There’s nothing quite like a drive-in movie theatre. Watching all the action, enjoying all the snacks and soaking up the atmosphere without ever having to leave your car, or smell anyone else’s food.
As a country, the USA has enjoyed drive-in movies since 1915, when the first one opened in New Mexico. Since then, they’ve popped up in countless cities across every state, entertaining millions of us with blockbuster films and rustic charm.
We wanted to know which one was best, so we found out.
While watching a drive-in movie, it’s likely that you’ll be parked closely to other cars which may run a small risk of getting your car damaged. If this does happen you should let the other driver involved know and exchange details at the scene.
The best drive-in movie theatres in the USA
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, drive-in theatres boomed in popularity. They gave us a safe space to enjoy ourselves, get away from our homes and stay free from the risk of infection spreading. But some gave us more joy than others.
We’ve ranked drive-in movie theatres based on a number of factors:
- Tripadvisor rating
- Pet policy
- Number of screens
- Opening periods
This lets us show you the best places to pull up and enjoy a movie.
The Mesa Drive-in, Colorado, is officially the best drive-in movie theatre in the country
Running since 1951, The Mesa Drive-in movie theatre is Colorado’s largest drive-in theatre, and is guaranteed to take you back to times gone by. While two further screens were added in 2000, not much else has changed since the 50s, meaning you get a truly retro experience for the whole family.
Its 1,000 car capacity is more than enough room for everyone to enjoy one of three super-sized screens. Pets are more than welcome, food is served all day, and the $19 admission price for 2 adults and two children is great value for money.
The Mesa might only score 3.5 stars on Tripadvisor, but its low cost, great capacity and inviting menu means it gets a solid five from us. It’s open between March and October if you want to enjoy it for yourself.
The Starlite Twin Drive-in movie theatre, Kansas offers fantastic films and nighttime skies
You can’t call yourself the Starlite if you don’t offer something special at night, and that’s exactly what you’ll get at the Starlight Twin Drive-in movie theatre. When the sun has set, the Kansas night sky comes out to dazzle, leaving theatre-goers unsure whether to look up or forward.
Opened in 1971, the Starlite has a large capacity for 1,300 cars, although only offers two screens for them to crowd around. The concession stand provides all the theatre classics, such as hotdogs, hamburgers, popcorn and nachos, and pets are welcome just as much as people.
Tickets cost $18, and you can enjoy films from Friday to Sunday between April and November. Given its 4.5 star Tripadvisor review, you can be sure of an A-list experience.
Galaxy Drive-in movie theatre, Texas only opened in 2004
Unlike some of the other top drive-in movie theatres on our list, Texas’s Galaxy Drive-in movie theatre only pulled back its curtains in 2004. It started out as a four-screen theatre with just one snack bar. Since then it’s grown into a seven-screen theatre giant, with two snack bars to feed the hungry crowds.
However, for all those film options you have to pay a price - at $24, Galaxy is at the more expensive end of our list. The 800 car capacity is also small for the number of screens, but it’s open all year so you don’t need to worry about missing out.
Tripadvisor scores Galaxy 4.5 stars.
The Transit Drive-in movie theatre, New York has a proud family history
If you like a family-run business head to the Transit Drive-in movie theatre, New York, and discover a theatre that’s been managed by four generations of the Cohen family. Current owner, Rick, has been in charge for over 21 seasons, but it all started way back with his great grandparents, Irving and Mary. They opened the Transit in 1957 after purchasing the site from a group of local businessmen, and turned it into a must-visit spot in the local area.
Now in 2022, it offers five screens, a 1,500 car capacity and a four star Tripadvisor rating. It’ll cost you though - the $26 admission fee is the most expensive in our survey.
If you’re willing to spend it, you can enjoy the Transit Drive-in between April and November.
Hounds Drive-in movie theatre, North Carolina opened as many theatres were shutting
In 2016, not many people were thinking about opening a brand new drive-in movie theatre in North Carolina. Unless, of course, you were Preston Brown. He’d worked at his dad’s theatre for over 10 years, and saw an opportunity to bring film to the masses. He opened the Hounds Drive-in movie theatre, and fitted it with state of the art technology, the brightest bulbs, and three 50x100 foot screens - the largest in the country.
His business plan paid off. Six years later Hounds is still going strong, offering 600 cars seasonal access to three screens, a full menu and a pet-friendly environment, all for only $20 dollars.
It’s picked up a Tripadvisor review of 3.5 stars.
The best state to watch a film from your car
No drive-in road trip could be complete without exploring the best drive-in movie theatre states. These are states that just know what they’re doing when it comes to big screens and huge fun.
