Some drive-in theaters are bucking the box-office blues

The pandemic blew up the business of blockbusters, but some drive-ins are thriving.


March 30, 2020

(Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

A theatrical throwback is making a comeback.

The coronavirus pandemic threw the business of blockbusters into chaos. Traditional movie theaters have gone dark, studios are sending fresh films to streaming services early, and pictures still in production are pushing back their release dates.

And as CNBC discovered, some drive-ins are experiencing a renaissance.

Bring your popcorn and put it in park

There are ~300 drive-in theaters left in the US, and ~30% of them operate in states that have been shut down by the pandemic. Among those that are still open, some are seeing a sharp rise in business:

  • One drive-in owner in Texas saw revenue increase 40% and then 95% in the past 2 weeks.
  • A company that specializes in outdoor screen rentals is refocusing on LED screens, to allow movies to be shown at all times of day.

Social distancing remains a challenge: A Utah theater that opened a drive-in on Friday let patrons use the restrooms “one carload at a time.”

And drive-ins aren’t just for movies

In states that haven’t yet issued shelter-in-place orders, some churches are pivoting to drive-in worship — and their parishioners are honking to say amen.

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