Updated: Drive-In Theaters Have Popped Up Across Metro Phoenix — Here's Where They Are (2023)

Moviegoers of the Valley, grab your car keys and sign off Netflix. Drive-in theaters have sprung up all over town, and they're showing films every night, filling the void left by the closure of indoor theaters because of COVID-19.

Each offers a big-screen movie-watching experience from the safety of your car. Some even have popcorn. They’re located at a variety of outdoor locations, and the Valley’s only permanent drive-in, West Wind Glendale 9, is also still operating.

They’re showing movies for every taste, from family-oriented titles and comedies to horror and action flicks. Since new releases have dried up during the pandemic, the selections are mainly films that have been out for months or are already available on streaming services.

But every drive-in has social distancing restrictions, such as contactless transactions and having moviegoers stay inside their vehicle except when using restrooms. (Some are cool if you want to kick back in the bed of pickup trucks or cargo areas of vans and SUVs, though.)

Bob Bentley, co-owner of Digital Drive-In AZ in Mesa, which made its debut in early April, says such rules are necessary during the pandemic.

“Everyone’s being super-cautious about their health right now,” Bentley says. “So we have safeguards in place, and it’s safer than going to the grocery store where you won’t have to interact with anybody outside your car. We want people to have a fun night at the movies, which is what people need right now.”

And it’s been nothing but good times so far, Bentley says, including people getting their first taste of drive-in movies.

“Drive-ins are pretty scarce these days,” he says. “It's pretty awesome that when you think about how these people have never been to one before. Now they're coming here and seeing it for the first time, and they're kind of blown away. Everyone goes, ‘This is so cool.’”

If you’d like to experience it for yourself, we’ve put together a rundown of what to expect at each of the Valley’s current crop of drive-in theaters. We've also updated this story to reflect which ones will be operating after Arizona Governor Doug Ducey's executive order on June 29 in response to the recent spike statewide in COVID-19 cases.

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West Wind Glendale 9

5650 North 55th Avenue, Glendale, 623-939-9715
Open nightly

The West Wind Glendale 9 has been around since 1979 and is Arizona’s only old-school drive-in still operating. It's been doing big business since mid-March, showing aneclectic mix of movies ranging from horror classics (Scream, The Ring)to more recent films like Sonic the Hedgehog and Onward.

Every screening is a double feature, and there have been some fitting pairings, like the Keanu-centric combo of The Matrix and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.

Gates open at 7 p.m. each night with showings starting at 7:45 p.m.Per a recentmessage on its Facebook, the West Wind is still operating. General admission is $7.75 for adults, $1.75 for children 5 to 11, and free for kids 4 and under. (There’s also a “Family Fun Night” on Tuesday with discounted admission.) There's a limited selection of prepackaged snacks (chips, candy, and soda) for sale if you get hungry and a QuikTrip nearby if you'd like a better variety.

Social distancing rules are strictly enforced by employees who patrol the lot in golf carts. Patrons must park six feet away from others and stay in their vehicles at all times (although you can sit in truck beds or the cargo areas of vans). Only four people at a time are allowed to use the restrooms.

A list of current and upcoming films can be found on theWest Wind’s website.

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A local family enjoys a movie at Mesa's Digital Drive-In.

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Digital Drive-In AZ

1901 North Alma School Road, Mesa, 480-308-1515
Open nightly

If you think the setup at Digital Drive-In AZ looks like something you’d see at a music festival, you’d be right. Its 40-by-40-foot stage, 24-foot-high LED screen, and security barriers have been used at many local outdoor concerts in recent years. They now have a different use at the moment: screening movies like Fantastic Mr. Fox and Bohemian Rhapsody.

Digital Drive-In AZ was launched in early April by a few Valley residents who work in the concert industry, which was decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With concerts getting canceled, we found something else to do with our equipment,” says Bob Bentley, who also owns Arizona Festival Staging. “We came up with this idea to see what we could do to help ourselves and our friends who are gig workers making their living from concerts.”

