A Summer Tradition

So I’m not sure how it happened exactly… but somehow this post that I wrote the day after Labor Day got caught in some sort of blog filter. My thoughts and feelings still resonate with me, so I really wanted to go ahead and continue to post this as planned. I hope that it resonates with you, as well, and I hope that, despite it’s long after Labor Day, it will still make sense in the grand scheme of things.

Labor Day is pretty much the official end of summer. It’s the last real sign that summer has just about thrown in the towel, and it’s time to get ready for fall. But Labor Day weekend also marks one other very important sign of the end of the summer, and that is the very last night of the Drive-In for the season.

I have been very lucky to grow up less than half an hour from one of the greatest summer family fun activities in history, and that is heading over to a drive-in movie. You simply can’t beat paying a few bucks per person to see a double-feature in the comfort of your car (or your lawn chairs).

We make an evening of visiting the drive-in. We almost always pack snacks, blankets, and a frisbee and soccer ball. It’s a part of our family’s tradition to get there early, as soon as the gates open, so we can park in the very front. We have ample grass space for Zach to crawl around on his blanket, and we’re right by the playground and grass area so everyone else can play a pickup game of soccer or hang out on the swings until dark.

At dark, the movie begins to play, the snacks come out of our bags, and we curl up under the stars, watching the film and bonding as a family.

Hundreds of thousands of families have visited a drive-in since the first drive-in opened in New Jersey in 1933. It’s truly been an American past-time. It’s always fun to take people who have never been to a drive-in, too… we frequently take friends who have never been, and they absolutely love it.

However, the last night of the season has never been quite as sad to me as last night. The movie, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, was hilarious, of course (we didn’t stay for Paranorman). But it was the sinking realization that, if Hollywood doesn’t change some things, this will be the last season I get to share this tradition with my family. It made me really sad to realize that Zach might not have memories of going to the drive in as a child, because the drive-in might not come back. Ever.

See, Hollywood has been working hard to make the switch to digital for a very long time. Which is fine, for movies in a traditional theatre, but it makes it very hard for a drive-in to survive. Often, they just don’t make the revenue to make the switch, and that switch is an incredibly costly one… to the tune of $150,000-$200,000.

Drive-In owners certainly don’t own a drive-in to get rich. Many times, the cost of running it barely covers their costs enough to make a profit, but it’s such a strong American tradition that they don’t want to see it go. $150,000-$200,000 is a lot of money to get new equipment, especially since the media requirements change every few years, requiring more and more money to keep up-to-date.

A traditional theatre could easily afford this change because there are many screens with many daily showings. Drive-ins typically only show 1-2 films each weekend, charge less than most regular theatres, and only have these two showings to get revenue from concessions from. Additionally, they only show 2-3 days each week.

There are a few things that a drive-in could do to combat the large cost, but only one is a perfect solution for the drive-in itself.

First, a Drive-In theatre could pay the obscene prices to upgrade to the new format for films. The downsides to this, obviously, are the high cost and the fact that media changes so even more money would be going out the door.

The second option is for a drive-in to only air movies that were previously released in the old format, but even then, a film can only be played so many times before it wears out, and not as many people will pay to see previously released films as will new releases.

The last option is for Hollywood to make sure they support not only drive-ins, but also vintage independent theatres, by releasing the films in the old format while still moving ahead with their digital plans for most other theatres. The best of both worlds, though, of course, twice the work for Hollywood.

To me, going to the Drive-In has been a life-long tradition, and I fully want it to be part of my son’s traditions, too, or even preferably part of his children’s traditions. I feel like drive-ins are a dying art already. What used to be over 4,000 drive in theatres around the country is now only 368, and each year, that number gets smaller and smaller…

Someday, I hope my son will continue to know the joy of heading out to the Midway Drive-In on a weekend evening, playing before the show, and munching on snacks as we watch the films, cuddling up under a blanket as a cool chill fills the air… but unless Hollywood can do something to support this American tradition, I’ll have to let that dream of mine fade out, just like the lights after the last showing on Labor Day…


Have you ever been to a drive-in theatre? Have your kids? What do you think about the Hollywood vs. Drive-Ins debate? Let me know in the comments below!



  1. It has been years since I was at a drive-in. I used to take my children and it was so much fun. Put them in their PJs and pop some popcorn and watch an movie and 9 times out of 10 they would be asleep before we got home. Good memories.

    1. Zach tends to fall asleep at the drive-in, too! It’s a rare occasion when we can keep him awake long enough to make it home. I love when we’re able to go and watch the movie together, and it’s nice because we can all just spend a great evening as a family. Definitely wonderful memories for years to come!

  2. I love the drive in. I have such wonderful memories of the drive in and family time. It is a time you walk away from your busy lives to sit and talk and play with your family. More people need to take the time to just relax and enjoy what their families have to offer. I hope they find a way to save the drive in.

    1. You’re right- it’s a perfect time to just spend time together as a family! I love the opportunity to just lounge with my family, dangling my legs from the back of the car, and munch on our snacks without all of the frills. It’s a great opportunity also to spend time together as a family before the movie starts, which means a lot more bonding than just seeing a movie in theatres (and at a much better price!)

  3. Like so many other fun, clean things to do they(whom ever they are) are always going for bigger and better. I think “they” just do not know a good thing when they see it.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly! I think there is such a rush to get movies out in the newest and latest trends (like 3D and HD and all of this other stuff) that they’re losing the art of true filmmaking for great family experiences like the drive-in. I feel that the drive-in isn’t the only thing suffering, either. I found an image today that showed how many original films were made in 1980 (9 out of the top 10 were original– not a sequel or remake)… 0 of the top 10 movies in 2011 were original films– all were sequels or remakes of previous films or comics.

      I think we’re sacrificing a great thing just to get a lot more of lesser things.

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