The coronavirus pandemic has thrown millions of lives into chaos, in large and small ways. Even for those of us who aren’t suffering directly, we find that parts of our normal summer routines are upended. Event spaces, water parks, and other venues are all either shutting down, limiting attendance, or implementing precautions to keep their attendees safe.
One of the first and most complete casualties of the pandemic and the subsequent regulations is movie theaters. Theaters, which are designed to have dozens of people in an enclosed space next to each other for hours at a time, are an obvious vector for the transmission of any airborne disease. For the safety of movie-going patrons, most traditional movie theaters like AMC are temporarily closed.
The Pandemic’s Effect on the Movie Industry
The entire movie and television industry has experienced an unprecedented shakeup over the pandemic. It has affected everything from the top down, in a lot of different ways.
- The Emmy Awards and other awards shows have been canceled.
- TV shows have had to make do with workarounds for being unable to film in person, ranging from delays to janky animation.
- Big-budget feature films like Christopher Nolan’s Tenet have been repeatedly delayed.
- Other films, like Trolls World Tour, have been released direct to streaming services, or simultaneously between streaming and theatrical releases. This has led to a lot of controversies, with AMC theaters threatening to not license films that released digitally. Though DreamWorks, which made 40 million dollars from Trolls in the first week entirely from the digital release, laughed and shrugged about that kind of threat, no doubt.
Movies in production have been delayed, or have been forced to implement a wide range of mask and distancing requirements, or otherwise adapt to the New Normal to continue filming. Theaters remain closed until it’s safe to open, though many are pushing to open regardless, and face consequences ranging from state government sanctions to fines to their visitors getting sick.
At the same time, one artifact of the past has seen a not-so-surprising resurgence in the wake of all of this.
What if you wanted to see a movie, but you wanted to stay isolated and socially distant while you did? What if you were to set up a large screen in an open space, use some modern technology to broadcast audio, and allow people to drive up to the screen to watch?
The concept of the drive-in theater is nothing new. The earliest example of a drive-in was from before World War II, in fact, and opened in New Mexico all the way back in 1915. Obviously, things are very different now, both in terms of the kinds of shows on offer and the technology used to power them.
There was a time, in the 40s and 50s when both movies and car ownership surged and drive-ins became a logical business to pursue. Their popularity peaked in the 60s, in fact, though they began to decline by the 70s. Home videos became more and more affordable around then which gradually killed the drive-in movie theater.
These days, the drive-in theater has been seeing a bit of a revival. While few and far between, these theaters have been coming back as a form of retro technology, some showing old movies, some new, some indies, and more. In 2006, around 500 drive-ins were open in the United States.
The modern drive-in has a few adaptations that make them somewhat different from their retro counterparts. Some of them use Jumbotrons instead of projector screens, for example, and some of them use more modern technology like short-range radio broadcasting for audio rather.
For those of us in the Dallas and surrounding north Texas areas, who want to hit up one of those drive-in theaters, one question stands out. Are there any around here?
Drive-Ins in the North Texas Area
There are, surprisingly enough, over 20 different drive-in theaters in Texas. As for how many of them are in the Dallas and Fort Worth area, well, that’s another story. Let’s take a look.
The Galaxy Drive-In. This theater, in Ennis, is a bit south of the center of Dallas on Highway 45. As of this writing, they are open seven nights a week, their ticket prices and snacks are relatively cheap, and they show a variety of modern new releases and older releases. Their website is here.
The Coyote Drive-In. This is a theater and event venue in Fort Worth, just off Main street near the center of the city. Their venue is a hybrid of a drive-in and an outdoor festival grounds hosting a variety of forms of live entertainment. Their website is here.
The Brazos Drive-In. This is a pretty small and simple drive-in theater with a few screens showing retro movies. They were initially opened in 1952 and have survived thick and thin since then. Their website is here.
The Graham Drive-In Theatre. This one is a little bit out of the way, west and a little north from Fort Worth out in Graham. They have digital projection and can host up to 100 cars each night for single or double features. Their website is here.
The Last Drive-In Picture Show. Obviously not the last, but branded that way, this theater is a bit south of Dallas, a little more than halfway to Austin. It’s a little out of the way, but they show a mix of double features of a retro film and a new film. They don’t have a website, but you can find their Facebook account here.