Besides doing their friends a solid, Bentley and company are also bringing entertainment to the hundreds of Valley residents who come to the drive-in theater. Each vehicle gets its own stall, which is 12 to 20 feet away from others and separated by ropes and security barriers.

Other safety measures include porta-potties being sanitized by attendants after each use and a contactless ticketing system where people can hold their phones up to the car window to be scanned.

Admission is $22 per car. Movies start at 6:45 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays and at 6:45 and 8:45 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Previously films featured include Ferdinand, The Book of Life, and Ice Age. You may even see '80s favorites like Stripes on the schedule.

“That was one of my picks. I love Stripes,” Bentley says, laughing. “That's one of the perks of having your own drive-in. We want to stay current for the kids, but for adults, how about those movies you haven't seen for 15 to 20 years like Caddyshack or Uncle Buck?”

Digital Drive-In AZ's current screening schedule can be found on its website and Facebook.

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There's plenty of space for movie-watching at Schnepf Farms.

The Drive-In at Schnepf Farms

24810 East Rittenhouse Road, Queen Creek, 480-987-3100
Open Wednesday through Sunday

The setup at Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek differs from other local drive-ins. There’s much more room (vehicles will be 20 feet apart), as well as darker skies and a laid-back vibe. “We don’t have much light pollution out here, just a lot of fresh air and open space,” co-owner Carrie Schnepf says. “People are going stir-crazy at home right now and we’ve got 300 acres where they can come out and see a movie.”

You’ll also get to stretch your legs when nature calls. “It's not an incredibly long walk [to the bathrooms], but it’s a good walk away,” Schnepf says. “I don't have porta-potties, just cleaned and sanitized restrooms where people can feel safe and comfortable.” Doors are also locked (so you’ll have to get the code from the staff) and only one family will be allowed at a time.

Schnepf Farms is also only showing one film per night, which will include “some of your all-time favorite movies and the good ol' classics.”

Titles won’t be announced beforehand, due to their licensing agreement with a film distributor. Wednesdays and Fridays will have rom-coms and movies of the action-adventure and suspense variety. Family films will be shown on Thursdays and Saturdays. Schnepf says they’ll show crowd-pleasing classics on Sundays.

Schnepf Farms has announced it will continue showings during the curfew under the provision allowing Arizona residentstopatronize private business after 8 p.m. each night.

Films will run from 7:30 to 10 p.m. There’s a $15 “parking fee” to attend, and only 60 spaces will be available each night. “I don't care how many people you put in your car, but you got to stay within your space,” Schnepf says. Make sure to bring enough refreshments for everyone, since the farm isn’t selling snacks.


Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

7575 East Princess Drive, Scottsdale, 480-585-4848
Open Friday, July 3, and Saturday, July 4

Are you seeking some family-oriented fare over the holiday weekend? The Fairmont is bringing its drive-in movie series back for a three-night run from Thursday, July 2, to Saturday, July 4. Animated and kid-friendly movies will be shown on a giant inflatable screen in its valet parking lot with an intermission for its nightly fireworks shows.

Gates open at 7 p.m. each night with a preshow at 7:30 p.m. and films starting at 8:05 p.m. Fireworks will take place at 9 p.m. Vehicles will be situated 10 feet apart, and spaces will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Patrons must be inside their cars except for restroom breaks, and no alcohol consumption will be allowed on the premises (so forget about sneaking in your flask).

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The schedule and admission prices per carload are as follows: Playing with Fire on Friday, July 3, with a $50 admission price; and Sonic the Hedgehog on Saturday, July 4, which will run you $60. A bag of Oogie’s movie theater butter popcorn, two bags of cotton candy, and four bottles of water are included.

Tickets and more information, including social distancing guidelines and other safety rules, can be found here.

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If you prefer to see a movie by a body of water, stop by Pleasant Harbor Drive-In.

