It’s no secret that the movie business is in shambles. AMC, Regal, Cinemark and every other major theater chain around the U.S., and most of the world, is closed down right now. Drive-in theaters, once thought to be nothing but a memory of the past, have proven to be a safe haven as the only operational part of the industry right now. There are just a handful of theaters showing new movies right now, and they are all drive-ins.
One such exhibitor, located in Florida, is the Ocala Drive-In and is one of just seven theaters showing first-run movies right now. It is responsible for last weekend’s top earner at the domestic box office, the indie horror movie Swallow, which earned $1,710. The Ocala Drive-In is also screening Trolls World Tour outside of its recent digital release, as well as the horror/thriller The Other Lamb. Trolls World Tour seems to be the common title amongst these few theaters. Ocala owner John Watzke had this to say about it in a recent interview.
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“Anybody that knows me and knows the drive-in knows I don’t close. I’ve had hurricanes come, I’ve stayed open until the power went off and I had no one in the parking lot.”
The other theaters showing first-run movies include the Mission Tiki (California), the Galaxy Drive-In (Texas), The Glendale 9 (Arizona), the Sacramento 6 Drive-In (California), the Hi-Way 21 (South Carolina) and the King Drive (Alabama). The Ocala had a spotlight shed on it when writer Ernie Smith did some digging on Twitter to figure out where the small amount of box office dollars were coming from. That brought him to John Watzke. The drive-in movie theaters that remain open are mostly showing older movies to draw in crowds. The Ocala is showing E.T. as the second feature with Trolls World Tour. And The Mission Tiki currently has an Indiana Jones double feature planned for this weekend. The few new titles available are finding life in these relics of a bygone era. As for why he’s specifically staying open, Watzke had this to say.
“I was on the Mississippi coast during Hurricane Katrina. To me, some of the things I remember [from that time] was anything that gave us a few minutes of feeling normal, take your mind off everything that’s going on and the pressure you’re under either financially or emotionally. Anything that gave you a sense of feeling normal for just an hour or so meant a lot. In a situation like this where people are out of work…[it helps] if they can get away for a few hours and come to the movies. They’re in their car, they’re safe. At least you’re seeing something besides the four walls of the house.”
Even though patrons are watching a movie in their car, precautions must be taken. Capacity at the Ocala has been cut to around 40 percent so that cars can have plenty of space between them. Concessions are ordered online and delivered by an employee wearing a mask and gloves. John Watzke isn’t taking any chances, as he says he is taking “every precaution possible.” The other drive-ins that have continued operations are taking similar precautions.
Theaters face an uncertain future on the other side of this. Will people still go to the movies? Can chains like AMC survive? Drive-ins could ultimately be a much bigger part of that future, which is something nobody could have predicted even a month ago. This news comes to us via Vice.