Rural Missouri - August 2018 - 20

CINEMA UNDER
THE STARS

Now showing nostalgia at Missouri's remaining drive-ins

by Libby Moeller | lmoeller@ruralmissouri.coop
photos by Zach Smith, Heather Berry and Libby Moeller

T

he sky is pink and wispy on a summer Sunday evening at the B&B
Moberly Five and Drive. Cars are entering at their own pace underneath a neon glow of the drive-in tickets sign. The sun is sinking and
preparations are being made. Snacks are collected and parking spots
strategically chosen as gravel crunches underneath moving tires.
At the drive-in, movie-goers design their own worlds within each vehicle.
The volume is chosen, seats are reclined and portable radios are tuned. Some
patrons choose to venture outside in an arrangement of blankets and folding
chairs, subjecting themselves to the muggy air and buggy atmosphere that will
never be found in a conventional movie theater.
Once the last flickers of sun disappear and the stars begin to peek out,
everyone settles in. A soft beam of light slices through the dark and onto the
towering screen. It's showtime.
When the weather turns warm, it's high season for Missouri's drive-in theaters. A nostalgic callback to the magic that once characterized a trip to the
picture show, drive-ins specialize in affordable, family-friendly entertainment
that departs from the standard indoor movie-going experience.
There were 4,100 drive-in theaters throughout the country at their peak
popularity in the '60s, according to Tom Stockman, a native Missourian and
editor at the website We Are Movie Geeks. Today, around 350 theaters still
exist in the U.S. Ten of those drive-ins are still up and running in Missouri,
according to DriveInMovie.com.
Tom frequented drive-ins growing up. He remembers 1978 as the summer

when he attended drive-ins 40 times in three months.
"You'd get out the newspaper on Friday and you'd find some schlocky,
cheesy horror movie that wasn't showing at any theaters," Tom says. "It was
only showing at the drive-ins."
Eight of the 10 theaters operate in rural Missouri. Even though urban areas
like St. Louis used to have a variety of drive-ins, all of them have shut down
over the years. Two still operate near Kansas City.
"Most of the ones in Missouri that are still open are kind of in the rural
areas where the real estate isn't as valuable as it would've been in St. Louis
County," Tom says. "That's why most of them closed in the '70s and '80s and
'90s, for the purposes of tax revenue and things like that."
Land that once welcomed film enthusiasts for an evening of movie magic
transformed into strip malls. These shopping centers were more commercially
successful than the drive-ins, which were only open so many months a year
and only making money at night, Tom says.
Other than the real estate issue, technology also led to their demise. Drivein theaters were forced to upgrade to digital projection, which plagued urban
and rural drive-ins alike. The cost of transferring a single screen to digital projection reached $80,000, and some of the small town drive-ins couldn't afford
the bill, according to Tom.
Those obstacles haven't defeated all of the drive-ins around the state.
Remaining theaters have been able to keep pace with technological advancements, allowing them to continue thriving even in this era of digital equipment.
Larry Marks owns the Sunset Drive-In located in Aurora, which opened in
1951. His work began in 1965 during his senior year of high school, and his
family later purchased the theater in 1977. Larry has witnessed the evolution

Below: The sun sets on the B&B Moberly Five
and Drive before a showing of "Jurassic World:
Fallen Kingdom." Left: The Sunset Drive-In of
Aurora first opened in 1951. Bottom left: Cars
accumulate at the 19 Drive-In of Cuba, Missouri
before a double feature.

XX

RURAL MISSOURI | AUGUST 2018


http://www.DriveInMovie.com

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - August 2018

Contents
Rural Missouri - August 2018 - Intro
Rural Missouri - August 2018 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - August 2018 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - August 2018 - Contents
Rural Missouri - August 2018 - 4
Rural Missouri - August 2018 - 5
Rural Missouri - August 2018 - 6
Rural Missouri - August 2018 - 7
Rural Missouri - August 2018 - 8
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Rural Missouri - August 2018 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - August 2018 - Cover4
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