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. 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 are becoming retro road-trip destinations.
From single screens surrounded by trees to metropolitan multiplexes, ten 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 a projector for the outdoor screen, and the Moberly Five and Drive was born. One of a handful of indoor-outdoor movie 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 "The Mother Road." Located on Old 66 Boulevard, the 66 Drive-In – with its original neon sign – has been 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 that allows you to fire up a grill before the movie begins – and provides a can to dispose of 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 indoor screen operates seven days a week, and the drive-in is open on Friday and Saturday evenings. The theater can be reserved for private screenings for business or private parties.
I-70 Drive-In, Kansas City – One of the largest drive-In theaters in Missouri, the I-70 Drive-In has four screens showing double features seven days a week. The theater still has its neon marquee and a limited number of old-style speakers but also provides audio via FM radio.
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 1955, the drive-in was closed for several decades in the early 990s before reopening in 1997. The theater shows double features Friday and Saturday.
Most Missouri drive-ins are open spring through fall and close during the winter months. To ensure a successful movie-going experience, be sure to check the theater's website or social media site for more information.