Bob Bentley

Pleasant Harbor Drive-In Movie Nights

8708 West Harbor Boulevard, Peoria, 623-203-5173
Operating days vary

If you’d prefer to take in a movie in a more picturesque setting, Digital Drive-In AZ’s proprietors opened a second spot next to Lake Pleasant on May 1. It features the same size HD screen as their Mesa location, a similar variety of films, and at least 10 feet of distance between your ride and others.

Showtime is at 8 p.m. with the current schedule available on Digital Drive-In AZ’s website and Facebook. It’s $22 per vehicle plus a $5 to $10 gate fee to get into Pleasant Harbor. No walk-ups will be allowed. Owners will decide daily if the theater will be operating.

Digital Drive-In AZ's current screening schedule can be found on its website.


Pop Up Events

WestWorld of Scottsdale, 16601 North Pima Road, Scottsdale, 480-656-9940
Open Fridays and Saturdays

You can spend Fourth of July weekend with the “Star-Spangled Man With A Plan,” as this pop-up event venue at WestWorld will be showing 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger on Friday, July 3. The Marvel Cinematic Universe flick will be showing on a 32-by-16-foot LED screen starting at 7:45 p.m.

Food and drinks from M Culinary Concepts will be available for purchase. Cars will be parked at least 10 feet from each other, a contactless ticketing system will be used, and the staff will be wearing masks. According to the venue’s website, restrooms are located indoors and will be cleaned and sanitized throughout the night.

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Tickets are $15 to $30 per vehicle and are available for purchase online.

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FAQs

What caused the decline of drive-in theaters? ›

"The decline of the drive-in was directly related to the movement away from Main Street America and towards the mall society, where convenience, times, weather and the idea of 'all-inclusive' became the popular way to enjoy a night out, pushing away the classic night out at the drive-in," Stefanopoulos elaborated.

How do modern drive-in theaters work? ›

A drive-in theater or drive-in cinema is a form of cinema structure consisting of a large outdoor movie screen, a projection booth, a concession stand, and a large parking area for automobiles. Within this enclosed area, customers can view movies from the privacy and comfort of their cars.

Where are the most drive-in theaters? ›

And the state with the most drive-ins in the country is New York, with 30. On the other side of the equation, Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, and North Dakota all have zero drive-ins.

How many drive-ins are in AZ? ›

Arizona has two drive-in theaters, including the world's biggest drive-in theater chain and a family-owned screen for retro flicks.

Do drive-in theaters make money? ›

How much profit can a drive-in movie theater make? You may be making as little as 10% of each ticket sold when you are showing new releases during the summer blockbuster season. Concession items offer profit of 50 to 80%, but your operational expenses will eat into all those extra dollars.

Are drive-in cinemas still popular? ›

The 305 drive-in movie theaters across the country — down from a high of more than 4,000 in 1958, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association — have regained some popularity in the past few years as new owners worked to revitalize them.

How do you keep your car battery from dying at the drive-in? ›

Here are some tips to help you watch a drive-in movie without draining your car battery: Let your car idle, recharging the battery, before you shut it off. Disconnect anything that may be draining power, like subwoofers or amplifiers. Bring a portable radio to get the movie sound and turn your car off completely.

Do you leave your car running at the drive-in? ›

It's never good to idle your car, and that also applies at the drive-in, where there are other moviegoers around who aren't interested in breathing in any exhaust fumes. Leaving your car in the accessory mode with the engine off should allow you to keep the radio on so you can hear the movie without the engine running.

How often should you start your car at a drive-in? ›

How long does a car battery last without driving? This is one question that you should ask yourself when you put your car away in storage. If you intend to keep your car out of service for a while, you should start it at least once every week.

Can I use my phone to listen to a drive-in movie? ›

Our wireless audio streaming solutions allow you to broadcast audio to smartphones or tablets. Listeners simply download the AudioFetch App, and then they can hear in real-time from their cars using a smartphone or Bluetooth speaker.

