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Drive-in Theaters – A Money-Saving Movie Experience

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A couple of weekends ago, we had a yard sale. If you have a yard, I recommend it. It is a good way to get rid of some old stuff and make a little money. You won't get rich... you might not even make your hourly wage. However, we met some neighbors and learned a lot of tips. We learned two tips from someone who stopped by for less than two minutes... and she didn't buy a thing. Without looking at what we had to offer she asked if we had two things, an older shredder (without cross-cut), and an old boombox.

I was confused by the shredder. Why would someone want a security device, with obsolete security features? The answer... she's into crafts and the straight old shredders are great for making filler for gift baskets. When we told her we didn't have one she moved on to the boombox. There are a number of reasons why one might want a radio, so we didn't ask, but she offered... "they are great for drive-ins." Whoa, there are drive-ins near Silicon Valley where a two-bedroom fixer-upper can run you $700K?!?! That just didn't compute to us.

Drive-in Movie

Drive-in Movie

My wife and I did some research and found out that there is indeed a drive-in movie theater in San Jose - about a half hour from where we live. We did a little more research and decided to go the following night. We found it an outstanding value for the following reasons:

  • Cheap Tickets - It was $6.75 a person for first run movies. We saw Iron Man 2, but we could have seen Sex and the City on the opening weekend... but I wasn't having any of that. Kids under 5 are free. Kids from 5-11 are only $1.
  • Double Features - Each ticket is for two movies. We could have stayed after Iron Man to see Date Night, but we got tired. We'll bring the coffee and soda next time (the second feature started at after 11PM).
  • Cheap Concessions - While popcorn is still $4.50 for a bigger-than-a-toddler sized "small", there were deals to be had. For instance, their burritos are handmade to order for $5.75... and they are a meal. It would ranked in my top five all-time burrito values (I'm a huge burrito fan), if the person making my burrito wasn't being trained to make his first ever. It fell apart when I got to eating it, but even with a fork and knife it was good.
  • No Need for Concessions - It's a drive-in. Bring your own cooler. Pack a picnic-dinner or bring a pizza or sub with you. Bring your own soda...
  • ...or Beer - It's against the drive-in policy, but you could easily bring your own beer or wine. No one is going to see anything in your car at 9PM and no one was policing the theater anyway. I'm not saying you should break the policy, just that I think you could without repercussions. Of course, as with any drinking, standard disclaimers apply: be safe, designate a driver.
  • Family Friendly - They had a number of kid-friendly movies. Add in the kid prices of free or $1 and it's a steal.
  • Pet Friendly - We didn't know that it was going to be pet-friendly, but we'll bring our dog next time. It's a big selling point for us because we don't like to leave him alone for too long at night.
  • Extra Comfy - We don't have a flatbed truck, but a number of other people did. They inflated an air mattress, pulled out some blankets and pillows and had probably the most comfortable movie watching experience possible.

It's not all rainbows and puppy dogs, though. The drive-in isn't a place to watch Avatar. There's no 3-D option and the audio is pumped through your own car radio with a noticeable hiss. I got used to the hiss and the picture was good enough for me considering the value. I think this would be a good way to see a movie like Date Night or Grown-ups where you are just going for the laughs or focusing on the plot and not the specially effects.

When you add it up, the typical family of four could got to the movies for about $15 of admission. Admission for two movies at a typical cinema would probably be around $65. Eating and drinking costs can be the same as what you'd have at home, probably saving you another $25 or $30. More importantly, my wife summed it up this way, "I think it will be awhile before I think about going back to a regular theater again."

Posted on June 8, 2010.

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11 Responses to “Drive-in Theaters – A Money-Saving Movie Experience”

  1. Yikes. And I though $9 movies around here were pricey :)

    There’s a drive-in about 45 minutes from my home town. I haven’t been there, but my sister’s family goes there quite a bit. You can actually get pizzas delivered to you at the drive-in.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I can never hear “San Jose” without having the song “Do you know the way to San Jose” run through my head. Maybe it’s best that I don’t live in Silicon Valley.

  2. Lazy Man says:

    $9 is pricey. I was using a rough $8 average for a family of four to see two movies (8 tickets – 4 adults and 4 kids), when I estimated the $65. I might have been a couple of dollars on the high side, but not by much.

    It takes awhile, but you if you work at it, you can develop a Dionne Warwick mental block. Once you reach that point, it’s all upside.

  3. Gotcha. I didn’t read that carefully and was thinking you and wife. (65 / (2*2))

    I’m suddenly concerned that the ticket prices in Iowa are “pricey” according to a guy in the Bay area.

  4. jim says:

    We used to go to the drive in when I was a kid and I remember it fondly. I remember seeing Flash Gordon at a drive in. But then most of the drive ins got shut down. The nearest one to us is now about 45 minute drive. It certainly can be a good deal price wise especially for families with kids.

  5. Linda says:

    I wish there were still more drive ins around rather then Mega Plexes. We love the drive in and it feels more like an entire evening out. We do pack some of our own treats and like you said it’s a double feature for the price of one. hard to go wrong!

  6. Ronald says:

    We are fortunate here in the SF bay area to have a number of drive in theater’s still around.The one in Napa where I grew up was closed permanently after the screen came down in heavy winds,narrowly missing school children walking home from the nearby elementary school.The site has condo’s on it now.There was also one in Vallejo which I believe was turned into a mobile home park in the 1970’s There is a multiple(3 or 4 screen) drive in in Sacramento still operating during the summer season.
    High property taxes on the huge lots have forced theater operators to find extra ways of making money.The theaters in Concord and Oakland have “flea markets” where both commercial and private sellers can rent a space during the day.(the San Jose one used to do this too but I don’t think they still do)
    I have many fond memories of stretching out in the back of the family station wagon,trying to stay awake through the double feature!

  7. We love our drive-in theater! It’s less than 10 minutes away from our house! Ours is a bit price though, it’s $16.00 per car instead of person. If you have a large family, it’s a great deal though!

    Drive-in theaters, what a great blast from the past! I wish more people would go to them. There has been times that there were only 10 cars in the drive-in theater in my location. I worry about it going out of business…

    That would be a shame!

  8. Tim Landry says:

    LOL – back when I was in High School (1958-1962) drive in movies were ILLEGAL in Quebec

  9. Squirrelers says:

    Very timely post, with summer official here within the last week.

    Drive-in movies can be a lot of fun as a family outing. For young kids today, in a generation of digtal everything, it’s a fun novelty to go see a drive-in. It can be a great family outing. For teenagers, I think it still brings some of the same fun and opportunities as in generations past:)

  10. What a hoot! We used to love drive-ins. None are left around here, though.

    When I was a little kid, the company town where I grew up had an “outdoor” theater. It wasn’t a drive-in (no one owned cars). It was an open-air amphitheater with a big drive-in screen. People could walk in and picnic on the grass or sit in bleachers to watch the show.

  11. We used to have the best drive-in theater. It was right in the middle of the city, and they got a lot of business. They ended closing down, probably because they were bought out, and the movie theater in the shopping center that replaced it sells tickets for $11.75! Even when it first opened they cost $6.75 and that was 10 years ago.

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