside Carthage and you’ll arrive at this mid-century modern drive-in that has maintained most of its original 1949 structural elements, including an Art Deco glass block ticket booth, the steel lattice screen, and a neon marquee. Modified in the early 1950s to accommodate a wider screen, 66 Drive-In shuttered in 1985 and reopened as a renovated theater in 1998 that has a place in the National Register of Historic Places. Tickets for the double features are cash only; cards accepted at concession stand.

Boulevard Drive-In, Kansas City, Kansas

Since 1950, Boulevard Drive-In has entertained movie fans. | Photo courtesy Kansas Department of Tourism & Travel

Starlite Drive-In, Cadet, Missouri

About 50 miles south of St. Louis via state Highway 21, you might miss this drive-in that’s tucked in a field. However, Starlite has presented star-lit movies since 1952. 

“Starlite has been in the family since 1968. It’s one of a handful of drive-ins left in Missouri,” said Doug Mercille. 

Like other drive-in owners, Mercille said business is booming. “It’s interesting what’s going on right now. We’re doing our best to keep everything safe and follow social distancing. Cars now park in every other space.” 

Movies show on both sides of screen; purchase tickets online.

Holiday Drive-In

Holiday Drive-In in southern Indiana isn't far from another popular family attraction, Holiday World/Splashin' Safari. | Photo courtesy Spencer County CVB

Seasonal Pop-up Movies

Entrepreneurs such as Brad Haas, owner of Haas-Cienda Ranch, a campground/RV park in Poplarville, Mississippi, decided last year to add a drive-in movie venue to replace his campground’s mud bogs and dirt track. It proved a winning decision.

Campers can watch the movies for free, and folks not staying at the park can still drive in and catch the movie for just a $2 park admission fee. Haas said he hopes to run the movies through early December, and concessions are sold. Haas-Cienda Ranch is located about an hour north of Gulfport, Mississippi, and accepts cash or credit. 

Suzanne Corbett is a contributor from St. Louis, Missouri.

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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