Let’s Go To The Drive-in!

The other day Charlene was waxing nostalgic about drive-in movie theatres. Whether you remember them from the days when Dad would pack the family, blankets, pillows and a basket of goodies in the station wagon —


— Or the days when you and a special someone (or a gang of special someones) would pack a two-four in the van — the memory of drive-in movies has to bring a smile to your face.

The movies were old and cheesy.


The food was crappy. dancingsnacks400

The sound was tinny.


The little heaters almost never worked.


But still, there was something magical about sitting in your own little foggy car world watching a movie on a 100-foot screen. About walking into the concession stand between features and running into everyone in town; gasping at who was at the drive-in with whom; trying not to peer into other cars on your way back to yours.

I always loved the ads between the features. Especially the one with the dancing weiner and bun. The bun beckons; the weiner throbs and bounces around around — it hesitates, doesn’t know what to do; the bun splays itself wide open; the weiner dives in. Remember that one? Wasn’t it creepy?


So anyway, Charlene was wondering whatever happened to drive-in movie theatres.

Well, Charlene, as you know back in the late 1920s some young kid decided he would try to find a way to combine his two favourite things: cars and movies.

He started by setting up a projector on the hood of his car and nailing a screen to some trees in his backyard. He then spent most of the next few years perfecting the parking arrangement so that every car would have a good view of the screen.

With $30,000 Richard Hollingshead opened his first drive-in movie theatre in New Jersey (Yay, NJ!) in June of 1933. He charged 25 cents per car and 25 cents per person.


 Actual photo of the first-ever drive-in movie theatre.

(And no, I didn’t take it myself)

The rest is more or less history. Drive-ins were mainly popular in North America and Australia, though apparently there are, or were, a few in Europe as well.

HOWEVER, after the 1950s, our good friend, Urban Sprawl and our other good friend, Cable Television, kind of killed off the drive-ins. At the same time as  customers started staying home to keep up with their 500 TV channels, developers were offering big bucks for those huge acres of drive-in movie land just outside of town.  They were offers  drive-in owners couldn’t refuse.

The good news, Charlene, is that Nostalgia, being what it is, decided to cause a bit of a resurgence in drive-ins about 10 years ago. And, while most of us may think the drive-in has gone the way of the Dodo, there are, in fact, drive-in movie theatres all over the place. 

The closest drive-in to Ottawa in the Cine Parc Templeton over in Gatineau. It opens for the season on May 1st. I’m thinking a field trip needs to be organized!!

For drive-in theatres in other parts of Canada, check here.  And check here      for a list of drive-in across the US. There’s even an Autokino  site in case Gila is feeling a bit nostalgic for an autokino experience. I couldn’t find any drive-in listings for anywhere else in Europe or the UK. But if Germany has some there must be drive-in movie theatres in other countries on the other side of the ocean, right?adrivein_sml


40 responses to “Let’s Go To The Drive-in!

  1. “and no I didn’t take it myself”….haaaaaaaa!

    I loved the drive-in. We would go in a pick-up truck, bring blankets, sleeping bags, beer etc. Not sure how much watching of movies took place, but I sure get the warm and fuzzies thinking back on those days.

  2. Ah memories. I remember double-dating with my girlfriend in her boyfriend’s Camaro. Tina and I sitting on our boyfriends’ laps in the front watching the movies, because the seat backs in a Camaro were too high to see over from the back seats. Double feature horror night: The Fog and The Hills Have Eyes. Both have been remade, but the originals scared the crap out of us and necessitated a lot of scared cuddling with the guys. I wonder whatever happened to Tina and the guys we dated back then.

    Oh, and the hotdog and bun movie. Freudian.

  3. I heard on the radio the other day that there was a new drive-in being built somewhere in the US — just can’t remember where.

  4. Of course St Catharines/ Thorold had and still has the countries first multiplex drive in. A 4 screen entertainment paradise by the dashboard light.

  5. Hah, one of my favourite B movies is “Dead End Drive-In“, a futuristic “thriller” in which Australian teenagers are involuntarily incarcerated in a remote drive-in theatre. So bad it’s good. 😉

    I remember going as a family to the drive-in in the Halifax-Dartmouth area when I was little (pre-1971) — but I don’t remember what we saw, don’t remember if I enjoyed it, and definitely don’t remember the bun and hotdog (I only recognize that from watching “Grease”). After 1971, we only went to indoor theatres.

