The 5 Best Drive-in Movie Theaters In And Around New York City

Originally posted on February 18, 2022 3:00 pm
Updated on February 16, 2022 12:02 am

Many of us have heard grand stories of our grandparents going to the drive-in theater for Friday night dates, hangouts, or family excursions. 

But, for younger generations, the drive-in movie theater is nothing more than myth and memory. 

What was once a ubiquitous experience in the New York City area slowly and steadily waned to the point where drive-in theaters are few and far between. 

That all changed in March of 2020 with the rise of the Covid-19 pandemic. Suddenly there was renewed interest in outdoor, drive-in movie theaters where families could socially distance AND enjoy the silver screen. As a result, there has been a revival of drive-in movie theaters. Even as indoor theaters have opened and social distancing guidelines have eased, people are still frequenting the drive-in theaters in and around New York City. 

The History Of The Drive-In Theatre

Soon after the invention of the Model T in 1908, the first drive-in theatres began popping up in the New York City region. But the drive-in was only patented on June 6, 1933, when Richard Hollingshead opened his venue in New Jersey right across the river from the Big Apple. He advertised his newly patented project as a place where “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.” Soon, the drive-in was all the rage – exploding in popularity across the country and even internationally. 

Drive-in theaters hit their peak during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, fast becoming the go-to spot for an entire generation of Baby Boomers. At their peak, there were well over 5,000 drive-ins were operating simultaneously across the US. 

Despite their success, there were serious problems with the drive-in business model. Drive-ins could only show movies during certain times of the year, required large tracts of land, and were one of the first expenses to be cut in the face of an economic downturn. 

This is exactly what happened during the ‘70s oil crisis, as people began downsizing the size of their cars to save on gas and were less likely to spend money on entertainment for their children. In an attempt to cater to the boomer generation, drive-ins started showing horror and adult films, which started eroding their family-friendly reputation. The final blow was the invention of the VCR, which made it easy for Americans to watch whatever movie they wanted to from the comfort of their homes. 

New York City Drive-ins Theaters Today

In 2021, there are roughly 300 drive-ins still operating in the US. Most of these are spread across New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. To stay open and operating, most plan double-feature nights and sell refreshments like candy, soda, hot dogs, and popcorn, and some even have built playgrounds for families looking to keep their children occupied. 

Fortunately, there are multiple drive-in theaters in and around New York City that you and your family can enjoy!

5 New York City Drive-in Theaters You MUST Visit

  1. Skyline Drive-In in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

As you can guess by the name, this drive-in theater is the only one with a Manhattan skyline view which certainly helps if you aren’t finding the movie entertaining. Situated on 1 Oak Street on the East River waterfront, Skyline offers drive-in options as well as seating for anyone who arrives without a car. Keeping in mind that it is more expensive to park your car in New York City garage than rent the average home in the US. Therefore, driving in with. your car and watching a great movie is an excellent option. Showtimes at Skyline are from 8:30 pm till after midnight, and there’s a concession stand to keep you fed and watered throughout.

  1. Bel Aire Diner in Astoria, Queens

The Bel Aire Diner has been making great food since it opened in 1965. After the pandemic hit, they seized on the opportunity and opened up a drive-in theater in their parking lot that could hold up to forty cars. The best part of this experience is the fantastic diner food that you can order from your car as you enjoy the movie. 

  1. Queens Drive-In at The New York Hall of Science

This drive-in in the historic Flushing Meadows Corona Park is a collaboration between the New York Hall of Science, Rooftop Films, and the Museum of the Moving Image that’s stated goal is to “bring film, culture, togetherness, and joy back to the people of Queens.” With a motto like that, you already know that the Queens Drive-In is a great place to take the family. As if it could not get any better, a portion of each ticket supports local nonprofit organizations in Queens. 

  1. The Gateway Drive-In Theater

The Gateway Drive-In was founded as a fundraiser for the Performing Arts Center of Suffolk County. This theater is just a short drive east of the city and offers showtimes on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. 

  1. Warwick Drive-In

While this spot is an hour’s drive north of Manhattan, it could not be left off the list. The Warwick Drive-in opened in 1950 and has never looked back. Currently, they have three screens on an 11-acre field and some of the best snacks and concessions you’ll find at any movie theater. So sit back, enjoy the popcorn, burgers, and ice cream sandwiches and enjoy a night of family-friendly movies. 

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