States With The Most Drive-In Movie Theaters

States With The Most Drive-In Movie Theaters

Photo courtesy of Canva

By Stacker

June 6, 2023
Cars entering The Moonlite Theatre in Abingdon.
Michael Williamson // The Washington Post via Getty Images

Drive-in theaters evoke nostalgia, a step back to the 1950s. The first opened in New Jersey in 1933, when opening night drew people from at least 20 states to watch movies outdoors from their cars. Drive-ins reached their peak in popularity in the mid-1950s with more than 4,000 operating across the country.

But by the late 1970s, exploding property values, television, and large indoor theaters all lured movie fans away from the drive-in experience. During the coronavirus pandemic, however, drive-ins saw a resurgence as pop-up outdoor theaters appeared to take the place of indoor ones that were closed, allowing moviegoers to stay outside. But the problems bedeviling drive-ins persisted.

Stacker examined County Business Patterns data from the Census Bureau to determine which states have the most drive-in movie theaters. Rankings were determined by the number of drive-ins per 1 million residents.

There are currently 177 drive-in theaters operating in 25 states. States with the highest number of drive-ins per capita are largely located in the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. For the count, film festivals or other types of movie theaters were not included.

A map showing the number of drive-in movie theaters per 1 million residents.
Stacker

Drive-in theaters becoming harder to find

The pandemic gave drive-in movie theaters a spurt of new popularity as people were eager to be entertained but wanted to stay outside. But the difficulties drive-ins face are hard to overcome, from the need for often expensive land to having to buy pricey high-resolution projectors to show first-run movies.

Cars parked at the Nite Owl Drive-In Theater in Miami for screening.
Alexander Tamargo // Getty Images for HBO

#25. Florida

– 0.2 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 5 drive-ins total

Drive-in theaters have long been popular in Florida, with the first opening in Miami in 1938. The Silver Moon in Lakeland has been in operation since opening in 1948, except for a few months in 1950 because of tornado damage. There are plenty of other spots where you can still pull up in front of a big screen: Ocala Drive-in in Ocala, the Ruskin Family Drive-in Theater in Ruskin, Joy-Lan Drive-in Dade City, and Nite Owl Drive-in in Miami.

Camden Drive-in theatre in 1933.
ullstein bild via Getty Images

#24. New Jersey

– 0.3 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 3 drive-ins total

The first drive-in movie theater in the U.S. opened in Camden on the Pennsauken border in 1933. It promised that “motorists and their guests will see and hear talking pictures while they smoke, talk, or partake of refreshments without annoying others in the audience,” Tyler Hoffman, a professor at Rutgers University told the South Jersey Times. Today one place you can watch movies in the open air is the Delsea Drive-in Theatre in Vineland—rain or shine!

Starlight Drive-In marquee reads “Temporarily Closed” during the pandemic.
Paras Griffin // Getty Images

#23. Georgia

– 0.4 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 4 drive-ins total

The Starlight Drive-in Theatre on the outskirts of Atlanta has been in operation since 1949. The theater encourages you to make sure your car battery is strong enough to power the radio through the show, but if it fails, jump starts are available. Other spots for a movie under the stars: the Swan Drive-in Theater in Blue Ridge, whose name comes from the swans in England, the Tiger Drive-In Theater in Tiger—which had closed but reopened exactly 50 years after its first showing—and the Jesup Drive-in in Jesup, which opened in 1948.

Cars entering The Moonlite Theatre in Abingdon.
Michael Williamson // The Washington Post via Getty Images

#22. Virginia

– 0.5 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 4 drive-ins total

The Family Drive-in Theatre in Stephens City advertises itself as the only drive-in theater in the Washington D.C. metro area. Also in Virginia are Goochland Drive-in in Sandy Hook (open only since 2009 but with a retro vibe), the Starlite Drive-in in Christiansburg, and the Park Place Drive-In in Marion.

A car entering The West Wind Solano 2 in Concord.
Carlos Avila Gonzalez // The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

#21. California

– 0.5 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 18 drive-ins total

The home of Hollywood, California fittingly has among the most drive-in theaters in the country. The Rubidoux Drive-in in Riverside once had a petting zoo and miniature railroad. Those are gone but it still has its art deco-styled original screen. In northern California, the West Wind Drive-ins have three locations: Concord, Sacramento, and San Jose.

Entrance to Carthage’s 66 Drive-In.
Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge // Getty Images

#20. Missouri

– 0.5 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 3 drive-ins total

The aptly named Sunset Drive-In Theater in Aurora opened in 1951 and kept its original wooden screen until it burned down in 1979. The sound system was upgraded after it was struck by lightning in 2001. An old drive-in theater in Blomeyer was revitalized in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic and is now the Rock ‘N’ Roll Drive-In.

