Drive-in tips for a complete novice?
June 29, 2010 9:50 PM   Subscribe

What should I expect at a drive-in theater? What stuff should I know/bring before going?

My husband found a drive-in about an hour from our house and planned an excursion for us and two friends this weekend.

I am not of the drive-in generation so my only "experience" with them comes from Grease.

Here are my questions: Can you see easily from the backseat? We're going with another couple and I'd like to ensure we can ALL watch. Do you leave the car running? It's likely to be in the high 90s here so I don't really want to sit in a hot car for a few hours.

And finally: if you've been, what made it even better? I'm thinking snacks...pillows etc. but I am sure there are things I'm forgetting. (Surprisingly the internet doesn't have many FAQs on drive-in etiquette and the actual drive-in's website seems to assume I know things I don't.)
posted by Saminal to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience with drive-ins, though I haven't been to one in a few years: Yes, leave the car running and sit inside if it's going to be hot. You may need to, anyways...most modern drive-ins that I've seen have you tune into a radio station to listen to the movies instead of something like the old speakers. I could always see from the backseat, but I was usually leaning forward. The two people in the back will need to lean/sit closer to the middle (so a regular car is preferable to something like a van). Bring a blanket...sitting in the front seat of an air-conditioned car can get cold after a while, and if you all decide that sitting in the car isn't working and you want to sit on the hood or something you can lay on the blanket. I once went with a few people in a pickup to see a movie, and the driver pulled into a spot backwards and we watched it from the bed of the pickup truck- he also knew the people working and I'm not sure if you'd be able to do this normally, but we put down a couple of blankets and lit some citronella candles and it was like an outdoor bugless couch. (I'm most definitely not of the drive-in generation either, but my hometown still operates one and we visit it every time we go back. Because of that, a lot of my memories involve falling asleep in the car halfway through the movie and waking up at home in my bed, so ymmv).
posted by kro at 10:10 PM on June 29, 2010

You can leave the car running if you want with your AC blasting. Others will bring lawn chairs and sit our in front of their cars.

If you decide not to keep your car running the whole time, bring a radio with batteries with you so you can hear the movie.

Some drive-ins forbid outside food (as they make their money from concessions) or they will charge money to bring in outside food. Please try to honor this as these theaters are hanging on by a thread usually.

They usually run a double feature. One is normally a studio's newest release, followed by another movie they did that came out a few weeks ago. Other than kids movies being together, there may be no thematic link between the two you may get a comedy followed by an action film or something like that.
posted by inturnaround at 10:12 PM on June 29, 2010

Most drive-ins open about an hour before nightfall and show 2 movies. This will be a late night if you stay for both movies and then drive the hour home.
If you want a prime spot, show up early. Bring lawn chairs, blankets, and bug spray. Park near the projection building/snack bar, but not right next to it. Most drive-ins have the lot graded to provide little hills to park on so your car is gently angled up toward the screen. Visibility from the backseat is often terrible, so we usually sit in chairs behind the car with the doors ajar so we can hear. If you have a minivan, point the nose away from the screen, raise the deck lid and lay in the back. Audio will be routed through your cars radio by tuning to a specific radio station. Do NOT run your car during the movie. Noise and exhaust spoil movie. Be mindful of those parked behind you. Don't spoil their view by climbing on the roof of your car.
They may ask to look in your vehicle to check you're not smuggling in extra people, but most places are pretty laid back. If you want to drink booze, hide it on the way in. Most drive-ins have no booze policies. I usually pop a grocery bag full of popcorn and bring drinks in a discreet softside cooler.

Tips: use the bathroom/buy snacks in the middle of the movie. Before and between movies is always a madhouse. Be prepared for ancient restrooms. They're not building drive-ins anymore, and the facilities are often 50+ years old.

Be prepared for low-def. This is not Dobly 5.1 THX. It's a old projector trying to overcome ambient light and throw a decent image from 50 yards away on a giant billboard that's probably dirty and washed out.

Etiquette: if you leave early, only put on parking lights to exit. Turning on your headlights ruins the movie for everybody else and blinds them for several minutes.
If you're planning on ignoring the movie in favor of more traditional drive-in activities, park in the back and away from lights.

If you see somebody's van rockin', don't come a'knockin.

