The Drive-In Movie debuted in Austin on September 19, 1947 when Claude Ezell opened the The Chief Drive-In at 5600 N. Lamar Boulevard. The opening movie was Joel McRea in “The Virginian”. The Chief was big, it packed in 814 cars. It closed on July 24, 1973 with a Charlton Heston double feature in “Soylent Green” and “Skyjacked”.
There are currently only about 330 drive-in theaters that remain in operation in the United States. Drive-In’s peaked at about 4,000 in the late 1950’s, and were the rights of passage for youth and adolescents thru the late 70’s.
An expensive move to digital projection, the advent of home services like Netflix, Hulu and Apple TV and the rising costs of land shut down a lot of Drive-Ins, but like record stores and independent bookstores, drive-in theaters are in come-back mode with stale popcorn and jug-sized sodas being replaced with gourmet food, craft cocktails, bars and live music. Most modern Drive-Ins are dog friendly and many offer a glamping overnight option. Often it’s cheaper for a family to spend an evening at the drive-in than it is their local cineplex.
Here are Austin’s best Drive In Movie Theaters….
Owners Chris and Sarah Denny opened the gates to Doc’s Drive-In Theatre in 2018. You can stop by Doc’s to catch a flick, but you can also drop in at Mama Merlots for some beer and wine, grab some good grub and stay the night in the themed Tiny Homes for overnight stays. Doc’s Drive-In does so much more than just show your favorite films – it’s a family-friendly, classic drive-in theater.
The Blue Starlite is Drive-In “Boutique” and urban, located right in the city. It offers 4 Starlite experiences. The Main Screen sits 28 cars/125 pedestrians. The Side Show sits 8 cars/30 pedestrians. The Forest Amphitheatre sits 50 pedestrians and the Drive In Alley is a 4 car, widescreen, 4K silent drive-in cinema experience.
The Blue Starlite concentrates on indie films, art house, cult, Gen X/Y, childhood favorites, and drive-in classics. It’s dog friendly (if your dog behaves) and it has full concessions.