The Ford Wyoming Drive-In in Detroit.
Andrew Burton // Getty Images

#19. Michigan

– 0.5 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 5 drive-ins total

A nod to the cherry harvest of northern Michigan, the Cherry Bowl Drive-in Theatre in Honor opened in 1954 and also features a playground, volleyball net, and a 1950s-style mini-golf course. The Ford-Wyoming Drive-In in Dearborn was once the country’s largest drive-in-theater with nine screens and parking for 3,000 cars but has since reduced the number of screens to five, viewable by up to 2,500 cars.

Vintage marquee and screen at Lynwood’s Sno King Drive-in.
HUM Images // Universal Images Group via Getty Images

#18. Washington

– 0.5 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 4 drive-ins total

The Skyline Drive-In Theater in Shelton featured “Lady and The Tramp” and “Billy Budd” on its opening night in 1964. The Rodeo Drive-in Theater in Bremerton was originally the “Rodeo Motor Movies,” built in 1949 as part of the United Drive-Ins chain and claims it is the largest outdoor theater complex north of California.

Cars arrive at Litchfield Star Lite Drive-In.
MARLIN LEVISON // Star Tribune via Getty Images

#17. Minnesota

– 0.5 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 3 drive-ins total

The Long Drive-In Theater in Long Prairie is one of the few drive-in theaters that allows you to stay overnight. Because the movies run late and some people have driven long distances, tents and RVs are permitted with reservations. Other drive-ins in Minnesota: the Starlite Drive-In in Litchfield, Verne Drive-In Theater in Luverne, and Sky-Vu Drive-In Theatre in Warren.

Restored Mission Drive-in Theatre in South San Antonio.
xradiophotog // Shutterstock

#16. Texas

– 0.6 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 17 drive-ins total

Drive-in theaters in Texas date to 1934 when only the third in the country opened in Galveston. At its peak, the state had more drive-ins than any other. On the one hand, there is the Big Sky Drive-In Theatre, its name celebrating the big sky of the West Texas Permian Basin between Midland and Odessa. On the other, there is The Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In in Austin, which accommodates only 15 to 40 cars per night.

Buena Vista Drive-In Movie Theatre during daytime.
Canva

#15. Colorado

– 0.7 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 4 drive-ins total

The only original drive-in still open in the greater Denver area, the 88 Drive-In Theatre in Commerce dates to 1972. The Holiday Twin Drive-In in Fort Collins shows both classic and modern movies, and although pets are allowed, the theater notes: “Barking is disruptive.”

Winchester Drive-In neon cowboy sign during daytime.
HUM Images // Universal Images Group via Getty Images

#14. Oklahoma

– 0.7 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 3 drive-ins total

At the Winchester Drive-In Theatre in Oklahoma City, moviegoers are greeted by a vintage neon cowboy. The landmark has been in operation since 1968. The Admiral Twin Drive-In is just off Route 66 in Tulsa and was used for Francis Ford Coppola’s famous drive-in movie scene in “The Outsiders.”

Cars at entrance to Mount Pleasant’s Basin Drive-In.
George Frey // Getty Images

#13. Utah

– 0.9 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 3 drive-ins total

The Erda Dive-In in Tooele opened around the late 1940s or early 1950s (accounts conflict, according to its website). Whatever the year, it operated seasonally, from May to October depending on the weather. The screen had to be rebuilt in 1991 after it was destroyed by a tornado.

Marquee at entrance for Hi-way Drive-In Theatre in Coxsackie.
lev radin // Shutterstock

#12. New York

– 0.9 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 18 drive-ins total

The state’s first drive-in movie theater was on Long Island when the Sunrise Drive-In opened in 1938 in Valley Stream with a showing of “Start Cheering.” It was demolished but the Finger Lakes Drive-In in Auburn retains its vintage charm now as New York’s oldest open-air theater. It dates from 1947.

Vintage Kenosha Drive-In entrance.
HUM Images // Universal Images Group via Getty Images

#11. Wisconsin

– 1.0 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 6 drive-ins total

The Skyway Drive-In Theatre opened in 1950 and is now the longest continuously running drive-in found in Wisconsin. It remains a one-screen theater, the snack bar has not changed much, and it continues to show cartoon advertisements created decades ago before the movies. Another historic theater, Highway 18 Outdoor Theatre, 2 miles west of Jefferson, first opened in 1953 and then reopened in 2000.