Have fun! The drive-in is one of my favorite summertime activities.
posted by cosmicbandito at 10:15 PM on June 29, 2010

I take my pickup and park it with the back facing the screen. We can fit 4 lawn chairs in comfortably. We bring a cooler with wine (poured into plastic ups) and food. A blanket in case it gets cold. Bug spray too depending on where you are in the country. It is always a good time.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:19 PM on June 29, 2010

You probably can't see much from the backseat. But there should be enough space around your car to set out folding chairs, or if you've got a vehicle with a lot of space in the back, you can park backward, open your tailgate, and sit in there. A pickup truck bed would work, or maybe the back of a van or SUV. Blankets and pillows are nice for comfort in that situation. When my family used to go to the drive-in, my mom and dad would bring folding chaise longue-type lawn chairs, and they'd open up the back of our station wagon so my brother and I could chill out in there.

I don't remember people leaving their cars on - seems like that would waste a lot of gasoline, and it might annoy your neighbors too. To me, the heat is part of the summer experience, I guess - but sitting outside your car helps mitigate that.

Snacks are definitely good, and cold drinks in a cooler too. You can bring as much as you like without paying concession stand prices! And depending on the theater's policy (or how unobtrusive you are), you might be able to bring in adult beverages too.

Etiquette-wise, if you have a monstrous SUV or a lifted truck or something, it's nice not to park it right in front of someone else's tiny little coupe. I even seem to recall our theater asking large vehicles to park in the back row.

Our drive-in had three screens, and two features per screen. They'd put a brief intermission between the films so you could get snacks or hit the bathroom or whatever. And after they played through both movies, they'd run the first one over again. So sometimes, if the timing was right and we were feeling ambitious, my family and I would watch through two movies on one screen, then pack up our chairs/blankets and sneak over into one of the other lots to catch a third flick. This works better when you bring your own portable boom box, because then you don't have to edge up next to someone else's car and strain to listen from their radio.
posted by sigmagalator at 10:24 PM on June 29, 2010

I take my pickup and park it with the back facing the screen. We can fit 4 lawn chairs in comfortably. We bring a cooler with wine (poured into plastic ups) and food. A blanket in case it gets cold. Bug spray too depending on where you are in the country. It is always a good time.

That was always our preferred method too.
posted by fshgrl at 10:37 PM on June 29, 2010

Best answer: This is all good advice. Just remember, a drive in movie is not really about the movie. It's about people watching, hanging out at the snack bar, waiting in line at the bathroom, making out in the car (if you get a moment alone or get the back seat), talking through the movie, snacks, blankets, kids running around, loud teenagers, mosquitoes and bad sound.

If you go to "see the movie" you will not have fun. Especially in a modern car with bucket seats and a low hanging mirror on the windshield. Go for the whole experience though, and you will have a great time!

Also, "drive in"s can mean a lot of different things these days, from a classic drive in to a movie on a sheet in a grassy field. So what to expect might vary in the details. Just remember: don't care too much about the movie. You are going to a unique kind of event that just happens to have a movie showing.
posted by quarterframer at 10:51 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd like to add that I've never seen people sitting in lawn chairs at my drive-in. Might want to check the rules of your particular location before doing that.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 4:13 AM on June 30, 2010

Tips on movies to watch at the drive in - The picture quality will be awful, so if you have your choice of movies to see, go see one with lots of dialogue and little action like a rom-com - you'll likely hear better than you'll see. Pick a brightly filmed one - many of those old projectors are getting pretty dim, so darker films don't show up very well. I saw Batman Begins at the drive in (second viewing) and could barely make out what was on screen a great deal of the time, and all we could hear were action-y explosion and fast driving sounds. Yeah, you're going for the whole experience, but you should still be able to enjoy the movie itself.

When we used to go to the drive in when I was a kid, my parents would take two cars - leave us rowdy kids in one car while they have a quiet date in the other :P
posted by lizbunny at 8:48 AM on June 30, 2010

Too bad you're going with another couple. Drive-in movies were known as "passion pits" in my days as a youth, and I would answer you, if you went then, by saying to expect much groping. Who knows what kids do there these days?
posted by Lynsey at 10:54 AM on June 30, 2010

Just watched the A-Team at my local drive-in last night. Whenever we go we bring lawn chairs. If it's hot, we sit outside in front of the car. If it's cold we sit inside. We bring a boombox, although last night we forgot it, so we used the car's radio. Never ever turn your headlights or your dome light on during the movie; it's rude to your fellow patrons. Bring blankets if you're going to sit outside. Even in the summer, once the sun goes down and the wind comes up it can get chilly. Liberally apply bugspray. Buy food at the concession stand; it's how most drive-ins stay alive. When the movie ends, be courteous and patient. Nobody's getting out of there fast. Our drive in provides a bag for trash when you enter, and a place for the passenger-side rider to toss it out the window as you exit. Your drive-in may vary.
posted by MsMolly at 9:26 PM on June 30, 2010

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