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Photos From the Heyday of Drive-In Theaters

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(L-R) Actors Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in scene fr. film Beach Blanket Bingo, shown at drive-in movie theater. (Photo by Henry Groskinsky/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
(left to right) Actors Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in scene from film ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’, shown at drive-in movie theater. (Henry Groskinsky/The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images)

It’s amazing to think of how many places you can watch a movie these days—on your smartphone or tablet screen, the video game console, or even in the traditional setting of a movie theater.

Then there’s a type of venue that’s still around but hardly gets the mentions it used to: the drive-in movie theater. Rising to popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, there were once thousands of drive-ins dotting America. Along with the practicality of being able to bring the entire family to a movie without dealing with everyone actually leaving the vehicle, it also afforded young men and women of the era some much-needed privacy, which got it nicknamed the “passion pit.”

The format saw steep declines in the ’70s and ’80s, and drive-ins have all but disappeared in the new millennium, with an estimated 348 (or less) remaining across the country.

But we’re not here to sound the drive-in’s death-knell. RealClearLife has curated a photo gallery celebrating its glory days. Behold, see the wonders of cars and cinema colliding.

Cars parked at Rancho Drive-In Theater w. the accordion-like fulcrum arms of movie speakers reaching into each driver's front window, which they will push back onto the central post when the movie is over. (Photo by Allan Grant/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Cars parked at Rancho Drive-In Theater with the accordion-like fulcrum arms of movie speakers reaching into each driver’s front window, which they will push back onto the central post when the movie is over. (Allan Grant/The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 30: The Car Drivers Watching A Movie From Their Car In Los Angeles. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Drivers watching a movie from their car in Los Angeles. (Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) On the size of old Curtis Field, on the Sunrise Highway in Valley Stream, has been opened the first open air automobile movie theater of its kind in New York State. The 12-acre tract accommodates 500 cars at a performance. The principal of the theater is based on a series of semicircular ramps on which the fronts of cars are elevated and the rears depressed so that occupants of cars can see above the tops of machines closer to the screen. The photo shows an attendant serving refreshments during a performance.
An attendant serves refreshments during a performance. (Getty Images)
5/21/1938-Los Angeles, CA-ORIGINAL CAPTION READS: Motoring and motion pictures achieve a happy wedding in the Drive-In Theater of Los Angeles. The theater is a parking lot with graduated tiers from which motorists, seated in their own cars, watch the films projected on a giant screen. Synchronized amplifiers in front of each automobile make speech audible in all parts of the lot. Here's a view of the entrance to the theater with customers about to drive in.
Motoring and motion pictures achieve a happy wedding in the Drive-In Theater of Los Angeles (1938). The theater is a parking lot with graduated tiers from which motorists watch the films projected on a giant screen. Synchronized amplifiers in front of each automobile make the movies audible. Here’s a view of the entrance. (Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 6/13/1951-New York: A general view of the Whitestone Bridge Drive-In Movie Theater. The theater, one of two in the Greater New York area, sprawls over 22 acres accomodating up to 1,200 cars. The screen is four times the size of an ordinary screen, and there are two projectors.Drive-in theaters are growing increasingly popular. Today there are 3,000 such theaters in the U.S., 800 more than there were just a year ago.
A general view of the Whitestone Bridge Drive-In Movie Theater (1951). The theater, one of two in the Greater New York area, sprawls over 22 acres accommodating up to 1,200 cars. The screen is four times the size of an ordinary screen, and there are two projectors. (Getty Images)
Cars at a Drive-In Theater | Location: Whitestone, Queens, New York, New York, USA.
Cars at a drive-in theater in Whitestone, Bronx, New York. (Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) USA, California entrance to a drive-in cinema 1938 BIZ 9/1938 (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Entrance to a drive-in cinema in California, 1938 (ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) USA, California young couple , visitors of a drive-in cinema 1938 BIZ 9/1938 (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Young couple in California, visitors of a drive-in cinema, 1938. (ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Vehicles fill a drive-in theater while people on the screen stand near a new car, 1950s. (Photo by New York Times Co./Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Vehicles fill a drive-in theater while people on the screen stand near a new car, 1950s. (New York Times Co./Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
CANADA - JULY 25: A Night out at the drive-in. These children watch from station wagon as parents take in a drive-in movie. Drive-ins are attracting family audiences; some operators say; and are losing the passion pit reputation. Those eyes back at the youngsters belong to someone in the first of a twin horror movie bill. (Photo by Doug Griffin/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Children watch from station wagon as parents take in a drive-in movie. Those eyes gazing back at the youngsters belong to someone in the first of a twin horror movie bill. (Doug Griffin/Toronto Star via Getty Images)