Drive-in movie theaters — a tiny, nearly forgotten sliver of the US cinema business — may be poised for a comeback as the coronavirus has shuttered indoor movie theaters nationwide.
The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the movie theater industry with over 40,000 screens closed in the US alone — but a small group of drive-in theaters still remain in business, and they may soon be able to offer a little relief to pent-up moviegoers, according to a report.
Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was considering allowing drive-ins to reopen, as regular theaters stay shut amid the coronavirus lockdown.
That’s because drive-in theaters, whose popularity has steadily ebbed since it peaked in the early Sixties, would allow people the ability to watch movies projected on a large screen from the safety of their cars.
“Where is the public safety issue? It’s a drive-in theater. You’re in the car with the same people,” Cuomo said during his daily briefing on April 12.
Currently, there are about 320 drive-ins in the US, and just 25 are open for business, according to The Hollywood Reporter. In New York, at least two theaters, the Four Brothers in Amenia and the Warwick Drive-in in Warwick, have requested waivers, which would allow them to open.
According to report, the drive-in theaters that are open have seen a “steady but not spectacular” influx of ticket sales. One issue is a lack of new Hollywood movies, which is another byproduct of coronavirus restrictions. Most major studios have delayed the premier of their summer blockbusters until theaters reopen.
But the dearth of new movies may not be a major problem.
Worldwide, drive-in ticket sales are “booming,” the report said, pointing specifically to sales in Germany and South Korea where even the screening of old movies is drawing crowds.
Autokino Essen, one of only two year-round drive-in theaters in Germany, has “sold out every screening since the country went into lockdown in early March,” the report said. On April 6, the drive-in sold 500 tickets for “Manta Manta,” a German comedy that was a huge hit in 1991.
“It doesn’t matter what we show, people just want to get out and watch a movie,” Frank Peciak, manager of Autokino Essen, told The Hollywood Reporter. “We’re sold out weeks in advance.”
In Cologne, the drive-in theater there is also booked solid. Owners of that theaters are allowing just 250 cars on the 1,000-capacity lot, in order to comply with social-distancing regulations, and when tickets are scanned, they are scanned by a gloved employee through a closed window.
In order to meet demand, there is an influx of pop-up drive-ins. Events management company D.Live set up a drive-in in the parking lot of the Dusseldorf Trade Fair, and it premiered a local music biopic, “Lindenberg!” to a sold-out crowd.
Indie cinema Loe Studios constructed a makeshift theater with a 640-square-foot LED screen in an open lot behind a biker bar in Marl. On opening night on April 6, the double bill of “The Lion King” and “Parasite,” sold out in a matter of hours.
South Korea has also seen a surge in drive-in business since the country shuttered regular movie theaters in February amid COVID-19 restrictions.
At Cine 80, a 170-car theater in Daegu, at the epicenter of Korea’s coronavirus outbreak, ticket sales are up 20 percent for films such as the Judy Garland biopic “Judy” and the horror title “The Turning,” according to drive-in owner Seong-soo Kim. Meanwhile, Jayuro Drive-in, located in a Seoul suburb, saw a 30 percent sales jump.
“We’ve managed to maintain [our business] since the outbreak,” Kim said. “People feel the drive-ins are a safer option to enjoy their cultural life.”