clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Drive-in movies a fun night out for a bargain price

Drive-in movies are an American experience. My childhood memories include seeing, and falling asleep to, "E.T." at a drive-in theatre in my hometown. That theater is gone today, along with more than 90 percent of drive-in theaters from America's past, according to Most drive-ins occupied valuable real estate now used by shopping centers and neighborhoods.

Cineplexes, with their advanced technology and amenities, have also drawn moviegoers away from drive-in theaters. I don't blame them. We paid top dollar to see "The Avengers" on a new 3-D screen.

But the drive-in theater experience is about something more than the movies themselves. It's about sharing our history with our children. It's about spending a summer night under the stars. It's about bargain prices. What's more American than that?

One of the drive-in theaters that has survived is Coleman's Motor-Vu Drive-In and Swap Meet in Riverdale, located at 5368 S. 1050 West. Other Utah drive-ins are located in West Valley City (Redwoods 6 Drive-In), Tooele (Motor Vu Drive-In), Vernal (Sunset Drive-In), Roosevelt (Echo Drive-In) and Mt. Pleasant (Basin Drive-In).

Coleman's Motor-Vu Drive-In is located just off of Riverdale Road, a busy thoroughfare lined with big box stores and restaurant chains. Both Target and Walmart neighbor the theater, so keeping this drive-in open since 1947 must have taken a certain amount of stubbornness. It shows in the FAQ section of the website, where the questions and answers include:

Do you accept credit cards?

We will never accept credit cards. Quite simply, it would slow down the line and cause traffic to pack up on 1050 West.

Do we have to pay again to re-enter the drive-in?

Yes. There have been many problems with customers paying for multiple people in a car and then entering the drive-in, then the driver leaves and returns with multiple people in the car that match the receipt, but have not paid. Also, customers will enter and then decide they want to leave to get food, etc. Remember, you have all day to plan, so please bring what you need with you. Please remember that our snack bar has great, fresh-cooked food at reasonable prices.

My family loves all things quirky, kitschy or nostalgic, so we try to see at least one double feature there each summer. We prefer to go in late July or August when darkness falls earlier. This year, we saw "Ice Age: Continental Drift" with "Brave." "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Amazing Spider-Man" were playing on other screens.

Here are five tips for a great night at the drive-in movies:

1. Pack camp chairs and plenty of blankets and pillows.

We face the back of our minivan toward the screen and open the hatch. We fold down the back seats and pile all those blankets and pillows on the floor so our kids can fall asleep. This year, my 8-year-old was the only one of us who didn't sleep through part of the second movie. My husband and I sit in camp chairs on the ground. Camp chairs are a good option for those with smaller cars.

Jackets and mosquito repellent may also be useful items. Utah's desert temperatures drop significantly at night, and I am always wrapped in one of the blankets by the end of the first movie.

2. Pack plenty of snacks

Part of the fun of drive-in movies is bringing our own treats. We pop lots of popcorn and load up on snacks and drinks at the grocery store in advance.

3. Wear comfy clothes or pajamas

Our double feature finished at 1 a.m. It's nice when the kids are already in pajamas so we can put them right into bed when we get home.

4. Consider bringing a battery-operated radio

Most drive-ins channel the sound through FM radio. Many people use their car stereos, but there is a risk of draining the battery. Last year, our old battery died 15 minutes into the first movie. Theaters are prepared for dead batteries, but we brought a portable stereo this year and it worked well.

5. Arrive early

Arrive at least an hour before dark, especially on weekends or holidays. It's fun to wander around, soaking up the atmosphere of the drive-in. Some people pull the seats out of their vehicles. Others have air mattresses. Groups bring games or Nerf footballs to toss around until darkness falls.

We paid $20 at Motor-Vu, which was a bargain for four people to see two new movies. Motor-Vu has four screens, each showing two movies. We appreciate that the screen showing the R-rated double feature is out of sight of the "family" screen.

Several websites are dedicated to drive-in movie theaters. To find the theater nearest you, visit, or Theaters have differing rules about pets, outside food or the acceptability of honking during favorite parts of the movie. Honking isn't a practice at Motor-Vu, but it sounds like fun to me.

Allison Laypath is the author of the family travel blog With her family, Allison especially enjoys road trips, national parks and local field trips. Email Allison at