Editor’s note, July 17: The new order from the governor’s office banning gatherings of more than 10 people in some counties does not apply to drive-in movies; they will be allowed to continue.
In the future, we’ll remember this year for a number of reasons, but here’s one charming one: 2020 brought us the Summer of the Drive-In.
Drive-in movies have long been with us, though their peak popularity dropped decades ago. Western Washington has just four permanent drive-in theaters, all of them in operation for many decades. But in recent weeks, temporary drive-ins have been popping up in and around Seattle, satisfying a yearning many of us have, in these pandemic days, to munch popcorn and sit in the dark with a friend, watching a movie on an enormous screen.
“Everybody had the same idea!” said Tim Higgins, general manager of the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent, which is hosting a drive-in theater this summer. As his team made plans and waited for state officials to give the go-ahead for drive-ins to open, he noticed other organizations announcing drive-ins as well. “They started to pop up pretty quickly.”
Canlis restaurant in Seattle, hosting movies in its parking lot in late June through early July, was the first on the pop-up drive-in train. Both ShoWare Center and Movies at Marymoor Park began drive-in screenings on July 8. In Everett, the annual Sail-In Cinema at the Port of Everett Marina has been transformed into a drive-in theater, beginning July 17. LeMay America’s Car Museum in Tacoma has announced a full schedule of drive-in movies in August. And Walmart has announced it will be showing drive-in family movies in the parking lots of many of its supercenter stores later this summer, though a representative could not confirm last week whether any Pacific Northwest stores would participate.
All of this is in addition to the longtime local drive-in theaters: the Rodeo in Bremerton/Port Orchard, the Skyline in Shelton, the Wheel-In in Port Townsend and the Blue Fox in Oak Harbor. The new pop-ups, however, have an advantage for Seattleites: for a lot of us, the drive is shorter.
In these days of social distancing, drive-in movies make sense: You can, except for bathroom and concession breaks (for which mask-wearing is required), stay in your car/bubble. And, with movie theaters closed for at least the near future, it’s a way to see a movie that’s bigger than your TV, and to go out for the evening in a way that feels safe.
And they’re examples of how businesses are pivoting this year in response to pandemic restrictions. The ShoWare Center is a sports and entertainment arena during normal days, but with crowds unable to gather for such events, Higgins and his team realized that they needed to try something new. Partnering with the Seattle-based company Promosa, which specializes in large-format LED video walls, the center transformed its large parking lot into a theater with a 24-by-48-foot screen — one so bright and sharp, Higgins said, that screening movies before dark works fine. (ShoWare offers a double feature every night, the first beginning at 6:30 p.m.)
At Marymoor Park, summer movies are nothing new. Doug Borneman, president and producer of Epic Events, said his company has been presenting walk-in outdoor movies at Marymoor for more than a decade. But back in March, Borneman knew things would be different this year and began planning for a drive-in theater, with cars parking on the grass where concertgoers typically gather. They’re using the same screen as always, he said; just with cars, spaced according to state social distancing guidelines, instead of chairs.
And as for what’s showing on those big screens: nostalgia is the order of the day. “We’re focusing more on the throwback stuff — always a good vibe for the drive-in,” Borneman said. “Jurassic Park” was the hottest ticket on the Marymoor schedule, where the lineup also includes “School of Rock,” “Grease,” “Hidden Figures,” “Shrek” and “Knives Out.” ShoWare, after asking patrons on Facebook what they would like to see at the drive-in, also opened with “Jurassic Park,” paired with “The Land Before Time.”
Booking for drive-in theaters, Higgins said, is more complicated than “just buying a Blu-ray and throwing it in.” The newest releases are mostly unavailable, he said; older titles are generally easier to book, but may also have rights issues.
But no matter what they show, tickets are selling fast.
The Everett drive-in cinema at the marina is already fully sold-out; the Marymoor screenings are fully booked for July and Borneman is anticipating brisk business when the August titles are announced later this month. Higgins called ticket sales for ShoWare, still in early days, “phenomenal.” Apparently a lot of us are missing going to the movies these days. Here’s to the Summer of the Drive-In.
accesso ShoWare Center Outdoor Movies, 625 W. James St., Kent; tickets.accessoshowarecenter.com. Movies showing Wednesday-Sunday, 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., through Aug. 30; $30/vehicle general admission, $40/vehicle premium admission.
Drive-In Movies at Marymoor Park, 6046 W. Lake Sammamish Parkway N.E., Redmond; epiceap.com/movies-at-marymoor. Movies showing Wednesdays and Thursdays at dusk through Aug. 27; $25/vehicle. July screenings sold-out; August screenings to be announced.
Drive-In Movie Theater at the Sail-In Cinema, Boxcar Park, Port of Everett Marina, 1205 Craftsman Way, Suite 105, Everett; portofeverett.com/recreation/sail-in-cinema. Movies showing Fridays at dusk through Aug. 21; free, fully booked.
Drive-In Movies at LeMay America’s Car Museum, 2702 E. D St., Tacoma; americascarmuseum.org. Movies screening Saturday nights at 9 p.m., Aug. 1-22; free for museum members or $20/car for nonmembers.
Night Light Drive-in at Open Space for Arts & Community, 18870 103rd Ave. S.W., Vashon Island; openspacevashon.com. Movies screening Wed.-Sat. at 9 p.m., $20/car.
Pop-Up Drive-In Series, Shorewood High School parking lot, 17300 Fremont Ave. N., Shoreline; shorelinearts.net. Movies screening July 25 (sold-out) and Aug. 8 at 9:15 p.m., $25/car.
Walmart Drive-In, locations TBD, to begin in early August, walmartdrive-in.com/
This list is being updated.