America’s drive-in movie theaters are on the brink of extinction. At their peak in the 1950s and ’60s, the country boasted over 4000 of the open-air cinemas. Today, there are 368, and these holdovers from the analog era are in trouble. The problem, as illustrated in this excellent L.A. Times piece, is that most of them still use traditional film projectors. Hollywood, where fortunes were built on celluloid, is getting ready to stop distributing film prints altogether after this year. Digital projection is now the norm.
Unfortunately for drive-in owners, digital projection is also an expensive upgrade, costing anywhere from $60,000 to $85,000. What that means is that after this season, many drive-ins simply won’t reopen, and another chunk of America’s car culture will be lost for good.
And still no thought for the fate of the Church Hall, VFW, etc. that show films for free or fund raisers.