Ohio is the country’s best state for drive-in movie theatres
At its peak, Ohio had 190 drive-in movie theatres. In fact, it had one of the first 10 in the USA, with The Starlight Auto Theatre opening in 1937. Things aren’t quite as crowded now, with only 24 drive-in movie theatres left in operation. But that still makes Ohio the third largest state for drive-in movie theatres, behind Pennsylvania and New York.
The average Tripadvisor rating for Ohio drive-in theatres is 4.5, with 57% of them allowing pets. There are 40 screens in total across the state, charging an average of $25.30 for you to park up out the ignition and enjoy.
Maine only has 10 screens, but they’re all very good
For a state only offering 10 screens, with only 13% of them allowing pets and an average capacity down at 422, you’d think Maine wouldn’t be so high up on our list. But what it loses out on in availability, it more than makes up for in quality. Tripadvisor reviews give the state an average score of 4.6 stars, and you only have to pay an average of $20.86 to see why.
Maine is one of the smaller states in the country, meaning despite only having seven screens, that still equates to 5.91 per million people, way up on the national average of one.
Alabama is the highest scoring state on Tripadvisor
While there might only be six drive-in movie theatres left in Alabama, they all contribute to an impressive average of 4.7 stars on Tripadvisor. The state was thriving in the 1950s, with 98 movie drive-ins reflecting the growing trend across the USA. Although numbers have gone down since, they’re preserving their proud heritage with 16 remaining screens, charging an average of $20.53 to get in.
Alabama’s average capacity is only 402 cars, so prepare for a truly cosy outdoor cinema experience.
The cheapest states for drive-in movie theatres
You’ve had a stressful day at work, the sun is out, and you just want to take the kids out for some affordable entertainment. Where do you go? We’ve rounded up the states that offer drive-in movie theatres for the least money, giving you more blockbuster for your buck.
Wyoming only sets you back $15 for a drive in movie theatre
Wyoming is the cheapest state in the USA for drive-in movie theatres, costing an average of $15 for a car with two adults and two kids. There’s only one drive-in movie theatre left in the state - the American Dream Drive-in, opened in 1948. But with all the money you save you can afford to go big on the menu and enjoy every second of your evening out.
Oregon’s drive-in movie theatres cost you $16.50
There are four remaining drive-in movie theatres in Oregon, sort of. One of them is technically a truck park, meaning unless you drive a 16-wheeler you won’t be allowed in. But if you want access to the other three, you only have to pay $16.50, no matter how many wheels you’ve got.
Mississippi’s one drive-in movie theatre costs $18
Despite its warm climate, Mississippi went the same way as the rest of the country, with an abundance of 50s drive-ins slowly shutting down for good. Only one remains - the single-screen Iuka Drive-in - but if you’re in the area, it’s well worth visiting for $18 a car.
The Iuka is one of the smallest drive-in movie theatres in the country, only offering space for 100 cars. Every dollar keeps this unique site open for future generations to enjoy.
The most pet-friendly drive-in movie theatres
Give your best friend a great night out with these states that offer the most pet-friendly drive-in movie theatres.
Every drive-in movie theatre in Kansas, New Hampshire and Maryland is pet friendly
We couldn’t split the top three pet-friendly states. Every single drive-in movie theatre in Kansas, New Hampshire and Maryland is delighted to see your four-legged friends, showing them films sure to get their tails wagging. They even offer them some water, and occasionally snacks, at the concession stand.
83% of drive-in movie theatres in Virginia let pets in
Virginia isn’t quite as pet-friendly as our joint leaders, but it’s still not bad. Pet owners there can enjoy the big screen at 83% of drive-ins, giving them plenty of options to kick back and relax.
80% of drive-in movie theatres in Washington are good for pets
The nation’s capital comes in third for pet-friendly theatres. 80% of drive-in movie theatres in Washington let your pets in with you, offering a relaxing evening after a day out seeing the sights.
Alex Kindred, car insurance expert at Confused.com comments on how to keep your car safe at drive-in movie theatres: “Drive-in movie theatres are a great place to enjoy the latest films from the comfort of your car, but they do come with some risks. Being surrounded by other cars means minor accidents like scratches and dents might happen quite easily.
“It’s important to leave enough space between you and the cars around you, and take extra care when opening your door. Your car insurance should cover you against accidental damage, but, to avoid this be sure not to rush when it’s time to leave. These places know what they’re doing, and should ensure you get out safely if you take your time.”
Using driveinmovie.com, data was collected on several metrics including number of screens and cost to enter. Several of these metrics including (No. Screens and No. Cinemas) were divided by the population to calculate the number per 500,000 people. This ensures that states with higher populations are not naturally ranking higher. The pet policy metric was calculated by looking at the % of cinemas in each state that allow pets to visit the cinema. Each of these metrics were then ranked and added together to give a total index score allowing for the top drive in cinema to be identified. The average scores for the state were also calculated to identify the best state for drive-in cinemas.