Back to the Drive-in

In many cases, all that remains of our precious American folklore, history, and culture are a few old photographs, film clips, or rusty roadside relics. However, in the case of drive-in movie theaters, there are a handful of determined people who not only refuse to let go of their own outdoor movie memories, but are also driven to keep those dreams alive for future generations.

These passionate souls are the focus of April Wright’s new documentary called Back to the Drive-in, which acts as both a cautionary tale about the future of the theater-going experience as well as a delightfully reflective trip down memory lane.

"acts as both a cautionary tale about the future of the theater-going experience as well as a delightfully reflective trip down memory lane"

Via interviews, fly-on-the-wall footage, and soaring drone shots, Wright visits eleven different drive-in theaters across the country as she interviews the owners to give us a fascinating peek behind the curtain of these dying relics. She spends a whole night with each venue, including the legendary Brazos Drive-in in Granville, Texas which first opened in 1952, and The Quasar in Omaha, Nebraska, on which a couple spent their retirement savings to build from scratch in 2017. Sadly, the commonality shared by each proprietor is their struggle to survive.

Yes, drive-ins experienced somewhat of a boom starting in 2020 when traditional hardtop theaters were shut down due to Covid-19 restrictions. In fact, one drive-in owner says it perfectly as he drives his golf cart across the grounds, “in March of 2020, all of a sudden, we were geniuses, because everything had turned to drive-ins.” But as restrictions were eventually loosened, another owner follows up with “now that everything’s back open again, they’re not here.”

As Wright swaps back and forth between the 11 theaters, we are along for the fascinating ride as the owners and operators discuss personal histories with their individual theaters, the delights of the job, and even the challenges of trying to keep the lights on. And that’s the common theme here. People just don’t go to drive-ins anymore, so the industry must continue to adapt and innovate to stay alive.Back to the Drive-in

The roadblocks are endless. One drive-in owner experiences staffing shortages so he can no longer show double features. Another faces supply chain issues which lead to a shortage of supplies such as popcorn boxes, while another faces the scorn of angry patrons because of the loud train which passes behind one of the screens at 9:45 pm each night. We also learn that owning a drive-in theater on Cape Cod is problematic as the venue is consistently plagued with dense fog that rolls in many nights. In fact the owner of the Wellfleet drive-in in Massachusetts encountered the thickest fog he’s ever encountered while Wright’s cameras were there.

Despite the educational and entertaining ride down nostalgia avenue, Wright’s film has some problems. Overly reliant on drone shots and placement of the theater name chyron on the screen EVERY TIME we revisit that theater becomes repetitive. In addition, as we flip around to different theaters throughout the film’s runtime, Wright struggles with holding a congruous narrative theme.

Those are minor gripes however as we are always entertained and even moved to action at times. As the credits roll, you’ll find yourself performing a Google search for the nearest drive-in movie theater.

Speaking of the film’s credits, continue to watch through them as we are treated to a few updates to some of the theaters’ stories, including one location that was completely flooded by heavy rains, another legendary venue in California that was sold for an amount equal to 25 years of operation, and others that were sold or handed down to family or investors with hopes of keeping the dream alive.

If you enjoy Back to the Drive-in, be sure to also check out At the Drive-in for an equally immersive look at the passionate nerds who make it their mission to preserve a cherished piece of Americana.

3/5 stars

Film Details

Back to the Drive-in

MPAA Rating: April.
105 mins
: April Wright
April Wright

: Documentary
The Story of Passion and Determination.
Memorable Movie Quote: "now that everything’s back open again, they’re not here."
Uncork'd Entertainment
Official Site:
Release Date:
March 14, 2023
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:

Synopsis: When the pandemic hit, everyone went back to the drive-in, but behind the scenes it's been a struggle for the resilient owners determined to keep their unique drive-ins alive.


Back to the Drive-in