Top 10 Reasons Why Drive-In Theaters Declined in the 1970s

I am pretty sure that nearly everyone on this website may be too young to remember or have never experienced how it was to go to a drive-in theater. They were hugely popular during the Post-War Era (1946-1964), and were a family-friendly experience. Some played the hit films of the time and some played B-movies. However, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, drive-in theaters started to decline due to several causes, problems and successors happening at that time. See the list below for reasons why they declined, shut down, got abandoned, or whatever...

This is before it had a nostalgic revival in the 2010s and even more with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Top Ten
1 The popularity of multiplex theaters

In the 1980s and 1990s, AMC Theaters massively boomed across the United States. Cinemark Theaters and Regal Cinemas also became popular. The average multiplex theater had around 14 to 20 screens.

Movie theaters became a more comfortable place to watch a movie, causing the decline of drive-in theaters.

2 The rise of home video, VHS and movie rentals

In the mid-1970s, videotape became the first popular form of home video, which was easier to use than film reels. Sony introduced the Betamax in 1975, and JVC introduced the VHS in 1976. This meant you could purchase a movie and play it on your TV without relying on live television.

You could watch it again and again anytime because it was a tape, right? The Betamax eventually disappeared, and VHS dominated for a while until DVDs emerged. Then, on-demand viewing took over, and now we have streaming.

3 Teenagers could easily sneak in to watch R and X-rated films

When the MPAA introduced the film rating system in 1968, replacing the Hays Code, it provided more freedom for filmmakers to add more suggestive and explicit violence, sex, and drugs. These movies were rated R because of that, and the more explicit ones were rated X.

Many of the drive-ins that provided family-friendly entertainment turned into an R and X-rated exploitation paradise. This meant teenagers could easily sneak into drive-ins to see films like Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Vanishing Point, Billy Jack, The French Connection, Dirty Harry, Fritz the Cat, and The Godfather rather than these so-called regular movie theaters.

While people were driving somewhere else, they could see the explicit scenes during a movie because drive-in theaters are wide open on large acres of land.

The worst part was that it was claimed to result in an increase in teenage pregnancy, although it doesn't sound plausible at first. This may have led to parents disagreeing with drive-in theaters.

4 Sound speakers/systems became more advanced.

Imagine you in 1977, going to a movie theater and buying a ticket to see Star Wars with your friends. You were amazed by the special effects, sound quality, and scenes. The sound was high-quality stereo, called Dolby Stereo.

People wouldn't want to go to a drive-in and hear audio from an "old, cheesy speaker." Dolby Stereo soon evolved into Dolby Digital, which became common in television sets and even computers.

5 Color television became more affordable

Drive-in theaters were most popular when TV was only black-and-white with three channels. People wanted a "colorful" experience instead of the "dull" black-and-white at home.

In the late 60s and early 70s, color TV became less expensive and more affordable over time. Television networks no longer had to announce, "The following program is brought to you in living color," because everyone could see it.

6 The rise of cable television

Cable television is a way of delivering signals to your TV other than through broadcast networks like NBC, CBS, ABC, and PBS. It did not become more popular until the 1980s, and even more popular in the 1990s, starting with MTV, which ruled Generation X.

There were also 24-hour movie channels like HBO, making older movies more accessible to watch.

7 The increase of suburban/urbanization

As small towns and the human population grew over the years, many acres of land were overtaken by suburban/urban development with buildings and homes. Land became more expensive, leading to fewer drive-in theaters being made.

8 The decline of American car culture

Car culture and rock and roll were parts of a teen's dream in the 50s and 60s. Fancy cars led to an increase in car collecting. They were also a lot comfier, with seats that felt like the couch at home.

However, after the 1973 oil crisis, America shifted towards smaller, less comfortable cars, making the drive-in experience less enjoyable.

9 The increase of buildings in the area
10 The rise of air-conditioning

Technology wasn't advanced enough to have inexpensive air conditioners during the peak of drive-in theaters. But both at home and inside movie theaters, air conditioning became more accessible and affordable.

This led to struggles with heat, cold, and mosquito problems. "Ahhhh... the good ol' days..."

The Contenders
11 Movie screens became much larger and high-quality

Many people didn't want to struggle to see the movie in the dark through a windshield. Along with surround sound, movie screens became larger and more advanced, especially in the 1980s, to "enjoy the full experience."

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