Movie theaters vs. drive-ins: What a drive-in theater does (or doesn’t) offer

Summer may be ending, but many drive-in movie theaters will be with us through fall.

The nation’s big theater chains are cautiously reopening, but not everyone is able to relish the air-conditioned moviegoing experience just yet. States such as New York and California are holding off on indoor theaters for the most part, and not all movie fans are comfortable returning to cinemas during the coronavirus pandemic.

But that shouldn’t stop you from seeing “Tenet,” “New Mutants, “Unhinged” or any other long-delayed film finally hitting the big screen.

I recently visited a drive-in theater for the first time to see “Peninsula” (the latest film in the “Train to Busan” horror franchise) in the Bay Area, where inside cinemas are still closed. For those of you interested in trying it out, here are a few takeaways from my drive-in experience.

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Pro: Yes, you can see the movie just fine

You are further from the screen when you’re sitting in your car in a parking lot, but the drive-in screen is big enough to provide a high-quality viewing experience.

Con: Some movies are harder to see than others

While the screen size wasn’t a problem, movies with darker lighting (example: “The Dark Knight”) are harder to see than more colorful films (say, “Inside Out”) because of surrounding light from other cars or nearby buildings.

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Pro: It’s nice to have privacy that you don’t get at an indoor theater

While constant chit-chat during a movie is annoying, it’s comforting to be able to occasionally add your commentary without disturbing anyone else’s viewing experience. The occasional “Whoa, why did he do that?” or “Wait, I don’t get what just happened?” is something that would get you shushed at your local indoor theater.

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Con: While 6 people can fit in most cars, the drive-in experience is better with fewer viewers

The best way to view a drive-in screening is either from the front seat or an open hatchback, so it may be best to avoid placing anyone in the back seats. Even for larger cars, only two or three people can comfortably sit in the trunk.

Pro: You don’t have to wear a mask for the entire two hours

Many theater chains such as AMC and Regal Cinemas are mandating that moviegoers keep their masks on during the whole film, but drive-in theaters only obligate face coverings when exiting the vehicle. So sit back, take your mask off and enjoy the show comfortably.

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Con: It’s first come, first served for seating

Unlike an indoor movie theater, in which you’re often able to reserve specific seats while purchasing tickets, your parking arrangement is usually first come, first served, which may mean you have to arrive an hour early for the best spot.

Pro: Some drive-ins let you bring your own snacks

Say goodbye to overpriced popcorn and soda, as you can sometimes bring your own snack stash to munch on during the movie. Note, though, that certain drive-ins prohibit outside food and drinks, so make sure to check your drive-in’s website for details.

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Con: The bathroom accommodations are less than ideal

Because you’re in a parking lot, not all drive-ins have bathrooms. Many offer portable toilets for those who need to use the restroom – which probably isn’t your dream scenario. So try not to drink too much!

Pro: Leaving is easy … just drive off!

Indoor movie theaters have many safety protocols to ensure you leave the theater while following social distancing, such as having moviegoers exit row by row.

Drive-ins eliminate that hassle: Once the movie ends, you’re free to just back out of your parking spot and drive on home!

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