Ah, the drive-in movie theater. A classic gem of Americana, steeped in nostalgia and charm. There’s something about it that tugs at the heartstrings, harkening back to a simpler time when a night at the movies was a special occasion, not just another item on the to-do list.
Picture It: the sun setting in a blaze of orange and pink hues, casting long shadows across the dusty lot. Families and couples alike gather ’round, their cars lined up in neat rows, as the projector flickers to life on the massive screen. The air is alive with excitement and anticipation, the murmur of conversation and the smell of popcorn filling the space.
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And then, as the credits roll and the story unfolds, you’re transported to another world, one where anything is possible and dreams come to life. It’s an outdoor movie experience unlike any other, one that stays with you long after the credits have rolled and the lights have dimmed.
InReality: you arrive at the appointed place and time without the ability to properly set up your own space because you forgot to pack the essentials. You severely unprepared for this momentous occasion, and have potentially turned a potentially lovely evening, into a gateway to the pits of despair.
And the excuses that you were simply forgetful and neglected to pack the bug spray will not grant you any goodwill from the Texas-sized mosquitos, and you can be guaranteed that they will not take this challenge lightly. They will descend upon you and your loved ones with the furry of the ten-thousand mosquito ancestors that you sent to Bug Valhalla in years past.
They will eat good tonight.
Alternate Reality: having read this article in its entirety, you’ve successfully managed to prepare a “go bag” with all of the essentials that you need, rather than trying to guess last minute what you need to bring to the drive in movie theater.
All is well on the family front, and the mosquitos lose another Legion of well-trained blood-sucking vermin. The family hero has won again.
But first, you must read this article.
You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll be well prepared for the challenges that lay head at your next (or first) drive in movie theater experience.
Partial Disclosure: The account given above may or may not have been from my own personal experiences.
Checklist: What To Bring To Drive In Movie Theaters
My family and I have been to the drive-in movie theaters more times than I can count. And each time we go, we have learned more and more about how to truly get the most out of the drive-in theater experience.
Chiefly, remembering what to bring to the drive in movie theater every.single.time.
If you plan on going frequently enough, I’d recommend packing a sort of “to go” bag that has most of the smaller, core essentials that you’ll need for the outdoor, drive in movie theater experience.
Either way, you will be all set for the next time you’re headed out for a movie under the stars.
1. BRING THE BUG SPRAY
First and foremost, bring the bug spray to keep the night critters away. Every drive in movie theater is going to start the movie right around dusk, and that’s precisely when every bug imaginable also likes to start their day.
So, if you would like to enjoy your movie under the stars without swatting the air like a madman and hitting yourself repeatedly like you recently escaped from the insane asylum, then remember to bring bug spray.
This is absolutely the #1 thing that you want to bring to the drive in movie theater.
2. BRING COMFY CLOTHES
Since you brought the bug spray and you can enjoy the comfort of your own little outdoor space that you just carved out for yourself, make sure you bring the comfy clothes!
I mean, hopefully you’re not showing up in a suit and tie to begin with. But this IS a drive-in movie theater after-all. So bring lounge-wear, sweatpants, yoga pants, or whatever else you think is comfortable enough to wear to the movies.
Just make sure you also have something warm, if need be. Drive in movies are at night, and when the sun goes down – so does the temperature. So remember to bring comfy clothes to the drive-in movie theater!
3. BRING BLANKIES
Which brings us to blankies! Yes, I called them blankies.
The way that you can tell a hardcore, multi-time attendee to the drive-in movie theater experience is when you see them pull out the blankies. And if their blankies are made specifically for the outdoors, then they’re probably like triple-platinum-gold-level drive in movie theater goers.
Because they know those blankets are gonna get dragged all over the dirt, rocks, and probably have a dead bug or two thrown into the mix. And an outdoor throw blanket is easier to clean in that scenario.
