The drive-in movie theatre seemed like an experience that was on the verge of being a memory of a bygone era, but it saw a resurgence in the wake of the pandemic.
After spending so much time at home during COVID, the at-home movie watching experience just isn’t as romantic as it used to be. When it’s allowed again, the cinema experience can also feel a bit uncomfortable with its sticky floors, flimsy chairs, expensive concessions, and, of course, other movie-goers speaking, texting, or eating loudly. Drive-in movie theatres offer a cozy experience for yourself and your bubble from the comfort and safety of your own vehicle.
Like a regular movie theatre, drive-ins have a few unspoken or unwritten rules and expectations in the interest of keeping patrons happy. The following tips are here to help anyone interested in attending a drive-in theatre to ensure everyone has a good time.
Purchase Tickets Ahead of Time
Consider buying your tickets ahead of time from the venue’s website or app. This will help you have a better understanding of what shows are playing and on what screen. Some theatres have a recommended time of arrival, usually 30 to 20 minutes before the show starts. In some cases, like at the Ontario Place Drive-In in Toronto, doors open 90 minutes before the film starts. This will also help to keep things moving smoothly at the entrance and prevent long lines or late start times. Buying tickets ahead of time will also prevent the disappointment of arriving to the theatre to a sold-out show and having to make other last-minute plans.
How and Where to Park Your Car
After arriving, you may get ushered to a spot, but it’s more likely that you’ll have to find one yourself. When you get to your spot, you have some options on how to orient yourself. If you like, you can point your car with its nose pointed at the screen, letting you recline and enjoy the show from the front seats.
However, if you have a vehicle with a large hatch or truck with an empty bed or sturdy tailgate, you may want to park with the rear of the vehicle facing the screen, so you can lounge in the back of the vehicle. This may be better for full carloads of people if there’s enough space. One concern with turning your vehicle around is that your liftgate may impede the view of the screen for people parked behind you. Some hatches can be pulled down to a lower level, or a three-quarters opened setting, which will make a big impact on the viewing pleasure of those behind you. For vehicles without this feature, you may need something to tie the trunk down so it is level with the vehicle’s roof.
In some cases, those driving trucks, large SUVs, vehicles with raised ride heights, or any oversized vehicles may get directed to the back of the parking area or a specific area set aside for large vehicles so that you’re not obstructing anyone else’s view.
One last parking tip: consider getting a spot near the exit. Perhaps the slowest part of the drive-in movie experience is when the shows are over and everyone is leaving. Grabbing a spot by the exit ensures you’ll be able to leave quickly, but the drawback is that if other people are leaving early, your view of the movie may be impacted.
Turn Off Your Lights
It’s important to turn off your lights during the show. Bright lights pointed towards the screen will wash out the picture, impacting the show for everyone. If your car is reversed and the lights are on, you may be blinding someone else trying to watch the movie. Some cars have automatic lights that seem to have a mind of their own, but often, putting your lights in the off position, putting the vehicle in park, and applying the parking brake will help turn off the lights. Additionally, if you’re sitting in the driver’s seat, try not to put your foot on the brakes so the brake lights don’t trigger.
Interior lights can also be distracting, so consider turning them off and disabling the function that turns them on when you open the door or trunk. Using your phone’s flashlight will be a good way to quickly find something in the dark if you need to.
This isn’t really etiquette or advice, but more of a reminder: the movie’s soundtrack is usually broadcast to an FM frequency, so your car can play the audio through its speakers. Usually, the venue will have signs or a title card before the movie starts, describing which frequency to tune to for your movie.
If you’re uncomfortable leaving your car on or don’t know how to use the accessory mode to keep the lights off, consider bringing a portable radio. Some phones can even receive FM frequencies and you can pair that feature with a Bluetooth radio.
Turn Off the Engine
It’s never good to idle your car, and that also applies at the drive-in, where there are other moviegoers around who aren’t interested in breathing in any exhaust fumes. Leaving your car in the accessory mode with the engine off should allow you to keep the radio on so you can hear the movie without the engine running. If you’re worried about killing your battery, you can turn it on for a few minutes every so often, say every 30 minutes or so, but don’t start revving your car, even if it has a sweet-sounding V8.
If you’re worried about your battery dying after the show, bring a portable battery charger, battery jump starter, or jump leads to get going again.
The money-maker of any movie theatre is their concessions stand, and that goes for drive-ins too. It’s tempting to sneak snacks into the show, and it’s rare for anyone from the theatre to search your car, so don’t worry too much about saving some money this way. Some theatres even offer a food permit charge that lets you eat guilt-free when bringing your own snacks.
But since the money made from the concession stands are vital to keeping theatres running, consider spending a few extra dollars on some snacks at the establishment. Given physical distancing guidelines, however, there may be a limit of customers allowed at the snack booth, so give yourself enough time to line up if you’re buying snacks. If you’re going to buy anything, do it early so you don’t miss the start of the show.
Sometimes you might want or need to leave the theatre early. Be aware of your headlight settings while navigating your exit, as you don’t want to blind other viewers but also need to see where you’re going. It’s recommended to use your parking lights until you leave the venue, then switch to your regular low-beam headlights.
How to Enhance Your Drive-In Experience:
Most drive-in theatres provide a double or even triple screening, meaning you can be sitting in your car for a long time. While vehicles are typically comfortable for long road trips, you may want to bring along a few provisions to keep yourself cozy for the duration of the movies. Blankets and pillows are a must-have, and those watching the movie from a truck bed or hatchback may want a cushioned surface to sit on like a beanbag chair or lounger.
During summer, bugs can really impact the enjoyment of the movie, so be sure to bring bug spray. Bug spray can help deter these pesky intruders especially if you’re in a convertible, the truck bed, or want to keep the windows open. These can also dissuade bugs from getting into your snacks – but spray onto your body, not onto the snacks.
Some drive-in theatres ask patrons to arrive early. If so, it’s advised that you bring something to occupy yourself before the movie starts. While restrictions vary at each theatre, it’s not uncommon to see a few people tossing a frisbee around or having other outdoor fun before the show begins. Additionally, if you’re bringing kids to the show, they may find themselves bored with one of the screenings, so perhaps bring something to distract them so they don’t disturb others. A portable charger for keeping mobile devices topped up isn’t a bad idea.
Even in the middle of summer, the nights can get chilly, and without your car’s engine running to provide heat, you may quickly find yourself pining for some additional layers. Think ahead and bring some extra comfy clothes to make the most out of your drive-in experience.