Drive-in movie theaters making a comeback during COVID-19

Some drive-in movie theaters are making a comeback and reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Capitol Drive-in in San Jose, the Solano Drive-In in Concord and the Sacramento Drive-in are all open for business.  

People must wear a mask whenever leaving their car to go to the restroom, and cars can't be parked within ten feet of one another.

But the popularity is not just in California. 

There are just over 300 drive-ins left in the country. They constitute a small, oft-forgotten flicker in today’s movie ecosystem that hardly competes with the megawatt glare of the megaplex and the nation’s 5,500 indoor theaters. But through decades of disruption and change in American life, they have managed to survive. They’ve somehow clung to life as relics of past Americana only to find themselves, for a brief moment anyway, uniquely suited to today.

With nearly all of the nation’s movie theaters shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, some drive-in owners think they’re in a unique position to give moviegoers a chance to do something out of the house while keeping distance from others. 

The Showboat Drive-In Theater in Hockley, Texas, about a 30-minute drive outside Houston, normally sees ticket sales go down about 40% on a weekend when they don’t have any new movies. At the end of March, they saw a 40% increase, says the theater’s owner, Andrew Thomas. Usually open weekends, Thomas has kept screenings going through the week.

At the Paramount Drive-in near Los Angeles, Forrest and Erin McBride figured a drive-in movie was one of the only ways they could responsibly celebrate their anniversary.

“We were like, what can we do? Everything’s closed,” said Forrest before a showing of “Onward” on Thursday night. “We were like, ‘Well, a drive-in theater is kind of like a self-quarantined movie date.’”

Movie studios aren't really releasing new movies right now, so the drive-ins are screening movies that were still being shown in late February.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.