So, bring one… or two. Or however many you need. I don’t think there’s a blankie limit at drive-in movie theaters…
4. BRING COMFORTABLE SEATING
This is not your living room. This is the raw outdoor experience, oftentimes out in the middle of nowhere with none of the comforts of home that are normally available at your fingertips. So make sure your seating at the drive in movie theater is comfortable.
You are in full control of what, exactly, you bring to sit your soft parts on while watching a movie under the stars for 2+ hours (sometimes longer with a double feature).
This can include inflatable seating, foldable chairs (e.g. lawn chair), outdoor recliners, or, if your vehicle is big enough, just bring the lazy boy. I don’t personally care. Just bring something comfortable to sit on, lay down on, etc.
And no, it’s not uncommon to see people bring inflatable mattresses, complete with sleeping bags and pillows to the drive in theater.
There are a lot of rules at drive in movie theaters, but rarely do they stop you from going all out with comfortable seating arrangements.
5. BRING ROPE
Yes, I realize this one is random. But ropes can come in handy depending on which drive in movie theater you’re going to, how the parking is set up, and what vehicle you’re driving.
If you’re in a hatchback, for instance, and the door is obstructing the view of people behind you, then they’re either going to ask you to close it, or move. And nobody wants to do that once you’ve already gotten settled into your parking spot at the drive in movie theater.
A rope comes in handy in that scenario, because you can simply tie it at a level that doesn’t make you a rude individual obstructing other movie-goers views. A simple piece of rope suddenly makes you an awesome person who’s kind and considerate of others, while still allowing you to sit on the back of your vehicle to watch the movies.
6. BRING THE GAMES & SPORTS GEAR
Depending on which drive-in movie theater you’re going to, you generally have to arrive well before the screens are turned on. This is especially true if it’s a drive-in theater that does not allow online ticket sales, and you can only purchase movie tickets upon arrival at the gates.
So, for that hour or two of chill-time before the movie starts, it’s nice to be able to pass the time with some entertainment.
And when I say entertainment, I don’t mean your smartphone. Put it away. The drive in movie theater experience is truly gutted by the presence of smartphones in everyone’s hands.
Trust me, put it away – your family will probably like you approximately 71.3% more because of it.
Instead, bring some card games, strategy games, or other fun board games. If that’s not your thing, then bring some sports gear and toss a ball around for a bit. Or just hang out and talk for a while.
7. BRING PEACE
Or… just enjoy the ambience of the moment. Being at peace in the silence is ok too.
Oh, and the stars are probably visible if you look up. Many drive-in theaters are far enough away from major cities so that light pollution sources don’t blot the stars out from the sky above.
8. BRING THE RADIO (THE RIGHT ONE!)
An app won’t save you at the drive in movie theaters. You’re going to need an old school portable FM radio. Most drive in theaters set their channel to broadcast via FM, but you’ll want to have a radio that can tune in to the AM/FM frequencies just in case.
That’s how they broadcast the sound so that you’re not watching a silent film in full color like it’s still the early 1900s with a little 2023 mixed in.
Someone back in 1910 might have been impressed – but you won’t be.
Most modern vehicles are a pain trying to keep the radio on while the car and lights are off (drive in theaters won’t let you keep the car lights on). Not to mention, that means you’d have to keep windows and/or doors open the entire time, which kind of defeats your ultimate drive in movie theater, outdoor comfort zone setup you just went through the trouble of creating.
Nothing can ruin a drive in movie theater experience like bringing a portable radio with a dead battery, or tinny sounds when you’re watching an intense scene where the audio can make or break the scene playing out in front of you.
Try watching a thriller movie without any sound on and you’ll see what I mean.
9. BRING A LIGHT
When the lights go out, the movie is on. And depending on the theaters outdoor lights, whether or not there’s a bright enough moon, and whether or not you have night-vision, it might be really, really hard to see anything other than the huge projection screen that the movie is on.
This can be especially painful when you’re trying to pack up your entire living room that you just unloaded onto the lawn of the drive-in movie theater a few hours earlier.
