Over the last 23 years, only five movies have held a No. 1 box office ranking for five weekends in a row, according to Forbes. Four are movies you’ve likely heard of or seen, including Titanic, Avatar, Black Panther, and The Sixth Sense. The fifth title is a lesser-known horror film that debuted last July: The Wretched.
What helped catapult The Wretched to success? If you guessed drive-in theaters, you’d be correct. Although drive-in theaters reached their heyday in the ’50s and have been declining ever since, they’re making a comeback thanks to COVID-19. It’s a way to get out of the dang house and enjoy the summertime while still socially distancing with relative ease.
Despite The Wretched’s success, which was released to drive-in theaters and video on demand this May, most drive-in viewings this summer are throwback flicks. The Cincinnati area has multiple drive-ins theaters—plus a mobile theater—to choose from; so throw on your PJs, pack up the family, and enjoy a movie on the big screen under the stars.
Hollywood Drive-In Theatre
Upcoming flicks at College Park’s Hollywood Drive-In Theatre range from action to family fare like Ocean’s 8 and Thor: Ragnorak to Lilo and Stitch and Up. Movies run $20 per car. You’re welcome to bring your own food, and local vendors set up nightly.
1538 Cedar Ave., College Park, (513) 681-1551
Holiday Auto Theatre
Founded in 1948 as the Hamilton Outdoor Theatre, the Holiday Auto Theatre is showing older movies like Field of Dreams and Close Encounters of the Third Kind this summer, as well as local premiers like Ride or Die, by Cincinnati filmmaker Aly Hardt. Double-feature tickets are $9.25 per adult and $5.50 for children ages 4–11. Guests can get food at the snack bar or purchase a $5 food permit to bring outside grub.
1816 Old Oxford Rd., Hamilton, (513) 929-2999
Starlite Drive-In Theatre
Amelia’s Starlite Drive-In Theatre has been around since 1947, and upcoming double features include Harry Potter two-fers and Space Balls and Blazing Saddles. Guests can order food online or via window service, or they can purchase a $5 permit to bring in outside food. Double features are $9 for adults, $5 for children ages 4–11, and $7.50 for those 60 and older and all first-responders and active military personnel.
2255 State Route 125, Amelia, (513) 734-4001
Bel-Air Drive-In Movie Theatre Versailles, Indiana
The Bel-Air Drive-In in Versailles, Indiana, is mixing some 2020 films—My Spy and the live-action Mulan—into their line-up of classics, including Forrest Gump and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Its concessions stand is open, or visitors can purchase a $10 pass to bring outside food. Tickets, which are cash-only, run $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 5–11, senior citizens, and active U.S. military members with ID.
337 North U.S. Highway 421, Versailles, Indiana, (812) 689-5525
Reels on Wheels
When the Cindependent Film Festival had to cancel its 2020 festival due to the coronavirus, it started Reels on Wheels, a mobile movie screen on the back of a utility trailer that parks in neighborhoods across the city. Reserve your free ticket online.
Five Tips to Get the Most Out of the Drive-in
- Show up early. Most drive-ins start the movie around dusk, which is right around 9-9:30 p.m. during a Midwestern summer, but you should plan to get there around 8 or 8:30 p.m. To maintain social distancing protocols, theaters are asking patrons to park at least six feet apart, which limits the number of total cars. Bring a book or a board game to pass the time. And if you have to bring a ball, be sure to play away from the other parked cars.
- Pack a cooler, and patronize the concession stand. As stated above, most local drive-ins will let you purchase a pass to bring in outside food and drink, which adds a fun picnic vibe to the evening. However, as Bel-Air points out, a large percentage of their ticket sales goes back to the movie companies, and drive-ins rely on concessions to stay in business. Opt for a burger and some popcorn—they’ll appreciate it.
- Bring a trash bag. You don’t need anything huge—just an empty grocery bag for your candy boxes and hot dog wrappers.
- Bring something comfy to sit on. If your car isn’t as cushy as a movie theater seat, pack some camp chairs to enjoy the flick outside the car (maintaining six feet from other guests, of course). Even an extra pillow for lumbar support can make a difference. Or be like the family I parked next to last month at the drive-in: They blew up not one but two air mattresses and made themselves a sofa, complete with a back to lean against their car. They threw on some fleece blankets and pillows, and voila: Mom, Dad, and two little girls had the coziest seat in the house.
- Check your car manual to see how the battery works. When I have the battery on without my car running, for example, it shuts off every 20 minutes. But I can press on the break periodically to keep the car on. Review your manual to see if your car works the same way. Typically, starting your engine for a few minutes once or twice an hour will do the trick. Just be sure to turn off your automatic inside and outside lights before the movie starts: You think it’s distracting when the dingdong in front of you uses a cellphone in a black movie theater? Well then you certainly don’t want to see the car in front of you light up at 11:30 p.m. when Dr. Grant is helping Lex and Tim escape the T. rex in Jurassic Park.