In social isolation, baby boomers and Gen X grow nostalgic for drive-in movies
COVID-19: The one reason we didn’t know drive-in movies were better than movie theaters
Do you miss drive-in movie locations? I do. Drive-ins were childhood homes away from homes for family members in the Lost Generation, Baby Boomers and me (Generation X). But with the popularity of streaming services (ex. Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Tubi TV, Popcornflix, Roku and Crackle), Millennials, Generation Y and Z don’t have a clue what a drive-in looks like. And even though walk-in movie theaters have been popular since the early 1900s, it’s been an on-off struggle in the film industry to get the younger three groups to support them. Why bother leaving home when a smartphone or tablet can show the same film?
Interestingly, the Lost Generation, Baby Boomers and Generation X couldn’t wait to leave home to see the latest flicks. And there was an extra special feeling at the drive-in. Some preferred that old-school “crackle” while listening and watching a movie on large shared screens from their cars. Others would rather lean back in the same seats as strangers.
Unfortunately for all of the above groups, the coronavirus outbreak 2019 (COVID-19) has shined a light on just how unpopular (and sometimes overrated) movie theaters have become. (And drive-in movies are not even an option, unless a random family member wants to dust off old projectors on the garage door.) Judging from this Coresight Research survey (via CNBC), moviegoers of any age are not in any big rush to sit next to strangers and share condiment stations of overly priced food again.
In a list of public places that Americans are trying to avoid, movie theaters are near the top of the list at 44 percent, with only shopping centers (45 percent) and travel locations (68 percent) beating them. But there was a time — thanks to the Lost Generation in 1933 — when drive-in movies were competing with walk-in movie theaters as the first place to watch the latest flicks. Truth be told, restless social isolators could’ve benefited from drive-in locations right now to get out of the house without getting out of their cars — and around other people.
Unlike walk-in theaters, people didn’t have to worry about the last person who sat in the seat and the big after-movie mess was (usually) inside of each car. Moviegoers drove up in a huge parking lot, pressed a couple buttons, adjusted their car radios, leaned the drivers’ and passengers’ seats back, got comfortable in the backseat and enjoyed the show.
OK, yeah, there were some people in the drive-in who were solely there to do the grandfather’s version of “Netflix and chill.” Still though, they paid their money like everybody else. They could go inside of the concession stand, and buy a few snacks or menu items here and there. But why bother doing that when families had their entire dinner wrapped in aluminum foil, paper plates, pots and picnic baskets? It was a one-stop shop for family gatherings, and no one had to worry about disinfecting anything (minus the drive-in buttons at each station).
Although drive-ins weren’t known for having the cleanest bathrooms (imagine whatever your nearest gas station restrooms looked like), it wasn’t particularly uncommon for occasional bush gatherings far enough away from the car. No, it wasn’t exactly the most hygenic place to “go,” but let’s not act like it wasn’t a better idea than those filthy bathrooms.
Either way it goes, drive-in movies are long gone, and movie theaters are going to have to figure out a way to get its customers back inside. Socially isolated customers have already figured out a workaround and have spent a sizable amount on in-home entertainment to keep themselves from going stir crazy.
Non-essential retailers are slowly opening their doors next month to allow shoppers back inside. But with an increase in curbside store delivery and online purchases, some retailers may find themselves in trouble just trying to get customers who already want their inventory to physically return. But screenwriters, directors and movie production companies may all face an uphill battle deciding whether their dollars should be spent on pursuing the next streaming service film versus the next movie theater release.
Films like “Bad Boys for Life,” “The Photograph” and “The Banker” arguably didn’t get to make all the money they could’ve made — with the outbreak becoming even more serious and spreading from January 2020 until now. So even if big-name films want to be able to release the old-fashioned way and not just go straight to streaming sites, is it worth it? It’s largely up to consumers to decide. But this is as good of a time as any for the film industry to take a long hard look at whether they were underestimating where consumers are more likely to support their films — in their own, clean homes (and once upon a time cars) where they can control their surroundings.
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