Or when you’re trying to find your way through all the cars and people strewn all over the movie theater parking lot in your attempt to navigate to the food trucks, or concession stand.
So, pack a flashlight for the drive-in. It’ll solve most of your in-the-dark problems at the drive in movie… unless you have night-vision. In that case, don’t worry about it.
But for the rest of us – remember to bring a flashlight to the drive-in movie theater.
10. BRING THINGS THAT GLOW
If you have kids, it’s nice to be able to keep track of them and their friends if you can have them wear something that glows. Glow in the dark t-shirts, hats, or just those glow-in-the-dark necklaces and bracelets.
Light your kids up like the Fourth of July at the Drive in movies so they’re easy to find as the sun sets on the horizon.
Trust me, it makes things a lot easier and it’s a ton of fun for the kids.
11. BRING THE FOOD & DRINKS
Drive-in movie theaters are, like most theaters, not earning revenue off of the actual movie ticket sale. Most of that revenue goes to the production companies, distribution companies, marketing budgets, etc.
So, like traditional theaters, drive-ins earn much of their revenue from concession sales. And, most drive-in theaters have more-than-reasonable concession prices.
However, SOME drive-in movie theaters will allow you to bring your own snacks, food and/or drinks. That being said, even if they allow you to do so, if you can afford to buy from the concession stand (or food trucks)- please do that instead!
Your concession stand purchases are what will keep your local drive-in movie theater around for many years to come.
If you’re low on funds and concession stand purchases aren’t in the budget, then, sure, bring some food along with a cooler packed with your favorite drinks.
12. BRING THE PLASTIC (OR REUSABLES) AND PAPER
Even if you do buy stuff from the concession stand, sometimes things get messy and it can be a pain trying to go back through the lines to get extra napkins, utensils, plates, etc.
So, make it easy for yourself and just bring it with you instead. You’ll thank me for this one later. In fact, bring wet wipes if you have any. Those will REALLY come in handy especially after slurping down those loaded fries, chips and salsa. What a MESS!
13. BRING THE TRASH BAGS
At the end of the day, we’re all adults right? Well, some of us anyway.
While most drive in movie theaters have trash bins located around the parking area, some do not. But even when they do, it’s much easier to toss all your garbage into a single bag and then take it to their bin before leaving.
So, when going to the drive-in, remember to bring the trash bags and clean up after yourself.
14. BRING VIDEO ENTERTAINMENT FOR KIDS
If you’re headed out to go see a movie and it’s something that your kids aren’t interested in watching, but they’re not old enough (or mature enough) to be left at home, then you’ll probably want to bring something for them to watch in the car.
You can bring a laptop, smartphone, dvd player or something else so that the kids can have their own little movie theater experience.
Depending on where the drive in movie theater is located, your data signal may be limited. So, to be safe, download the shows or movies before leaving the house, or bring a physical media format.
15. BRING THE CAR CABLES OR PORTABLE JUMP STARTER
There’s truly nothing more annoying than to pack up the car after a lovely evening of watching movies under the stars, only to discover that the car won’t turn on. Just lovely… the car battery is dead.
As you watch a steady stream of cars leaving the movie theater, you’re jumping up and down trying to flag someone down to help jump start your car.
Eventually the drive in theater staff will get around to helping you, but that could be a while.
Instead, just bring a fully-charged portable jump starter with you and leave the dramatics at home. It doesn’t require a second vehicles involvement in resuscitating your car back to life. Simply connect the cables, hit a button, and it’s go time.
Even if your car battery is fine, great! Maybe you’ll be able to help someone else who isn’t so fortunate.
16. BRING THE TIRE AIR COMPRESSOR
Which brings me to my final point. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere and you have a flat tire, that really, really sucks. And since most drive in theaters are located precisely in the middle of nowhere, and most tire shops are closed at night, it’s good to have a small, portable air compressor for your tires in the trunk.
And maybe a no-flat can for when it’s really bad.
I have both of these in my vehicle, and I can’t tell you how many times they’ve saved the day.