What’s more American than baseball and apple pie? Would you believe it’s the drive-in movie theater?
Known as “park-in theaters” at the time, the first drive-in had its debut on June 6, 1933, in Camden, New Jersey. Designed by a creative entrepreneur to be an affordable, comfortable experience for an entire family, the drive-in experienced wild popularity throughout the 1950s and 1960s, when there were more than 4,000 all over the country.
Drive-ins have somewhat faded in appeal since those early days. Most vehicles today aren’t as expansive as the classic models of prior eras, and drive-ins are difficult to maintain. They require a lot of land for parking and are weather-dependent for their operations.
Just the same, drive-in theaters retain an aura of romance and nostalgia that many people find compelling — and the experience is something that true cinephiles relish. (Plus, if you’re still a bit leery of indoor movie theaters because of COVID-19, a drive-in gives you a safer, more socially distant alternative.)
Fortunately, if you want to experience a real drive-in theater, you still have plenty of choices in Indiana.
Tibbs Drive-in – Indianapolis
If you support the kinds of family-owned businesses that make Indy great, then head over to Tibbs. Once one of 18 drive-in theaters in the city, Tibbs is now the last of its kind inside Indy proper. They’re open from March through October, every day except Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and pets are permitted.
Canary Creek Outdoor Cinemas – Franklin
Canary Creek Outdoor Cinemas is a relative newcomer, since it opened in 2004, and it has the distinction of being Johnson County’s only drive-in theater. You’ll find all of the biggest summer hits right here, usually as a double feature.
Georgetown Drive-in – Georgetown
This is a real throwback to the nostalgia of the 1950s — because that’s when it was built. Once a single screen operation, Georgetown Drive-in now boasts a second screen and upgraded audio, but they still have a few standing window speakers for folks who want an authentic experience.
Melody Drive-in – Knox
Talk about a blast from the past! The Melody Drive-in off Highway 35 South has been in non-stop operation since it opened up back in 1949. Five nights of the week (they’re closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays), they have two screens running and can handle up to 500 cars at a time.
CenterBrook Drive-in Theater – Martinsville
Located just 15 minutes north of Indianapolis, CenterBrook is a conveniently located drive-in that has managed to combine modern technology with retro 1950-style charm. They have a grass lawn, a playground for the kids and traditional window speakers for the purists in your crowd (although FM radio sound is now available). This is another cash-only operation, so remember to bring extra money for snacks.
M.E.L.S. at the Starlight Drive-In – Thorntown
M.E.L.S. has an upgraded sound system but they’re still running films on a 35mm projector because they haven’t yet converted to digital, which means this is probably as close as you’ll ever come to an authentic, old-style drive-in experience. This theater has been delighting movie-goers for almost 75 years, and they’re not planning on stopping!
Moonlite Drive-in Theater – Terre Haute
Another newcomer to the drive-in scene, Moonlight opened its gates in 2018. Owned and operated by the Barnhart family and part of KJB Theaters, guests can expect nothing less than the best when they visit, including all-digital projections and Dolby Digital Surround Sound — all at low, affordable prices.
Skyline Drive-in – Shelbyville
About 30 miles southwest from downtown Indy, you’ll find Shelbyville’s Skyline Drive-in. They run double features all the way from early spring through December, and their Sunday night special allows you to bring an entire carload for just $24 — which is a huge bargain for families!
Starlite Drive-in – Bloomington
Opened back in 1955 by Carl and Ruth Stewart, the Starlite is now part of the Barnhart family’s operations (KJB Theaters). The Barnhart’s have upgraded this traditional drive-in venue to digital and installed surround sound so that every guest has a great experience. Don’t forget to check out their “cafeteria” for some excellent snacks while you’re there!
Cinema 67 Drive-in – Spencer
Cinema 67 is another great place to go if you want to support local business owners since it’s been under the same ownership for the last 40 years. April through October, the gates open at 8 p.m. and the double-features start at dusk — and pets are welcome. Get there early if you want to pick your spot because this location tends to fill up rather quickly.
Tri-Way Drive-in – Plymouth
Named after the spot where three major highways used to converge, the Tri-Way started out with a single, humble screen — and now has four screens that show up to eight movies each night, digital displays and its own restaurant. This is definitely the place to go when you want to escape the humdrum of daily life for a night.
Holiday Drive-in – Mitchell
When you go to Holiday Drive-in in Mitchell, the rural location alone will transport you mentally to a simpler, easier time. There’s plenty of room to relax, and the double features always include the latest, greatest movies around. The real star of this drive-in, however, might be its amazing concession stand. You won’t want to leave without indulging just a little.
Huntington Twin Drive-in – Huntington
Opened in 1951 and able to accommodate up to 500 cars full of people, Huntington has been a double-screen drive-in since 2012. Not only do they have brilliant 4k-digital projection and an updated sound system, but they also have a playground available for the kids.
Auburn Garrett Drive-in – Garrett
Open from April through October, this is a cash-only operation where you can check out a double feature (and, sometimes, a triple feature) for one low price. This drive-in can accommodate more than 400 cars, which makes it easy to find a great spot for viewing.
There are a few other drive-ins scattered throughout the state, but these are definitely some of the best on the list. If you’re looking for a new family tradition (or just want a great date night with someone special), grab your car keys and head out the door — because the silver screen is calling!