Monday, November 10, 2014

The Return of the Drive-In Movie

Johnny Rockets Drive-In

Search “Drive-In” on this site and you’ll find out just how much I love Drive-In movie theatres.

They were big when I was a kid and you attended pre-pyjama’d so you’d nod off after the first feature and your folks could steal a little Mommy-Daddy time.

In my teens they were a necessity, for all those reasons that Drive-Ins remain the stuff of legend and burrowed a special place in our now no longer teenage hearts.

But with the rise of the VCR, DVD other new technologies of convenience as well as the changing economics of the movie business they went away.

At one time, there were over 5000 Drive-In theatres in Canada and the US. Barely 6% of them are still hanging on.

And with the advent of cheap HD home screens and Surround sound, not to mention online access to pretty much any genre that used to be the date-movie-make-out-inducing reason d’etre for their existence, nobody believed the Drive-In would last.

But their number is about to double.

The Johnny Rockets hamburger chain has announced it will construct more than 200 new 500-700 car Drive-In theatres over the next three years.

The venues will feature 4K digital projection, high quality sound as well as access to a wider menu than is offered at most theatres and the option to have your snacks delivered right to your car.

All of this is great news for people who love the Drive-In experience. And it could be beneficial to all movie-goers since those audience members who insist on talking, texting, taking a phone call or updating Facebook during a movie won’t be intruding on you anymore.

But it might also be great news for those of us who make movies as well. As late as the 1980’s and early 90’s, it was still possible to finance a genre picture with not much more than Drive-In audience appeal.

Much of the teen horror, low-budget action and cult canon had its origins in cobbling together a deal with Drive-In chains. And who’s to say that won’t be possible with a company that has deep research into the interests of their own customer base.

Links between the makers of consumer products and movies have been around for a long time. And I’m not talking about the free toy promotions that fast food outlets regularly coat-tail to blockbuster features.

Pizza companies have included package codes that access either film downloads or VOD features. A microwave popcorn maker is running one such promotion right now.  So it seems plausible that product placement could easily evolve into direct funding of films that might play into some hamburger chain’s demographic.

What all this underscores more than anything else is that some corporations still understand the profit potential and power of movies and in getting behind a distribution model that works for them, could be creating new markets for us.

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