Daniel DiManna
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Will Drive-In Movie Theaters Make a Comeback?

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Drive-in movie theaters
Will concerns about social distancing lead to a Drive-In Renaissance?
Photo: Laxbot7 via CC

Of all the industries hit by the current COVID-19 crisis, few have been hit as hard as the film industry. The shuttering of theaters around the world has kept movie studios from exhibiting the newest releases and deprived cinephiles of the ability to enjoy films on the big screen. As restrictions and stay-at-home orders begin to loosen, the search for a new way to safely show films to an eager pubic is beginning. One such way may involve a trip back in time and the return of a classic movie-going pastime: drive-in movie theaters.

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The return of the drive-in movie theater

Drive-in movie theaters were once a mainstay of the American cinema landscape. Hundreds of these outdoor gathering places existed across the country and were immensely popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Drive-in culture remained a huge deal for decades, but their popularity began to wane as the new millennium began. In 2020, only 306 drive-in theaters remain in operation across the country, the last remnants of a nearly extinct tradition.

But that could soon change. In the wake of forced theater closings and the implementation of social distancing, the film industry has been sent back to the drawing board. While many studios have taken the route of releasing new films straight to digital platforms, the fun of seeing a movie on a big screen is not easily replaceable. To this end, a recent partnership between Tribeca Enterprises, IMAX, and AT&T will see the introduction of a summer movie program that will play a selection of films at drive-in theaters across the United States. “We’re excited to give people something to look forward to this summer and reinvent a classic movie-going experience for communities to enjoy together safely,” said Tribeca Enterprises and Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Robert De Niro in an official statement.

This initiative is called the Tribeca Drive-In and will launch on June 25.

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While no specific titles have been announced for the event, selected films are said to cover new, classic, and independent releases. The involvement of IMAX means the best image and sound quality possible, as well as a large library of digitally remastered films to use for the screenings. After years of decline, it seems the drive-in movie theater may finally be getting the second chance it deserves.