Drive-in movies and concerts: Are they worth your money?


Emma McCarthy/XPress photo

Night falls as The Goonies entertains drive-in guests.

Emma McCarthy, Editor-in-Chief

With the pandemic still in full force, many industries are trying to adapt and continue while remaining safe. The entertainment industry is recovering slowly, having to develop ways to bring back live music and movies.

The industry’s focus seems to be on the “drive-in” idea, whether it be through movie showings, concerts, or other live shows. They are great excuses to get out of the house, but are they really worth the time and money or should viewers just wait until things begin to open up again? 

Drive-in movie theaters existed prior to 2020, but their popularity was dwindling. While there were once many in Arizona, there is now only one: West Wind Glendale 9 Drive-in in Glendale. When the surge of Covid-19 cases forced movie theaters across Arizona to close their doors, many saw it as an opportunity to do “pop-up” drive-ins, which consisted of massive inflatable screens in large parking lots. 

The largest movie theater chain in Arizona, Harkins Theaters, hosted their own pop-up drive-in at their Chandler Fashion Center location, and the popular water park Big Surf in Tempe also hosted a few drive-in nights. Others did similar activities. 

Drive-in concerts have also been extremely popular, with varying levels of quality. Some artists are doing virtual shows where spectators go to a drive-in and watch their performances on screens, such as country singer Kane Brown whose concert will be shown at various locations in Arizona on September 26.

Other artists are doing in-person performances, where spectators will be able to see them on stage from cars. The audience can choose to listen to the show through car speakers or the standard concert speakers. 

While drive-in shows are abundant, they each have different regulations, pricing, and seating. 

Some drive-in movies offer concession booths, while others offer concessions with the ticket purchase. For example, with the purchase of a ticket to the Harkins pop-up drive-in, guests receive a bag of popcorn and beverages, and another concession stand is nearby for other cravings. These drive-ins are worth the money, considering other drive-ins charging the same price are not providing snacks.

Another major factor in deciding whether or not these events are truly worthwhile is pricing. Some have a fixed charge per vehicle, so there can be as many people in the car as there are seat belts. This is the most cost-effective option, as cars containing many people can split the cost and end up paying less than an average movie ticket.

However, other drive-ins charge a fixed price for the first two guests and an additional amount for extra passengers, driving up the cost astronomically. At that point, the cost is incredibly expensive to view a movie from a vehicle, which may not be at all close to the screen. It’s probably best to just head home and rent a movie. 

This brings up another issue: seating. Most drive-in venues abide by the typical general admissions policy “first come, first serve.” Unless, of course, a guest drives a larger vehicle.

Larger vehicles like trucks and SUVs are usually placed towards the back and the sides, as to not block the views of those in smaller cars. As a result, just because someone arrives early does not mean the best viewpoint awaits.

In order for the show to actually be enjoyable, it seems guests must arrive as early as possible and in a tiny vehicle, which then stops them from bringing multiple passengers and lowering the cost. On top of that, most shows start until just after sunset, and in Arizona the weather doesn’t start to cool down until the middle of the night. That’s a dealbreaker personally. 

I would recommend drive-ins if you don’t have a problem with the heat, have a small vehicle, can find a venue offering affordable concessions and have plenty of time on your hands to sit around until showtime.

I’d wait it out until life regains some normalcy. Watch some Netflix, eat some snacks, and call it a day from your air-conditioned home.