Vintage Mid-Way Drive-In in Junction City.
HUM Images // Universal Images Group via Getty Images

#10. Kansas

– 1.0 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 3 drive-ins total

The Boulevard Drive-In says it was the first drive-in theater anywhere to install digital sound and 4K resolution digital projection. The original screen was made completely out of wood but a strong wind tore out about a third of it in 1971, which led to a replacement metal screen. The Kanopolis Drive-In in Kanopolis is located along the Prairie Trail Scenic Byway.

Rural drive-in theatre during sunny day.
Canva

#9. Tennessee

– 1.1 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 8 drive-ins total

The Stardust Drive-In Theatre in Watertown holds Retro Wednesdays. Coming up this summer are showings of “Steel Magnolias” from 1989, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” from 1982, and “Back to the Future” from 1985. The Parkway Drive-In in Maryville shows movies rain or shine but will keep its gates closed in the event of a tornado warning by the National Weather Service.

Vintage Paducah Drive-In Entrance.
HUM Images // Universal Images Group via Getty Images

#8. Kentucky

– 1.3 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 6 drive-ins total

The Knox Drive-In is located in Barbourville City Park. The local city council wanted to offer ​​something different from neighboring cities, according to its website. The Sauerbeck Family Drive-In in La Grange notes that “unfortunately for those looking to catch a free show,” it positioned its screens to minimize any view from the road.

Blue Sky Drive-In in Wadsworth.
AProvchy // Shutterstock

#7. Ohio

– 1.4 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 17 drive-ins total

At the Field of Dreams Drive-In Theater in Liberty Center, free games such as putt-putt golf, corn hole, and sand volleyball are available before the movies begin. It opened in 2007 after the owners planted grass instead of crops on their property and added a second screen in 2010. The Toledo Blade once warned that the theater can be surrounded by so much corn by midsummer that you might miss its narrow entrance.

Drive-in with playground in Indianapolis.
Canva

#6. Indiana

– 1.5 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 10 drive-ins total

The Georgetown Drive-In Movie Theater, established in 1951, opened for its 72nd season in May 2023. The Starlite Drive-In opened in 1955 and has had only five owners since then. And the Tibbs Drive-In, family owned and operated since 1967, is the last drive-in theater in Indianapolis.

Vintage Norland Sunset Drive-In marquee.
HUM Images // Universal Images Group via Getty Images

#5. Pennsylvania

– 1.5 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 20 drive-ins total

The Mahoning Drive-In Theater, established in 1949 in Lehighton, offers a retro 35 mm film program, in which movies are shown reel-to-reel via the original 1940s Simplex projectors. “At the Drive-In” is a documentary about the theater. Becky’s Drive-In was begun by William D. Beck, known as Becky. He started out showing movies outside at Uncle Charlie’s Lunch in the 1930s.

A giant potato on the back of a truck at the Spud Drive-In Theater in Teton Valley.
Karen Desjardin // Getty Images

#4. Idaho

– 1.5 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 3 drive-ins total

In the history of the Parma Motor-Vu, Karen Dobbs Cornwell writes that the Dobbs family bought the Parma, New Plymouth, and Wilder drive-in theaters in 1944. Her father, Bill Dobbs, drove to Wilder each night while she and her mother, Gladys Dobbs, spent each night at the Parma.

The owner of the Bridgton Twin Drive-In waits for patrons at the front gate.
Gabe Souza // Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

#3. Maine

– 2.2 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 3 drive-ins total

The Narrow Gauge Drive-In in Farmington opened the 2023 season with screenings of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” The drive-in mixes movies with live music shows. The Skowhegan Drive-In, which opened in 1954, saw a surge in attendance during the pandemic, followed by a subsequent drop-off. But it has opened for the 2023 seasons.

Aerial view of Northfield Drive-In at sunset.
Gabe Shakour // Shutterstock

#2. New Hampshire

– 2.9 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 4 drive-ins total

The Milford Drive-In Theater was built in Milford in 1958, with several contractors from the area contributing labor and materials in the hopes of sharing in the profits, according to the theater’s history. A group of local people owned the drive-in, which opened with a single 84-foot wooden frame screen. Also popular: Weirs Drive-In Theater at Weirs Beach, whose motto is “Let the popcorn fly.”

Drive-in movie screen on summer day.
Canva

#1. Vermont

– 4.6 drive-ins per 1 million people
– 3 drive-ins total

The Fairlee Drive-In Theater in Fairlee also has a motel. The theater came first in 1950 and six motel rooms were added a decade later in 1960. Bethel Drive-In in Bethel opened in 1954 and operates on weekends from early June to Labor Day. Sunset Drive-In in Colchester was established in 1948 and has four screens.

Data reporting by Elena Cox. Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Tim Bruns. Photo selection by Elizabeth Ciano.

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