    When I first moved up here in 1995, I lived near Bank and Hunt Club. We could watch the screen of the Airport Drive-In from our balcony, though we couldn’t catch the sound. The last time I ever actually went to a drive-in was that same one, when I was visiting Ottawa in about 1986 or so — to see Legal Eagles and some others (it was a double- or triple-bill). It was one of the most miserable experiences of my movie-going life, which is no doubt why it was the last time I ever went.

    While part of me misses the prevalence of drive-ins (I was quite sad when the Britannia and Airport Drive-ins were shut down), I don’t personally miss them.

  6. thanks for the memory xup! that was a nice read. in our family, we were all in our jammies as we drove to the drive in and for sure, one of us would either be hidden on the floor or in the trunk (it wasn’t closed CAS!) so that we could get a couple of us in for FREE. man, the things we did. some of us would actually lie on the hood of the car or on the roof.

  7. There’s a great drive-in near Toronto called the 5 Drive-In. Been there a few times. Glad to know there’s one in Ottawa too. That will come in handy. Gotta love the good ol’ days.

  8. We still have 2 drive-ins here, both on the same side of the Twin Cities for some reason. They still play that creepy hot dog into the bun thing. I can only truly enjoy big blockbuster action films at the drive-in. Partly because I can whisper snark louder and partly because something about being outside makes the genre more exciting to me.

  9. I have never been to a drive-in, being Scottish, but would love to experience it. But to make me truly happy it would need to be a total recreation of the one in Grease, right down to the food and everything. I think it unlikely that Scotland is likely to pull that off!

  10. Meanie – You could be warm and fuzzy again! You should make a date with the hubby (or other person of your choice) to hit the drive-in next month. Rent a pick-up

    Alison – I think Freud was a bit more subtle than that, don’t you? And, do you think it was an accident that they always brought that Camero to the drive-in?

    Mike – Thanks for that highly-detailed update! Seriously, there are quite a few around still – did you check out the list? If they build a new one it will probably have all sorts of high-tech features that will take all the fun out of it.

    Dr. Monkey – So, you’re not a fan? Oddly enough the drive-ins died right when we really switched gas-guzzling into high gear as we moved further and further away from the city and into the suburbs and started shopping at big box stores. Drive-ins were usually a couple of miles out of town in a field somewhere. Now they’d have to be many, many more miles from town before they hit a field.

    Bandobras – Really? It’s still out there? Same place?

    Louise – Are you going to post about your miserable movie-going experience? And ya, I can live without drive-ins. It would be nice to take my daughter once just so she has the experience.

    Raino – This was your parents that put you in the trunk so they wouldn’t have to pay for you? Geeze…

    Chris – The good old days are so much more fun in retrospect, I think. Especially when you consider that THESE are going to be someone’s good old days some day.

    Missy – Drive-ins were made for suspense and action, I think. Romance gets kind of gruesome when it’s 100 feet wide.

    Loth – Well you’ll have to make a point of going when you’re here. I’m pretty sure the food has remained the same. The cars might look a little different is all. So, they never had drive-ins in Scotland, eh?

  11. When I was a little kid, I was far more interested in the playground at the movie theater than the movies, but in 1980, I used to go with a guy I was dating. Every Monday night was dollar night. He drove a big truck and would back into the slip. We had two reclining lawn chairs and an ice chest full of seagram’s 7, 7-up and beer. We held court lounging in the back of that truck sipping our 7&7’s while all his old friends dropped by to visit. That was fun.

  12. Yes XUP its still there.
    I drive by it every once in a while.
    There used to be one by Brock University believe it or not – I remember going to my mother’s graduation ceremony and as we were leaving asking my parents why there was a giant penis on the screen.

  13. also, meant to mention that we often still go to the drive in in port elgin ontario, near perth, lombardy, smith falls area.

  14. Alison – A hot dog is never just a hot dog – that’s the whole point. We don’t need it spelled out with splaying buns and beckoning fingers.

    Geewits – Is there a drive-in near you now? You should go – make out in the back seat with the sweetie.

    Lebowski – Ah ha! Everything makes perfect sense now.

    Jobthingy – This could be dangerous. Be sure to park in the back away from the impressionable youth

  15. Wow, drive-ins. I remember going to the drive in on a double date in high school. It was my first date with this guy and we sat in he front seat. My friend Debbie and her boyfriend fogged up the windows in the back. I remember it was very embarrassing.

    Before that, I remember going with my parents. I’d fall asleep in the back seat before it was over.

    There are still drive-ins in smaller towns around here. I know of one in Concord, NC and one in Mount Airy (Andy Griffith’s town).

