Drive-in movie theaters are making a comeback thanks to coronavirus


Getting out of the house to enjoy dinner and a movie has been no simple task since coronavirus spread throughout the US, but some business owners have found an innovative solution to the problem — drive-in theaters.

The outdoor cinema venues have been popping up all over the country in recent weeks. Local small business owners who have been forced to shut down operations to comply with COVID-19-related social distancing mandates have been reopening old drive-ins or building make-shift theaters in parking lots and showing old movies to customers to make up for lost income.

Miami business owner Eddie Bernal, 32, recently launched his own temporary drive-in theater operation, Carflix Cinemas, after government orders led to clients canceling bookings with his live event company, Aver Productions. Bernal’s business, which has its own 36 foot LED movie screen, partnered with owners of the local Dezerland Park indoor recreational complex to set up a drive-in in the massive parking lot outside Dezerland’s facility in North Miami. He said the parking lot his company is using holds 175 vehicles and customers desperate to stop sheltering in place spent $30 per automobile to purchase all available tickets online within hours of them going on sale earlier this week.

Food truck vendors selling burgers, hotdogs and sushi have been brought in to bring food to customers’ vehicles while they watch their outdoor films. “People just want to get out there, watch a movie, laugh together and eat some food,” Bernal said.

Kal Dellaportas, head of operations at the Bel-Aire Diner in Queens, New York, had a similar experience after he started their own drive-in theater on May 6. “The first time we put tickets up, which was for The Sandlot, tickets sold out in three minutes and there were over 500 attempts in those three minutes to buy tickets online,” Dellaportas told CNN Business on Friday. Dellaportas said the Bel-Aire drive-in has become so popular, it’s allowed him to re-hire staff members he furloughed in March after government officials enacted shelter-in-place orders that decimated foot traffic at restaurants throughout New York City.

Despite their successes and generating thousands in revenue every night of operation, the drive-in owners said they aren’t turning much of a profit. Overhead on the business is pricey after paying for permits, movie licensing, and staffing. Bernal said he doesn’t see drive-ins being a long-term viable business opportunity, mainly because movie studios don’t care for them.


Here we see another entity in the entertainment industry that has taken a big hit with the loss of audience. It is intriguing to think about the opportunities that have been reopened for old mediums, like the drive-in theater in this case. It shows that people are willing to go out of their way to enjoy a movie, and there is perhaps an attraction for novelty that can be relived in this narrative.

Something interesting about these cases is the opportunities they have presented for complementary business with things like food trucks. Movies, and other forms of entertainment, are typically accompanied by food already, so it seems obvious that the heightened demand for entertainment could present a mutual benefit for complementary businesses. When thinking about reworking spaces like the movie theater or the concert hall, it is easy to try and replicate what was previously convention. The newfound success of drive-in theaters has shown that there are opportunities for design to create new, yet familiar experiences. For the future, it is hopeful to think about how COVID is providing us a new slate to restructure the entertainment industry into something more equitable and exciting.