at the drive in

The End of Movie Theaters, or a New Beginning?

If movie theaters are going to die the slow and painful death we're already starting to see, thanks to Lady Corona, then don't we need a legitimate replacement for them? Yes, the onset of streaming has brought on a decreased popularity in movie theaters and a preference for staying at home, but the experience of seeing a film on a blown up screen is not going to go quietly into the night. The scourge of COVID has oddly led to the growing interest in the drive-in experience. This has been seen in certain areas of the country, namely the greater LA area. Believe it or not, some premieres, festivals, double features, and even throwbacks have been shown through this medium, even out in La La Land. Can this be more than just a trend that will fade out?

Dare I say, can this be a viable replacement if the day comes when theaters finally give their last, dying breath?

The Recent Rise in Popularity of Drive-ins

Here's the thing, the future of movie theaters is nebulous, to be kind. So, in the meantime, while we figure our corona business out, we need a meaningful replacement. Streaming cannot and will not replace the experience of movie theaters. However, it may become the primary way we consume entertainment, if it isn't already. The pandemic has brought on an uncommon rise in use and popularity of drive-in theaters. Across the nation, whether it be stationary or travel, drive-ins have provided a method of watching new movies as well as classic, beloved films. For instance, Michael B. Jordan and Amazon Studios teamed up to bring films to audiences nationwide by showing them at Wal-Mart parking lots. Decades ago, the States used to have thousands upon thousands of drive-ins spanning the nation. These numbers have dwindled as the years have gone on. Thanks to Corona Time, some have reopened and have re-found their purpose.

Drive-ins across the nation have found that posting tickets to their websites have brought them the most success. Showing films like The Sandlot, Grease, The Greatest Showman, and Dirty Dancing have proven lucrative as they sold out in minutes. Owners of these businesses have had issues with showing newer films as purchasing the rights and licensing has been difficult to say the least. The distributors have been problematic to work with, evidently. Despite the revenue from selling out tickets, Drive-in owners have posted losses due to paying for staffing, permits and the licensing for showing 2020 films. It seems running a drive-in may not be all it's cracked up to be during these troubled times.

Thanks, COVID

On the other hand, drive-ins had seemed to be a dying breed prior to the COVID pandemic. The onset of the virus had allowed for something of a revival of the medium, despite the overwhelming popularity of streaming and the need to stay home. At the risk of leaving one's home and contracting the virus somehow, many felt compelled to cure their cabin fever by attending a drive-in showing of their favorite films. The best part of parking and watching a film at a drive-in during a pandemic is the fact that you don't even have to leave your car. There's little to no risk of contracting the virus, unless you're overwhelmed by the urge to relieve your bladder during and are forced to use a public restroom or porta-potty. I had listened to several podcast episodes regarding the issue of dying movie theaters and the reverting to old ways of viewing cinema, and the fact is, podcasters, bloggers, critics and entertainment writers alike are all willing to make a long drive to see a movie at a drive-in they're simply dying to see.

Granted, they do not represent the general populous, and it is their job to do just that. But, it is encouraging to hear that anyone who is ready, willing, dedicated, and able is going to make the trip and support this dying business. One must admit, it is a great way to experience a film together as a family.

Replacement, or Place Holder?

Unfortunately, the Drive-in may not be a viable replacement of movie theaters as the lack of profits show, but it can be a legitimate place holder as the spread of COVID-19 is slowed or until a mass-distributable vaccine is manufactured and ready. Since the virus is here to stay and is certainly not going anywhere any time soon, it's going to boil down to people feeling safe in a theater once again. This does not appear to be the case as polls say 25% of Americans do not feel comfortable going back to theaters for at least another six months (newsweek.com). Additionally, 70% say that they would much rather stream content at home than risk it at the theater (marketwatch.com). Drive-ins do provide the safe option of distancing and the possibility of not encountering other patrons at all, but availability and accessibility can be limited depending on where you live. As stated, drive-ins can be the temporary placeholder as we inch closer to safer trips back to the theater.

Time Will Tell? Or Are We Screwed?

It's unclear what the future holds for movies, movie theaters, and drive-ins for that matter at this point. It's unfortunate to see that we're being held in some type of shitty purgatory or movie limbo thanks to COVID, streaming and the apparent indifference towards movie theaters.

But, I will say this: there's something about the resurgence of drive-ins that hearkens back to the days of old as a result of all this that brings a smile to my face. I'd like to personally thank drive-in owners for sparking this supposed comeback and bringing this opportunity to the fore of the moviegoing experience.

We salute you. And we need you.

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By Rob McNeil

My name is Rob McNeil. I was born and raised in Normal, Illinois and I am a 28 year-old award winning screenwriter. I am very passionate about film, so much that I watch far too many films on a daily basis. I have written fifteen feature screenplays, a spec pilot thriller series, and several short scripts. I aim to make filmmaking a career, but for now, I will write about it.

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