Who has the biggest drive-in? ›

The largest drive-in cinemas by car capacity were the Troy Drive-In, Detroit, Michigan, USA and the Panther Drive-In, Lufkin, Texas, USA. each able to hold 3,000 cars.

How many drive-in Theatres in USA? ›

The nation's approximately 300 drive-in theaters allow patrons to remain in their car, without having to interact with other customers. According to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, there were 305 drive-in theaters in the U.S. with 549 screens as of October 2019.

How many drive-in Theatres are in America? ›

At the peak of their popularity in the mid 1950's there were around 4,000 active drive-in theaters in the United States. That number has declined sharply as the cost of land and digital projection has risen. Now there are only around 350 drive-in theaters currently in operation in the US.

Do movie theaters make money from ticket sales? ›

According to Yang, small theaters make 80% of their revenue from concessions and 20% from ticket sales. Meanwhile, larger chains, like AMC, tend to earn 35% from concessions and 65% from ticket sales. Ultimately, the ratio will come down to the theater's ability to negotiate a deal.

How big is a drive-in movie screen? ›

A drive-in screen built today, or in recent decades, is typically 50 to 100 feet (15 – 28 metres) wide.

Do drive-in movies count towards box office? ›

Only drive-in theaters, which are typically not included in box office reporting, remained open.

Why are drive-in theaters so popular? ›

The boom of automobiles and car ownership was the reason the drive-in thrived. Families could bring young kids or infants, and not have to worry about interrupting other movie goers or having to leave a busy theater. Young couples made drive-ins the popular spot for dates because of the privacy a car would allow.

How do you hear the sound at a drive-in movie? ›

Most drive-in movie theaters use FM radio to play the sound. Each screen has its own frequency and you tune your own radio to that station to listen.

When were drive-in movies popular? ›

Drive-in theatres reached their zenith during the 1940s and 1950s and then slowly declined in popularity as indoor movie theatre technology advanced.

Does idling a car charge the battery? ›

Does the Battery Charge if You Let the Car Idle? The simple answer to this question is yes, your car's battery will start to charge as long as your engine is running.

How long can you keep your car radio on before battery dies? ›

If your car is newer, the battery will probably last for four to six hours with the radio on. If you have an upgraded sound system with additional amplifiers, subwoofers, or speakers, however, your battery might drain more quickly. Adding a subwoofer, for example, can reduce the battery life to one to two hours.

How long can a car battery sit unused? ›

If you know your car battery is relatively new and has been kept in good condition, it can probably sit unused for about two weeks before it goes flat. If you've left your car unused for over two weeks, it's quite likely you'll need professional assistance.

How long can an electric car idle with AC on? ›

An electric car can generally idle for up to two hours without problems. However, if the temperature is very cold or hot, the battery may not last as long. In addition, if the car is idling in a stop-and-go traffic jam, the battery will drain more quickly.

How long can I idle my car with AC on? ›

As long as the engine is running and you aren't running low on fuel, you can keep your car idling with the AC on for as long as you'd like. However, you will want to avoid doing this with the engine off, as this will use up almost all of your battery power in a short time, leaving you in need of a jumpstart.

How long will a car idle on a full tank of gas? ›

"How long that is going to last depends on two things, the amount of gas in your tank and the size of your engine." Moody says on average, a vehicle burns about half a gallon an hour while idling. Some may last longer, and some less -- but it's a good starting point.

What happens if a car sits for 6 months? ›

A major concern when storing a car for 6 months or so is the draining of the car battery. It dies eventually due to parasitic draining. The inside of the fuel tank of an unused car is likely to start rusting and the paint job might degrade.

How long should you warm up your car? ›

When temperatures drop during winter it's a good idea to let the car run for about a minute. Some drivers prefer to let the engine idle for 20 minutes or longer to get everything—including the cabin—really warm, but the fastest way to warm up an engine is by driving.

How often do you need to start your car to keep the battery from dying? ›

The easiest thing you can do to prevent your car battery from dying is to start your car once a week and letting it run anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. You can even take it for a drive around the block, which should provide just enough power to recharge the battery and keep it alive for another week or so.

