MCHENRY, Ill. – As states reopen restaurants, retail and golf courses, movie theaters are still trying to sort out how to safely pack hundreds of people into their seats. But it could lead to the resurrection of a nearly abandoned form of movie-watching – the drive-in theater.
With no new film releases slated until at least July, Golden Age Cinemas in McHenry, Illinois, has been showing classic features the last few weeks.
“The screen is about nine stories tall,” said Scott Dehn, owner of the drive-in. “The outdoor theater is about 70 years old. It's home to a great many memories.”
The drive-in has taken extra precautions due to the pandemic. The entire staff wears masks and gloves.
“The employees have been instructed on washing their hands every 15 to 20 minutes, cleaning the bathrooms every 15 and 20 minutes, even if they look spotless,” said Dehn.
Movie watchers must stay inside their vehicles, whether that means laying in the bed of a truck or in the back of a van.
“It's nice being on the outdoors and enjoying company this way,” said movie watcher Megan Haduch. “It's just it's a change of pace a good change of pace.”
They’ve also limited the number of vehicles from 750 to 350 in order to maintain safe distances. But once the sun goes down, it feels like a regular movie night.
“Getting to experience something that was, you know, the norm back in the day and then, you know, reliving it nowadays is really cool and to share with someone special, I think that's even more important,” said movie watcher Ferman Luna.
There were just over 4,000 drive-in theaters like this in the late 1950s. Today, about 300 still exist across the country. But some believe social distancing needs could spark a renaissance of outdoor cinema.
Dehn says he’s selling out daily.
“It's beyond anything I thought,” said Dehn. “I mean especially when you consider these aren't new movies. It's unbelievable.”
Outdoor theaters are popping up around the world, from Germany and Brazil to Iran and the Czech Republic. With football season on hiatus, the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami is even being converted into an open-air theater, as well as a drive in.
It’s a return to a classic entertainment as the world edges back to a return to normalcy.