The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

Drive-in-theaters: A lost form of cinema

Kate Steinbach
Cars are lined up as the sun sets, before the movie starts. The movies start at roughly 6:30, while doors open at 5:30.

A chipped white, wooden wall towered over us and a grid of sloppily arranged cars. The audio came from a battery-powered radio while the visuals were projected onto the wall.

We could even see the stars as we pulled into a gravel lot for our first ever drive-in movie experience. We sat back, waiting for a double feature of “The Notebook” and “Anyone But You” to begin.

The weekend before President’s Day, we went to the Showboat Drive-in Theater, out in Hockley, northwest of Houston on 22422 Farm to Market 2920, which is a 40-minute, 38-mile drive from Bellaire High School. It captures the aesthetic that we imagine the 1950s and ‘60s to be about. The facility holds a concession stand reminiscent of a 50s diner, selling popcorn, sodas, candy and hotdogs. The doors open an hour before sunset, and the movie started once it got dark. The start time of the movie changes throughout the year, depending on when dusk is. We wanted to buy concessions and have a good parking spot, so we arrived 30 minutes before the movie started.

An estimate of the price for two people to see two movies. Going to Showboat is roughly $40 cheaper than a trip to the Regal movie theater. (Graphic by Kate Steinbach and Alex Lin)

The seating stands out from your typical movie theater. A collapsible back row or a truck bed can be transformed with enough pillows and blankets. It was as comfortable as a couch. Through Showboat’s radio station, the quality of the audio is no different from a movie theater. Because it is your personal speaker, the volume can be adjusted. This is especially convenient if you don’t like the volume that theaters are set to.

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The price was unbeatable too: a $10 ticket per person for a double feature is significantly cheaper from the $14 tickets that the Regal on Wesleyan expects for a single movie. The food was also less expensive. At a theater like Regal, you must pay around $10 for a popcorn, while at Showboat, it’s only $7. If you don’t want to pay those inflated prices, it is easy and convenient to bring your own food and have a full meal in your car.

Today, many people would rather watch a movie from home, through services like Netflix or Disney+. If they want to make a trip out of it, a regular movie theater is usually the go-to.

While it is farther away, a drive-in theater has more food options, and is cheaper and cleaner than its more popular counterparts.

The interior of the concession stand triggers memories of simpler times. The red and white design combined with the aluminum plating draw comparisons to a 1950s burger joint. (Alex Lin)

Practical reasons aside, you should go to a drive-in movie theater to fully embrace the nostalgia of a time that most of us did not live through. You don’t have to be an avid enthusiast of all things vintage to appreciate the retro aesthetics that this experience provides.

After peaking between the 1950s and ‘60s, drive-in theaters started their decline in the ‘70s, partially due to the popularization of VCRs (videocassette recorders), making it more convenient for many to watch within the comfort of their own homes. The number of drive-in theaters has been in a steady decline since 1995, where there were a total of 593 drive-in theaters. Currently, there are 302 total drive-in theater locations within the U.S., with Texas accounting for 14 of those.

In a world full of overstimulating colors, a drive-in movie theater provides an escape from the hustle of urban life. Even when leaving the comforts of your car, the concession booth isn’t overly bright and is painted in mostly neutral colors, it maintains the quiet and provides a breath of fresh air from the loud exterior that is typical at a regular movie theater.

The Showboat Drive In’s concession stand gleams in the sunset. The building and business grew out of a horse pasture all the way back in 2006. (Alex Lin)

We found it a fun change of pace and a unique way to enjoy a movie. Watching a movie surrounded by the outdoors was a welcome difference from a drafty, crowded theater room. Even if you’re that person that loves to comment on every detail of a movie, it’s the place for you – a chance to commentate free from the shushes of a crowded theater. A drive-in movie is a cheap and perfect way to spend quality time with your loved ones.

We truly enjoyed our time at Showboat, and urge you to take a trip there. It’s worth it. Drive-in theaters may be a dying industry, but they don’t have to die with our generation.

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  • I

    Irene ZhengApr 16, 2024 at 8:49 am

    This is so cool, definitely want to check it out!

  • S

    Suzanne SteinbachApr 6, 2024 at 9:13 pm

    Loved, loved, the article on drive in theaters! Thank you to the reporters for your appreciation of this almost extinct entertainment. You did a great job of describing the appeal of drive ins to those of us who grew up in the fifties!

    • H

      HugolalyApr 16, 2024 at 9:28 pm

      I too enjoy the Starlight Drive Inn here in Wichita Kansas, every year I look forward to see my favorites movies. The food is great it is really a blessing to have one in our town.