“Stranded at the drive-in, branded a fool. What will they say Monday at school?”
While Danny Zuko might not have been enjoying the drive-in that night during the 1950s (Sandy, give him a chance!), the rest of America was parking its classic Chevys, grabbing some popcorn and milkshakes from the concession stand, and spending the weekend at the movies. The 1950s was undoubtedly the decade of drive-ins, but the drive-in theater began its evolution much earlier. The first patent of the drive-in theater was awarded in 1933 to a gentleman in New Jersey who opened the first theater with a strategically designed layout and speaker system for ultimate user friendliness—he even experimented with sprinklers in his backyard to test the sound system quality during unforeseen rain. Flash forward to the 50s, some 4,000 drive-ins were now scattered across the country. With the introduction of cable television and VCR, however, drive-ins saw a rapid decline in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s estimated that less than 350 drive-in theaters still speckle the country today, with countless others now standing as vacant shells of their retro glory overgrown with weeds.
Those drive-ins lucky enough to still be standing recognize the timelessness and value of the experience. While they might have upgraded to broadcasting the sound through FM radio, they’ve kept the classic concession stands stocked full with funnel cakes and cherry cola. The South carries on the drive-in legacy with longstanding favorites and modern reprisals. According to Yelp, these drive-in theaters in the South are giving families back that classic pastime and feeding our longing nostalgia. Don’t forget to turn out your headlights and grab an old-fashioned milkshake when you get there!