6 Drive-in Movie Ideas That Maximize the Fun at Minimum Cost

From left, Paul, Heath, Izzy and Amanda Danbury took in the movies at Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre when they visited Florida from Dorset, England on Friday, April 6, 2018. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Summer is on its way. Wahoo!

That also means it’s time to start planning affordable family nights, now that the kiddos are home and don’t have homework to worry about. But that seems to be getting harder and harder, especially with inflation raising the price of seemingly everything, including entertainment..

That’s why you should consider the closest drive-in movie theater.

Drive-ins aren’t merely a relic of the past — you might even have one in your backyard. A family of four can see a movie with snacks and drinks for around $30.

Check out this database from DriveInMovie.com to see if there is a drive-in in your county. Next, here are some hacks to make sure you get the most out of your drive-in theater experience.

Tips to Help You Have a Blast At Your Local Drive-In Movie Theater

I know what you’re thinking: “What could be so difficult about putting a car in park and watching a dang screen?”

Well, it’s not difficult. But if you want to be comfortable and have as much fun as possible, here are eight tips for your first drive-in experience, courtesy of patrons and staff at the Lakeland, Florida-based Silver Moon Drive-In Theater.

And because safety precautions can change suddenly, check with your drive-in before you go for location-specific updates.

Two people get situated to watch a movie at a drive-in movie theater.
Chris Kramer, left, and his fiancée, Elaine Schray, both of Clermont, Fla., picnic at the Silver Moon Drive-In on May 21, 2020. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

1. Get There Early and Grab a Spot Near the Exit

As both a cheaper and socially safer alternative to the traditional movieplex , the drive-in has regained some popularity. The Silver Moon’s website specifically asks you to try to get there early.

One, you won’t have to sit in a long line of cars and burn that precious gas. And two, you can snag a parking space close to the exit so you avoid the slow-moving caravan after the double feature.

A battery-operated radio sits on the dashboard of someone's car.
Bringing battery-operated radios to the Silver Moon Drive-In theater is highly encouraged. Patrons tune into the movie’s sound using radios, and portable radios save your car battery. Chris Zuppa/The

2. Bring Your Own Radio and Extra Batteries

Here’s the scene: You’re out with the guy of your dreams, who is totally impressed with your choice of a classic date night. But when the movie’s over, you turn the key to start your car and hear that dreaded clicking noise. Your battery is dead.

Don’t let this happen to you; bring a portable radio with extra batteries. You have to stream the movie’s audio through a radio, and using your car radio will drain the battery.

Also, if you plan to set up chairs in your pickup bed or behind your vehicle, you’ll need a portable radio to hear the movie anyway.

Alternatively, you can recharge your car battery by turning on your car every half hour or so and letting it run for a few minutes.

3. Bring Bug Spray

Bugs are an annoying part of life in the summertime.

You’ll be outside for a few hours — whether you’re sitting outside on your lawn chairs or just in your car with the windows rolled down — so pack that bug spray to send the pests packing.

4. Plan for a Full Evening

Check your local drive-in’s website when planning your movie night. Many offer deals for double or even triple features for a single ticket price. That’s a full night of entertainment, so you might want to bring the kids’ pajamas and pillows in case they fall asleep before the final show.

Pro Tip

Many drive-ins do not allow outside food. Call before you go to ask if you can bring your own snacks.

A little girl plays in the parking lot of a drive-in movie theater.
Destiny Farrior, 7, eats pizza and plays soccer before the start of the film at the Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre on Friday, April 6, 2018.

5. Wear Comfy Clothes

Here’s another drive-in advantage: Nobody will judge what you’re wearing.

Break out your pajamas for an extra comfy drive-in experience. Or dress up like one of the Avengers.

A woman buys food at the concession stand at a drive-in movie theater.
Drive-ins across the nation are approaching concessions differently during the pandemic; some are closed, while others still serve food at limited capacity. The concession at the Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre is open, but patrons are required to stand six feet apart and enter and exit from different doors. Employees are also wearing face masks. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

6. Bring Cash, Just in Case

Remember when people actually paid for stuff with those green paper thingies?

Drive-ins dredge up feelings of nostalgia for much simpler times. That might mean simpler times for your wallet as well. Bring some cash just in case.

Now that you’re a drive-in expert, all you need is a cherry red 1950s convertible and you’re ready to hit the theater. Just kidding.

Alex Mahadevan is a former data journalist at The Penny Hoarder.