The heyday for drive-in movie theaters may have been just after World War II, but after many went dark in the eighties and nineties, they have experienced a revival of sorts. Perhaps bolstered by people’s desire for outdoor experiences during the height of the pandemic—and the general lure of nostalgia—drive-in theaters are thriving throughout the South. Here are seven venues worthy of a weekend visit.
Monetta, South Carolina
Known as “The Big Mo,” the Monetta features three screens for flicks. Originally opened in 1951, it closed in 1986, remaining dark until Richard and Lisa Boaz purchased it in 1999. This cash-only theater is only open on weekends from March through September, and as is the case with many remaining drive-ins in the South, pets are allowed but alcohol is not. The three-hundred-car-capacity complex often sells out, with patrons arriving sometimes hours before showtime in the summer.
Albemarle, North Carolina
Join one of the two lines of cars well before dark to purchase tickets for this Stanly County drive-in, which originally opened in 1948. The twin screens, held up by old telephone poles, make the place seem like a bit of a dinosaur, and indeed it’s one of only a handful left in the state. But the theater’s popularity has surged in recent years—it often fills its capacity of 680 cars. Tickets, concessions, and transistor radio rentals are by cash only.
Part of the charm of the oldest remaining drive-in in Georgia is the attendants dressed in 1950s attire, including rolled T-shirt cuffs, jeans, and boat hats. The 1948 venue added a second screen in 1970, increasing the car capacity to 375. The theater has also set up food ordering via mobile phone, but carhops still deliver it the old-fashioned way. While owners Ralph and Jamie Hickox plan to continue renovations to add additional 1950s decor, the theater remains open, featuring first-run movies like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and The Little Mermaid remake.
Operated by the same family for the past forty years, the Last Drive-In Picture Show was named the Circle S when it opened in 1950. In 1972, a cinema was added to the property to create a “MoPed,” or a combined drive-in and walk-in entertainment complex. A family-friendly theater, the Last Drive-In doesn’t show R-rated movies, and admission is charged by the carload—so it’s perfect for piling in a crew.
First opened as a single-screen theater in 1953, the 411 ultimately succumbed to the fate of many of its peers in the 1980s, going dark for nearly twenty years. After Emory Johnson reopened it in 2001 with his sons Rex and Carl, they added an additional screen—they often show kids’ movies on one screen while the other features more adult titles. It’s located on a backroad at Weiss Lake, so visitors may have to travel a little out of the way, but the concessions make it worth the drive: family-recipe barbecue, burgers, and the Emory dog, a Polish dog with chili, jalapeños, and salsa on the side.
Originally opened in 1950, Hull’s was operated by Sebert W. Hull until he passed away in 1998. Wishing to resurrect the theater, community members established a nonprofit named Hull’s Angels in 2000, raising the funds to reopen the theater and bring it up to date, making it the first—and one of only two known—community- and nonprofit-owned drive-in theaters in the country. Now open seasonally from March through October, Hull’s plays first-run movies and classics like Grease. Bonus for locals: Volunteer twice at the theater and you’ll receive a free car pass, two large fountain drinks, and a medium popcorn.
Oak Hill, West Virginia
During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, brothers Chuck and Tom Miller, along with Tom’s brother-in-law Teddy Gray, decided the time was right to realize a shared dream of providing an open-air entertainment venue in their community. They built a movie screen and concession stand out of shipping containers, completing it in June 2022. Located only three miles from New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, the Starlite represents a new generation drive-in, expanding beyond the traditional movie screens and concessions to other outdoor activities, including two golf simulators.