As dusk falls over the Moberly Five and Drive, fireflies start their nightly show and cars file in to fill up the rows. Families find their favorite viewing spot – a blanket on the ground, the bed of a pickup, the back of an SUV. Waiting for the movie to begin, kids gather for a quick game of catch in a grassy patch beneath the giant screen.
Drive-ins offer an experience like no other. With a supply of snacks and a pillow or two, moviegoers can enjoy a first-run feature (oftentimes two) beneath a starry sky.
Outdoor movie theaters have dwindled since their heyday in the 50s and 60s when more than 4,000 dotted the roadside nationwide. With just over 300 remaining, many drive-ins have become retro road-trip destinations.
From single screens surrounded by trees to metropolitan multiplexes, nine Missouri drive-ins still light up the night all summer long.
Moberly Five and Drive - Moberly's original Hi Way 63 Drive-In operated from 1950 to 1983. A new building was constructed in 1997 to house five indoor movie screens as well as the projector for the outdoor screen, and the Moberly Five and Drive was born. The movie house is one of only a handful of indoor-outdoor theaters in the United States. The drive-in offers a double-feature seven days a week.
66 Drive-In, Carthage – Nothing screams nostalgia like a drive-in on the "Mother Road." Located on Old 66 Boulevard, the 66 Drive-In – with its original neon sign – has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 2003. The theater opened in 1949 and had a 34-year run before shutting down. Renovated and reopened in 1998, the drive-in currently shows double features Thursday through Sunday.
19 Drive-In, Cuba – Located just off Route 66, the single-screen 19 Drive-In shows double features seven days a week. Open since 1950, the theater still has its old-school speakers but also broadcasts the audio over FM radio as most drive-ins now do. Popcorn prices are old-school, too – a small cup will cost you $1.16 – $1.25 with tax.
Starlite Drive-In Theatre, Cadet – The Starlite Drive-In opened in 1952 and has two screens that show double features seven days a week. Located 50 miles south of St. Louis, the theater has room for 700 cars, making it Missouri's largest drive-in outside a metro area. In addition to the usual fare, the concession stand sells frozen pickle juice and fried Twinkies.
Sunset Drive-In Theater, Aurora – The Sunset Drive-In is one of just a few outdoor theaters that allows you to fire up a grill before the movie begins – and provides a can to dispose of your hot coals. If you'd rather not cook, the concession stand offers the Sunset Coney and Sunset Burger topped with "special recipe chili." Or you can order a pizza and have it delivered to your car. Open since 1951, the single screen drive-in shows a double feature Friday through Sunday.
The Twin, Independence – The Twin lives up to its name twice over with double features on two screens – seven days a week. The theater opened in 1965 and is one of Missouri's largest drive-ins with space for more than 1,400 cars.
Barco Drive-In, Lamar – The original Barco Starvue Drive-In opened in 1950. Boarded up windows in the base of the movie screen are remnants of a now-vacant apartment where the owners once lived. In 2008, the Lamar Community Betterment association leased the theater to ensure it stayed open. Four years later, the community raised $50,000 for digital projection equipment so the theater could continue to screen new movies. The drive-in shows double features Friday through Tuesday.
Phoenix Theater and Drive-In, Houston – Originally named the Sunset Drive-In when it opened in 1951, the Phoenix Drive-In operated until 1998. With the addition of an inside screen, the Phoenix reopened in 2001 as an indoor-outdoor theater. The drive-in is open on Friday and Saturday evenings and can be reserved for private screenings for business events and parties.
21 Drive In Theatre, Van Buren – The 21 Drive In Theatre is located so close to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways that the theater uses #floattheriverwatchamovie on it social media site. Opened in 1950, the drive-in was closed for several decades in the early 90s before reopening in 1997. The theater shows double features Friday and Saturday, as well as a single retro shows on Thursdays.
Most Missouri drive-ins are open spring through fall and close during the winter months. To ensure a successful movie-going experience, check the theater's website or social media site for show times and more information.
Written by Liz Coleman