Drive-In Theaters Make a Comeback Amidst Social Distancing

From New York City to Berlin, drive-in theaters make a comeback, offering a safe place to enjoy concerts and movies while social distancing.


(Terry Kelly /

When was the last time you spent a Friday night at a drive-in theater? While it may seem like a scene out of the movie Grease, 2020 has seen the revival of this beloved slice of Americana. 

From New York City to California, stadiums and venues, unable to accommodate large crowds, invite guests to drive in, sit back, and enjoy entertainment while social distancing inside the safety of their vehicles.

Looking back, the drive-in theater has an iconic place in Americana, with the first-ever opening its doors in New Jersey in 1933. After World War II, the venue became extremely popular. Parents and teenage couples alike could get a little privacy from their automobile while watching the latest picture projected onto the big screen. 

In the 50s and 60s, some 5,000 drive-ins entertained across the United States. But as times changed, their popularity dwindled, and fewer than 500 theaters survived as of 2019.

But for the first time in decades, the drive-in sees a new resurgence. People are flocking to drive-ins to enjoy pandemic performances while safely social distancing.  

New Yorkers might not get a chance to watch the Bronx Bombers play this year. So instead, Yankee Stadium will convert its largest parking lot into a summer long festival.

According to Time Out, the iconic stadium will host the Uptown Drive-In. Guests can pull up to watch feature films, stand-up comedy acts, and live concerts held on a raised stage. Attendees can listen through an audio broadcast on their car radios, a sentimental nod to the old times. Better yet, the event gives New York City street vendors, unable to work due to the pandemic, a chance to serve food car side. 

But Yankee Stadium isn’t the only one looking to revive this relic from the past. In Riverside, the Van Buren Drive-In has been a Southern California tradition since the 1950s. The venue reopened in mid-May to welcome a whole new generation of spectators to enjoy entertainment "COVID style!", according to a drive-in regular.

The Chicago Tribune describes similar trends in the Midwest, where drive-ins provide a rare amusement that complies with social distancing. Cars came in droves to catch a flick at the Harvest Moon Twin Drive-In Movie Theatre in Gibson City at its opening on May 8. Also in Illinois, the McHenry Outdoor Theater hosted its SNL Weekend on May 15 and 16, screening 90s comedies, Billy Madison and Tommy Boy. 

But Americans aren’t the only ones catching on to the trend. Around the world, people have added their own twist to the drive-in model. In Denmark, singer-songwriter Mads Langer performed a sold out drive-in concert in the outskirts of Aarhus, reported Forbes

Meanwhile, DJs, like Boris Brejcha and Ann Clue, are hosting live drive-in shows across Europe all summer long. Taking the social distancing seriously, the event limits car capacity to two people per vehicle.

The pandemic has certainly impacted people’s lives globally. But despite the tremendous changes, humanity shows its resilience, finding ways to enjoy the things they love. The opportunity to get out of the house for some entertainment at a drive-in theater is a welcome relief for quarantine crews during the outbreak.

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