What should I bring to the drive-in? ›

4 Essential Items to Bring to a Drive-In Movie Theater
  • Comfy Cushions or Pillows. To ensure you and your family stay comfortable, bring a few cushions or pillows to sit or lie on. ...
  • An Extra Layer of Warmth. ...
  • Clean Clothes for the Kids. ...
  • A Selection of Snacks. ...
  • Pack for Convenience and Comfort. ...
  • Related Articles.

Can you use a Bluetooth speaker at a drive-in? ›

You can put a Bluetooth speaker into your car for hands-free calling and playing music with high quality sound. There are some that are geared toward in-vehicle use. Before buying one, there are several key factors you will want to consider.

Do iPhones have FM receivers? ›

Even though classic iPhones till iPhone 6/6s did have a built-in FM radio chip; the tech giant didn't bring that into effect.

What is the biggest movie screen in the USA? ›

The screen in the AMC Lincoln Square IMAX in New York City is 75.6 feet tall and 101 feet wide. The next largest in the U.S is AMC Metreon IMAX in San Francisco: 75.6 x 97.6 feet. The largest in the world is IMAX Theatre Melbourne in Australia: 76.1 x 102 feet.

What is the biggest movie screen in America? ›

Record-breaking big screen

IMAX theaters are known for their immersive design and towering screens. Pooler's record-breaking IMAX screen will boast a height of 76 feet, 2 inches and a width of 101 feet. The canvas is so large that a robotic arm was used to paint the silver vinyl of the screen.

Where is the largest drive-in in the United States? ›

Bengies Drive-In Theatre, Middle River, Maryland

This theater boasts that it has the largest drive-in screen in the country, measuring 52 by 120 feet.

How do you get comfortable at the drive-in? ›

Make great memories on your night at drive-in theater
  1. Take your favorite snacks & drinks.
  2. Pocket some cash for concessions.
  3. Pack the blankets and pillows.
  4. Wear long pants and sweatshirts.
  5. Dig up the old radio or download a radio app.
  6. Take some chairs.
  7. Insect repellent and other personal items.
2 Aug 2020

How do you watch movies on drive-in? ›

How To Go To a Drive-in Movie Theater Like a Pro: 10 Essential Tips You Need To Know
  1. Plan for a late night.
  2. Arrive early.
  3. Bring activities for downtime.
  4. Be aware of some vehicle regulations.
  5. Plan your food and snacks.
  6. Bring bug spray.
  7. Wear comfy clothes.
  8. Bring a portable radio with extra batteries and turn off your car.
23 Oct 2020

What should I bring to an outdoor movie night? ›

Depending on how much picnic space you need, you can find a tarp at any hardware store that's just the right size.
  • A Variety Of Outdoor Blankets. ...
  • A Cooler For Your Snacks. ...
  • A Portable Radio For Drive-In Movies. ...
  • Don't Forget A Trash Bag For Easy Clean Up. ...
  • A Charcuterie Board For An Insta-Worthy Setup.
13 Jul 2021

Does a car radio drain the battery? ›

Listening to radio with the engine off in a modern vehicle shouldn't have any impact on your car battery. Even though you're using energy, the drain is so small your car shouldn't suffer from it. This is particularly true if you're using an energy efficient car radio.

Can you listen to a drive-in movie on iPhone? ›

Can You Listen To Drive-In Movies Iphone? FM can't be picked up by the iPhone.

What should I bring to a drive-in? ›

4 Essential Items to Bring to a Drive-In Movie Theater
  • Comfy Cushions or Pillows. To ensure you and your family stay comfortable, bring a few cushions or pillows to sit or lie on. ...
  • An Extra Layer of Warmth. ...
  • Clean Clothes for the Kids. ...
  • A Selection of Snacks. ...
  • Pack for Convenience and Comfort. ...
  • Related Articles.

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