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Frame by Frame

Frame by Frame: Drive-In Theaters

I have a new Frame by Frame video out today on movie drive-ins, directed and edited by Curt Bright. Here’s a transcript:

“Hi. I’m Wheeler Winston Dixon, and this is Frame By Frame. In the 1940’s and 50’s and 60’s, drive-in theaters, or as they were called in the trade “Ozoners,” were incredibly popular throughout the United States. There were literally thousands of them, and I remember them with great fondness. They usually ran double or triple bills. They would sometimes run “dusk till dawn” shows of horror movies or genre movies and things like that.

They were a great alternative for families because you didn’t have to leave your car. You would drive in to the theater, and then you would either put a speaker in the window of your car, or else they would broadcast the sound on an AM radio station with a low-power transmitter to your car radio, and you would sit and watch a movie on a huge screen in this theater with 100s of other cars. The projection was usually very good. The cost was usually by the car; $4 to $5 per car.

Drive-in theaters flourished mostly in the Midwest and the South, although there were a lot of them in the East, where I grew up, and they were very popular as a low-cost alternative to going to a conventional theater. There was also something nice about being able to sit in you car and bring food, and you could also avoid hiring a baby sitter. You just put the kids in the back and put them to sleep.

But the rise of VHS and DVD made it much more easy to stay home. Huge flat-screen TVs began to replace the drive-ins, and they almost completely collapsed. It’s one of the saddest things, I think, in motion picture history, because they had such enormous screens. Now they’re all but gone. There’s only a few left in the United States. So that’s something that those of you who are growing up right now will never experience, but if there is still a drive-in near you, which you can visit to see what it’s like, or actually see a film there, I urge you to experience it, because it’s an entirely different way to view movies.”

Click here, or on the image above, to see the complete video.

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About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

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Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at for more details.

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