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. Before the movie begins, 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 maybe a pillow or two, moviegoers can enjoy a first-run feature or favorite classic 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 metropolitan multiplexes to single screens surrounded by trees, 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.
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 – is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The theater opened in 1949 and had a 34-year run before shutting down. It was renovated and reopened in 1998.
Starlite Drive-In Theatre, Cadet – With parking for 700 cars, the Starlite Drive-In Theatre is Missouri’s largest drive-in outside a metro area. Located 50 miles south of St. Louis, the two-screen theater dates back to 1952.
19 Drive-In, Cuba – Located just off Route 66, the 19 Drive-In opened in1950. The theater still has its old-school speakers but also broadcasts the audio over FM radio as most drive-ins now do.
Sunset Drive-In Theater, Aurora – The Sunset Drive-In Theatre, located 30 miles southwest of Springfield, has been in operation since 1951. It’s one of just a few outdoor movie theaters that allows you to fire up a small gas grill for a car-side barbecue. You can also order a pizza from the concession stand and have it delivered to your car.
The Twin, Independence – The Twin lives up to its name with movies on two screens. The theater opened in 1965 and is Missouri’s largest drive-in, 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 an 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.
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.
Rock ‘N’ Roll Drive-in, Chaffee – Built in 1955, the old Montgomery Drive-in sat dark for nearly 30 years before being resurrected in 2020 as the Rock ‘N’ Roll Drive-in. Classic movies and new releases are shown on the refurbished concrete movie screen.
Most Missouri drive-ins are open spring through fall and close during the winter months. Be sure to check the theater’s website or social media site for movie and showtime information.
Written by Liz Coleman