There are also some old drive-ins that have closed. Unfortunately, they still show up on a lot of searches. If you’re someone looking to buy and open one back up, here are some options you could pursue. View them all here.
If you happen to know of another drive-in in North Texas that’s still open, feel free to let us know in the comments so we can add it to this list as well. The world of drive-in theaters is rapidly changing, perhaps more now than it has in its history. Some of these could pop up at any time. Though, speaking of…
Pop-Up Drive-In Options
One interesting phenomenon caused by the pandemic is the thousands of people looking for an alternative and new business opportunities. Drive-in theaters are, obviously enough, a case of “what’s old is new again.” Old theaters are getting a surge in traffic and profits, closed theaters are being purchased and refurbished for reopening, and other solutions are springing up.
One such major solution is an experiment Walmart is performing. They’ve set up the Walmart Drive In at over 160 locations across the country. For now, this is just a limited selection of events with limited screenings at specific locations. Of the 160 locations across the country, 14 of them are in the North Texas area. These showings are currently scheduled to run between mid-August and October, but we fully expect Walmart to expand the program if it proves to be a success.
Participating locations include Walmart supercenters in Prosper, Plano, The Colony, Frisco, Roanoke, Bedford, Grand Prairie, McKinney, Irving, Rockwall, Denton, Wylie, and Murphy. You can see the full list, along with when and what movies are being shown, at the link above or in this article.
It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see other companies following suit with this kind of plan. After all, anywhere there’s a sufficiently large parking lot, a decent projector, a large screen, and some Bluetooth speakers could be set up into a makeshift Drive-In theater. You’d have to license movies to screen, of course, and there are legal hurdles to vault for things like ADA compliance and food safety for concessions, but plenty of people are likely to give it a try.
Incidentally, if you know of any others, you can let us know about that too.
Alternatives to Theater Screenings
Drive-ins are likely going to be packed for the foreseeable future, due to the pandemic and the interest of movie-going audiences who are otherwise given little choice. The nearest Blockbuster has been closed for ages, so we’re left with very few alternatives, but here are some.
Home streaming services. Everyone knows about Netflix and Hulu, and the new Disney Plus is likely to host a lot of the new Disney films as they come out, though they have an additional fee to rent them on top of the cost of Disney Plus itself. Other streaming services, like HBO and Starz, certainly have their own libraries of exclusives. Look for other major studios opening their own streaming services in the future, to capitalize on digital distribution for their movies without having to go through an intermediary platform.
Home movie nights. If you want the theater experience, you can always set up a projector of your own. You can rent a projector that can just hook up to a computer and stream anything you have access to on that computer. You can also buy a projector if you want to keep it around to use more often.
The side of a house can be a good surface for a projected movie, as can a garage door. Set up some lawn chairs, or “drive in” to the driveway. Use some Bluetooth speakers hooked up to the computer powering the projector to get audio without needing a full surround system that blasts audio to the whole neighborhood.
Events in parks. One common trend among communities is setting up movies in parks. These can be organized by municipalities or by organizations that book a park to show a movie to an audience. These kinds of public showings in parks aren’t restricted to cars, so you’ll need to adhere to mask and social distancing rules if you attend one of them, and they may be banned depending on the city or state regulations against large gatherings.
One example might be the “til midnight at the Nasher” event, held at the Nasher Sculpture Center. This event is basically a glorified movie in a park, held by the sculpture center, often with a live concert preceding it. The Nasher has been closed due to the pandemic for a while now, but they plan to open back up on August 20th. It remains to be seen whether they’ll be restoring the events or just opening up the center, though.
Another example is the UTA summer movie series. Every summer, the University of Texas at Arlington plans a series of movies held on the lawn. They, too, could have this event canceled or rescheduled, but you can keep an eye on the UTA events calendar to watch for changes and updates on the movie series.
The best course of action is either to limit yourself to a household or small family gathering, with or without a projector (or actually attend one of the real drive-ins). Social gatherings, even with proper distancing, can be potentially dangerous vectors for infection, and a movie isn’t really worth that.
Stick to a drive-in where you can be isolated from others in your car, distant from other cars, and still enjoy a theater-like experience. Or, if you don’t feel like being around other people and cars, you can rent your own and have someone set up a portable theater at your house.
Otherwise, well, there are plenty of other fun summer activities you can do that don’t require a social gathering to do them, so why not explore?