Drive-in movies are an American experience. My childhood memories include seeing, and falling asleep to, E.T. at a drive-in theatre in my hometown. That theater is gone today, along with more than 90% of drive-in theaters from America’s past. Most drive-ins occupied valuable real estate now used by shopping centers and neighborhoods.
Cineplexes, with their advanced technology and amenities, have also drawn movie-goers away from drive-in theaters. I don’t blame them. We paid top dollar to see The Avengers in a new 3-D theater.
The drive-in theater experience is about something more than the movies themselves. It’s about sharing our history with our children. It’s about spending a summer night under the stars. It’s about bargain prices. What’s more American than that?
One of the drive-in theaters that has survived is Coleman’s Motor Vu Drive In and Swap Meet in Riverdale, Utah. This theater is located just off of Riverdale Road, a busy thoroughfare lined with big box stores and restaurant chains. Both Target and Walmart sit just outside of the theater’s box office, so keeping this drive-in open since 1947 must have taken a certain amount of stubbornness. It shows in the FAQ section of the website where the questions and answers include:
Do you accept credit cards?
We will NEVER accept credit cards. Quite simply, it would slow down the line and cause traffic to pack up on 1050 West.
Do we have to pay again to re-enter the drive-in?
Yes. There have been many problems with customers paying for multiple people in a car, and then entering the drive-in, then the driver leaves and returns with multiple people in the car that match the receipt, but have not paid. Also, customers will enter and then decide they want to leave to get food, etc. Remember, you have all day to plan so please bring what you need with you. Please remember that our snack bar has great fresh cooked food at reasonable prices.
We love all things quirky, kitschy or nostalgic, so we love the Motor Vu drive-in. Our family tries to catch at least one double-feature here each summer. We prefer to go in late July or August when darkness falls earlier. We wait and watch for a good family pairing. This year, we saw Ice Age 4 with Brave.
Here are our tips for a great night at the drive-in movies:
1. Pack camp chairs and plenty of blankets and pillows.
We face the back of our van toward the screen and open the hatch. My husband and I sit in camp chairs on the ground.We fold down the back seats and pile all those blankets and pillows on the floor so our kids can fall asleep if they want to. This year, my daughter was the only one of us who didn’t sleep through part of the second movie.
Jackets and mosquito repellent may also be useful items, depending on where you live. Utah’s desert temperatures drop significantly at night and I am always wrapped in one of the blankets by the end of the first movie.
2. Pack plenty of snacks
Part of the fun of drive-in movies is bringing our own treats. We pop lots of popcorn and load up on snacks and drinks at the grocery store in advance.
3. Wear comfy clothes or pajamas
Our double feature finished at 1 a.m. It’s nice when the kids are already in pajamas so we can put them right into bed when we get home.
4. Consider using a battery-operated radio
Most drive-ins channel the sound through FM radio. Many people use their car stereos, but there is a risk of draining the battery. Last year, our old battery died fifteen minutes into the first movie. Theaters are prepared for dead batteries, but we brought a portable stereo this year and it worked well.
5. Arrive early
Arrive at least an hour in advance, especially on weekends or holidays. It’s fun to wander around and soak up the atmosphere of the drive-in. Some people pull the seats out of their vehicles. Others have air mattresses. Families bring games or Nerf footballs to toss around until darkness falls.
The Motor Vu drive-in is located at 5368 South 1050 West in Riverdale, Utah. The cost is $7 per adult and $3 per child, ages 5-11. Our total was $20, which was $2.50 per person, per movie. Credit cards are not accepted. Motor Vu has four screens, each showing two movies. We appreciate that the screen showing the R-rated double feature is out of sight of the “family” screen.
Several websites are dedicated to drive-in movie theaters. To find the theater nearest you, visit driveinmovie.com, driveintheater.com or drive-ins.com. Theaters have differing rules about pets, outside food or the acceptability of honking during favorite parts of the movie. That isn’t done at Motor Vu, but it sounds like fun to me.
- A version of this story appeared in the Deseret News on August 6, 2012.
- This article appeared on Travel Tips Tuesday on August 7, 2012.