Today, a little over three hundred drive-in movie theaters remain sprinkled throughout the United States. This means that many Americans are not lucky enough to have a drive-in movie theater close by their home. In the drive-in’s heyday, small production companies would release B-movies tailor-made for the drive-in audience. There was everything from angry extraterrestrials to hip-shaking teenage beach parties, all of which are now enjoyed for their campy special effects and corny performances. Today, many of these films are available on DVD, Blu-ray, or Netflix, and can be enjoyed from the comfort of your couch. If you’re someone without the luxury of a drive-in theater nearby, you can create your own drive-in movie night right at home. Just grab any one of these out-of-this-world flicks, pop some pop corn, cook up a few hot dogs on the grill, grab a date or the kids, throw open the living room windows, and enjoy some light-hearted entertainment from yesteryear. For those looking for some more adult-oriented entertainment, there are also a few horror flicks that made the drive-in rounds. Just make sure to put little Johnny or Susie to bed before showtime.
- The Blob (1958)
Director Irvin Yeaworth’s The Blob was released late in the summer of 1958, but this cosmic freak-out still thrilled fresh-faced moviegoers with its
shapeless monster that consumed everything in its path. Starring a young Steve McQueen, this teenage monster movie will delight adults and children alike with its catchy theme song, playful action, and exciting climax that finds the alien menace oozing out of an indoor movie theater. Maybe Yeaworth was letting audiences know that the blob wasn’t meant for indoor viewing?
- Jaws (1975)
Released in the summer of 1975, when drive-ins were embracing harder-edged entertainment, director Steven Spielberg petrified audiences with Jaws, the ultimate summer movie. (Sorry Star Wars) Ripe with quotable one-liners and perfect viewing while peepers belt out their summer songs into the night air, Jaws is an essential experience for the young and the old. This movie just screams drive-in! You can just picture a young couple gripping onto each other as Brody tells Quint, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat…”
- Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957)
Originally intended as a serious slice of sci-fi entertainment, director Edward Cahn’s cosmic comedy boasts some of the cutest extraterrestrials to ever scamper across the big screen. Released by American International Pictures (AIP) in a double bill with I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Invasion of the Saucer Men runs just over an hour, making it a light and brief ride for younger viewers with short attention spans. Don’t worry about things getting too spooky, as kids are sure to adore the pint-sized aliens with their oversized heads. It also features a beer-drinking bull intruding on a make-out session. You just have to love ‘50s science fiction!
- The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965)
Beach party movies quickly became a favorite among drive-in audiences, as they blared hip surf rock from tiny transistor speakers and featured beautiful bods doing the twist in the California sun. While many of these films focused on young lovers dashing around on sandy beaches, a few dared to venture into spookier territory. Directed by Jon Hall, The Beach Girls and the Monster tries its darndest to pass itself off as a legitimate monster movie, but it delivers more unintentional comedy and is a bit more concerned with partying than it is with telling a gripping story. A sure hit with older teens who are sure to get a kick out of the campy monster who preys on bikini clad babes.
- I Drink Your Blood/I Eat Your Skin (1970)
As the drive-in theater rusted away and audiences got seedier, the entertainment got harder and nastier. One of the most famous double bills from the drive-in’s darker days is I Drink Your Blood/I Eat Your Skin, which was released by drive-in kingpin Jerry Gross. Horror and exploitation fans are guaranteed to love I Drink Your Blood’s copious amounts of gore and bad taste as tainted meat pies turn satanic hippies into wild-eyed zombies, and there is plenty of hilarious charisma dripping off of I Eat Your Skin’s black-and-white jungle-voodoo mayhem. I Eat Your Skin isn’t nearly as disgusting as its title suggests, but one thing is for sure, make sure you put this double feature on after the kiddies hit the hay.
- Them! (1954)
Released in the summer of 1954, this giant bug movie was released by Warner Bros. and packs some respectable tension. Telling the tale of a group of military personnel and scientists racing to stop a colony of giant ants, Them! is a hypnotic chiller from the Atomic Age that is more suitable for teenage viewers who will be surprised to discover just how eerie giant ants can be. Made with more money than some drive-in fare, Them!’s ants hold up incredibly well and the performances—specifically from James Arness and Edmund Gwenn—are A-list quality. A masterpiece genre film that ranks as a must-see classic.
- Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)
Just hearing the title Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is enough to sell anyone on this drive-in romp. Barely clocking in at an hour and designed for those more interested in making out, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a Frankenstein monster of a film. It’s part giant monster movie and part alien B-movie. It’s also brimming with hilarious special effects, massive papier mache hands, and some of wildest performances you might ever see in a B-movie. View it as a comedy, pair it up with The Beach Girls and the Monster, and you are sure to have a great time with it.
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956)
In 1954, Japan’s Toho Films released the pitch-black Gojira, a bleak reflection on the horrors of the atomic bombs that ended WWII. Gojira was a massive hit, and America took notice of the enthusiasm this monster movie received. Picked up by an American distributor who added actor Raymond Burr to the chaos, Godzilla was projected under the stars for American teens more interested in city smashing than underlying meaning. While Gojira may be too dark for children, Godzilla: King of the Monsters will have younger viewers glued to the screen with its non-stop action.
- Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
Absolutely nothing says “drive-in” like American International Pictures and Beach Blanket Bingo. One that is sure to please your mother, director William Asher’s toe-tapping Technicolor musical is brimming with surfing, skydiving, and summer romance. Colorful and accessible, Beach Blanket Bingo is a sunny little number that will offer a welcome escape from the long list of monster movies that dominated drive-in double bills. As if it needs any more drive-in credibility, the film can be glimpsed showing during the drive-in scene in 1981’s The Outsiders.
- Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Film fans may remember Roger Corman as the king of the B-movie, but nobody did schlock better than Edward D. Wood, Jr. Remembered more by cult movie fans than by mainstream filmgoers, Ed Wood is celebrated for making what many consider to be the worst film ever made—Plan 9 from Outer Space. Part gothic horror movie, part alien invasion thriller, Plan 9 from Outer Space is so bad, it’s hilariously awesome for those who love camp. Made on the cheap and chock full of goofs, Wood’s enthusiasm is contagious and his mistake are easily forgiven, even while one actor reads from a script hidden in his lap! Featuring a final performance from Bela Lugosi, who died shortly before production officially began, Plan 9 from Outer Space is one the whole family can laugh at.
What are some of your favorite drive-in movies? Sound off in the comments section!
by Steve Habrat
One of the most memorable aspects of the drive-in movie theater is the intermission bumpers that played before or between double features of I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and The Blob. These whimsical little numbers would happily remind moviegoers about all of the delectable treats that waited for them behind the concession counter, and it gave warm warnings about how much time remained before the show got underway. The creative team behind all those dancing hot dogs, marching popcorn bags, and strutting popsicles was Filmack Studios—or Filmack Trailer Company, as it was known at the time—a family-owned that opened its doors in 1919 and remains in operation today. In the 1950s, Filmack sent out a catalogue to drive-in theater owners and operators, reassuring them that they were chock full of ideas that would keep cars parked under the stars, prevent moviegoers from driving off with speakers still attached to their car windows, and have the concession stand lines nice and long. In addition to providing the intermission entertainment, Filmack has also been responsible for giving many individuals their start in the entertainment business, including the king of animation, Walt Disney.
Today, many drive-ins will continue to show these charming little animations between mega-blockbusters like Transformers and The Avengers—offering small little slices of gentle nostalgia to the adults that can remember seeing them with their date back in the good ol’ days, while allowing a younger generation to catch a glimpse of a simpler time. If you’re local drive-in isn’t showing them, you can revisit them on YouTube, where large, fifteen-minute blocks play for your entertainment. If you’re a fan of classic exploitation, you can also find some of these bumpers nestled between trailers for such grindhouse classics as The Devil Within Her and Machine Gun McCain on the cult trailer series 42nd Street Forever. So, in honor of this Drive-in Summer, enjoy a few of these beloved animations. I bet you’ll start craving a hot dog, a soda, and even get the itch to head to the drive-in!
What were your favorite intermission cartoons? And remember, make sure to get out with the family and go to a drive-in theater near you. Make sure to share the experience on Instagram under the hashtag #driveinsummer!
And don’t forget to visit The Droid You’re Looking For for swell vintage drive-in photos!
Anti-Film School, The Droid You’re Looking For, Furious Cinema, and The Grindhouse Cinema Database Present…Drive-In Summer
Going to the movies should be an event. Whether you’re seeing a small independent feature or a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, a trip to the movie theatre should be a larger-than-life adventure that transports you completely. Over the years, indoor chain movie theaters like Regal Cinemas and AMC have been the places to catch the latest Iron Man movie, but there is another spot that can be even more fun than elbowing your way through crowded rows of teenagers staring down at their iPhones. The drive-in movie theater is the ultimate cinematic adventure, and for years, it has been slipping from the American public’s memory. Audiences have seemed content to plunk down $13.00 a ticket for a 3D movie, and then forced to spend almost $40.oo more on throwaway concessions. Many family owned drive-ins offer more bang for your buck, provide a breezy family atmosphere, fill you with nostalgia, and practically scream summer right in your face.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve been taking a social media graduate course through Kennesaw State University. The class required us to create and execute a social media campaign. I choose to encourage readers to get out and support a local drive-in this summer, before the cold weather forces us all back into the crowded multiplexes. Over the next week, I will be partnering with John LaRue of The Droid You’re Looking For, Furious Cinema, and The Grindhouse Cinema Database to spread awareness about drive-in movie theaters, educate readers about their rich history, and attempt bring enthusiasm about these wonderful establishments. Feel free to seek any of us out on Facebook and Twitter, share stories about the drive-ins, share information about local drive-ins near you showing retro double features or throwing a nifty summer shindig. Also, share photos of your drive-in trip on Instagram, and make sure to label everything you post to social media with the hashtag #driveinsummer. With only 370 drive-in theaters remaining throughout the United States, lets get out there and show our support by catching a flick under the stars.
The Droid You’re Looking For has kicked things off by posting a map that allows you to find a drive-in theater near you. Make sure to visit and check it out. If you wish to get involved and do posts of your own on your blog, feel free. The more participation there is, the more business and awareness we can drive to these theaters. There is more to come! Enjoy the show!
-Theater Management (Steve)