  16. There’s an old drive-in in Pembroke (maybe 1.5 hours from Ottawa).

    It’s got a 1940’s vintage water-cooled movie projector, and the owner will let you watch him run it. They have a swingset/playground in the front. They play cartoons in the beginning.

    And they play the cartoon to go get snacks at intermission. Where you can buy real hot dogs and awesome junk food. On labor-day weekend, they play all-night movies.

    It’s like going back in time. I hope it never shuts down.

  17. Raino – Rather you than me, baby!

    Lola – Ya, as the list I linked to shows, there are lots of drive-ins in the US still and quite a few in Canada, too. Who knew? You were very brave to go to a drive-in on your first date. Did you ever see him again or were you both too embarrassed?

    Frair – Have you been there lately? Problem with these quaint old things is that everyone loves them and loves to talk and reminisce about them, but no one goes and then they have to shut down. Does it still have the speakers on a pole or have they succumbed to the radio station version of getting sound into your car?

    Violetsky – Okay, here’s the plan. Next time I go down to visit the family in St. Catharines, we’ll meet up and go to that 4-screen multi-plex. My daughter has never been to a drive-in either. Okay?

  18. Violetsky – You want to canoodle? Gee, I didn’t realize you felt that way about me. I’d probably have to get to know you a bit better and/or meet you first. You’d think we would have worked all this out before committing to that villa, wouldn’t you?

    Hannah – Well the Gatineau one opens in a couple of weeks. I’ve never been and I don’t know what it’s like but the photo on the internet sure makes it seem seedy – so it should be fun.

    Mrawzors – Really? The one and only? There are tons of reasons why I would have loved the 50s, I think. But you don’t have to go back in time to go to a drive-in, you know. Have you never been?

  19. @XUP
    I go there at least once or twice a summer.

    The paint’s peeling, the place is a bit run down, but it’s still going. I hope for a while.

    They don’t have the speakers, though. It’s all by car radio now.

  20. I loved Drive-Ins when I was a kid. The first movie I saw at a Drive-In was Jaws. With my parents. I was 6. I was so terrified that I sat on the floor of our station wagon crying until it was over.

    The last movie I saw was Top Gun (late ’80s). It was so awesome. I miss that. It’s a shame that they’re all gone. I think we still have a couple here in Southern California but I’m sure they’ll be sold before you know it so some ass can build ugly houses that we don’t need on the land!

  21. I have never been to a drive-in. What is wrong with me??? Apparently I am all kinds of missing out on “splayed buns” and “throbbing wieners.”


  22. I guess I thought if it was a double date (we all knew each other), we’d be laughing and talking and watching the movie. Idiot.

    We did not go out again! Maybe it’s because we weren’t making out!

  23. Friar – I like the speakers. Especially in winter when you have to have one window partly rolled down for the speaker and one window partly rolled down for the heater. Good times.

    Violetsky – Ha ha ha haha hahhahahahahhahhhhaaaaaa! I’ve never seen you, but I can picture your face when you read that last comment from me. You’re so funny.

    Mo – They’re not all gone. Really. It just seems like they’re all gone. Check the list I linked to – there’s tons of them. Take Bill, a blanket and a bottle of Scotch. It’ll be fun.

    Lesley – You and Violetsky – never been to a drive-in. Wow. Maybe it’s something only parents with lots of kids did. Parents with one kid could afford real movies maybe?

    Lola – One of those “put out or get out” dates, eh? Harumph. You’re well rid of him.

    Jazz – I really don’t know anything. I just give good google.

  24. i have fond memories of the drive in movie places, we took luke last year and he wasn’t as impressed as i’d hoped but we had a good time.

    this one is near gastonia, nc and it used to be just porn flicks.

  25. Leah – Isn’t that disappointing when you take your kids somewhere or show them something that means or meant so much to you and you’re so excited to share it with them and they’re just kind of “meh”??

  26. They’ll still be a bit of nostalgia for me, I’m not driving 100 miles to go to the drive in and I don’t see one opening here in the near future. Bummer.

  27. Hello everyone,

    I;m planning to take the family and some friends to the Templeton in Gatineau in July… Looking forward to the nostalgia. Can someone tell me if they have the speakers on the poll or if it’s fm radio based?

    Thanks and have a great summer ppl.

  28. I’m not sure who here lives in Toronto, but for those who do there are 2 drive ins that I know of. There is one out in NewMarket, the other in Barrie (near St. Catharines). A great dating idea. A lesson learned the hard way though; show up very early to make sure you actually get in.. (: