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Editorials

UK Drive-In Cinemas: Boom or Bust?

July 9, 2020
Drive-In Cinema [Source: Harpers Bazaar]

Drive-in cinemas. The American phenomenon where you can enjoy watching films on a big screen from the comfort of your car. It’s something that brings all the benefits of the communal experience without the annoyances of viewing films in a crowd of people. Well with the current pandemic worries drive-ins are seeing a resurgence in popularity. And the UK is looking to get in on the action.

So, today we’re going to look at the history of drive-ins, as well as some of the drive-in cinema events coming to the UK. And asking if UK drive-ins will take off as they have in the US?

History

Drive-In Theatre history began when Richard Hollingshead came up with an idea to accommodate his mother, who couldn’t fit into normal cinema seats. He had the idea of allowing people to view movies from the comfort of their cars. He set up a screen between some trees to project movies onto, with a radio behind the screen. And in 1933 he opened the first official drive-in cinema in Camden, New Jersey advertising it as affordable family entertainment.

Subsequently, drive-ins sprang up across the US in the 1950s and 60s. Culminating in 1958 when over 4000 drive-ins operated across the US. The numbers slowly declined in the 70s and 80s due to high land values and competition from television forcing many theatres to close. But since the 90s the number of theatres still open has remained steady. Recently new theatres have even begun to open. During this time drive-ins also gained access to new Hollywood releases. And with evolving technology drive-ins have received a great boost in projection and sound quality. A far cry from the grubby exploitation roadshows of old.

Similarly, Australia also enjoyed a history of drive-in success, with several big drive-in screens still operating today. The UK however never cracked the drive-in market. There were several attempts. In 2012 Route 66 opened, hoping to be a permanent fixture of the UK cinema scene, though it has since closed. And there are around 20 drive-in theatres currently operating in the UK. But compared to the US and Australia, UK drive-ins don’t have the same affection needed to keep business going. However, in the age of social-distancing, UK drive-ins may finally have their time to shine.

Enjoying a drive-in together [Source: Deseret News]

Coming Soon To A Destination Near You

Several pop-up drive-in events are coming to the UK over the next few weeks. Among them, The Luna Cinema and At the Drive-in, which will be screening films across several different UK areas (Including London, Oxford, the Midlands, Leeds, Manchester, and more) throughout the coming months.

Both are showing a wide variety of films. From modern Oscar contenders like Joker, and A Star is Born, to perennial favourites like Back to the Future, Grease and much more. Both allow you to order food and drink directly to your car. And both offer state of the art sound (broadcast to your car radio or a speaker which will be provided) and visual technology to ensure viewers get the best experience possible. But does this mean Drive-Ins will become a British mainstay?

Drive-Ins – Here To Stay?

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, many have wondered how the cinema industry will survive. With many movies now being released directly to on-demand, some argue that cinemas are a thing of the past. On top of that, according to some commentators, because the UK isn’t a car-based society like the US and Australia, the drive-in experience may not hold as much appeal for us. And in a time of economic uncertainty, many may not want to pay to see old films in a big car park.

But equally, there are many who crave the cinema experience, and the last few months have seen a renewed interest in supporting the arts and creative industries. And with 31.7 million cars in the UK, Drive-Ins are a good way for many to watch films in a way that is communal, supportive, and safe. Will it succeed? Only time will tell.

Are drive-in cinemas the future? [Source: Time Out]

What do you think? Are drive-ins the way forward? Will streaming ultimately win? Or are you waiting for regular cinemas to reopen? Let us know your thoughts.

Also Read: Amazon to Own Odeon Cinemas?

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Josh Greally
Writer and filmmaker from Chesterfield. I have a masters in directing film and television and have written film reviews for several smaller sites in the past. Films are my life, but I also enjoy writing, reading, listening to music and debating.