One of my favorite memories of the past few months was taking my youngest daughter to Bell Works in Holmdel to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (one of my favorite movies). As the sun set and the parking lot filled up, I felt the same excitement as I did growing up and going to a drive-in with my parents, or as a teen, with friends.
The drive-in! How many great memories! New Jersey is actually the home to the first drive-in movie theater in the United States. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, Camden was the site of the first drive-in, which was opened in 1933. Alas, the state now only has one permanent drive-in remaining. During those long months when folks were just starting to leave their houses but had no place to go, I wondered why more drive-in movie theatres weren't popping up. Wouldn't a drive-in be the perfect way for people to safely leave their houses?
A drive-in seems the perfectly safe, socially distant form of entertainment. You can stay in your car, and if you decide to sit on your hood, you would already be six feet apart from the next vehicle. And since everything is outside, there are no issues with circulation.
Besides Bell Works, iPlay America in Freehold held drive-in movie nights. I couldn't find much else near me, despite being surrounded by open land. Why weren't more drive-ins popping up in my area?
There were plans for a permanent structure to be constructed at the site of the Wall Speedway on Route 34 in the early 2000s. However, the idea was rejected by the town. And while the subject was broached again last year, nothing came of it.
New York Leads in Drive-Ins
The site driveinmovie.com lists all the permanent drive-in movie theaters in the surrounding states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. According to the site, New Jersey only has one "true" drive-in movie theater remaining, and that is the Delsea Drive-in in Vineland. However, the site states that New York has the most drive-ins in the country, with Pennsylvania in second place!
There are approximately 300 permanent drive-ins currently in the United States, and 28 are in New York. The state's first drive-in opened in Long Island in 1938 and was once home to about 150 theaters. All seem to be located in the area north of New York City, with no permanent drive-ins in the five boroughs or Long Island.
Pop-up movie theaters have appeared, though. Skyline Drive-in NYC not only has multiple selections and showings seven days a week, it also has a view of the Manhattan skyline and socially-distant seating available for those who choose to bike or walk over.
For those in New Jersey who prefer to drive west, Pennsylvania boasts 27 permanent drive-ins. Pennsylvania is also home to the country's oldest operating drive-in, Shankweiler's Drive-in, which opened in April of 1934.
Summer Movies 2021
Last summer, movies came to a complete standstill. Drive-ins and pop-ups had to make do with dated films. What is in store for this summer?
With streaming services everywhere, the pandemic seemed to be an ominous sign for the theater industry. However, many of the major studios are hoping for a box office rebound. And New York's governor announced that movie theaters could reopen in the state in March at 25% capacity.
Studios have plans to release many movies this summer, ending the absence of new entertainment. Titles such as Black Widow, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Minions: The Rise of Gru, Top Gun: Maverick, and The Forever Purge, are just a few of the names set to be released. Will they be directly streamed to services such as Disney Plus? Or will they go to the big screen?
Spring brings longer days and signs of hope. With the COVID-19 vaccine becoming increasingly available and herd immunity an actual possibility, will people feel comfortable going back to movie theaters? Or can drive-ins help bring back a love for the big screen?