How drive-in movies could make a comeback

Aerial view of Dreamland Drive-In | Photo by Bingham Aerial Photo, courtesy of NC Collection, Pack Memorial Library

Table of Contents

Ever been to a drive-in movie? Walmart recently announced that they’re launching the Walmart Drive-In160 store parking lots that will host 320 evening drive-in movies across the US. Screenings began Friday and will run through Oct. 21. While there’s no screening on the calendar yet for the Asheville area, we’re hoping for a future date so we can catch a flick – from the comfort of our cars.  

Screenings will be free (registration required) for Walmart customers. Protip: It looks like they’re selling out really quickly, so you’ll want to hop on tickets if an event is scheduled near you. The movies will be family-friendly (think everything from Men in Black to The Goonies and Wonder Woman) and the experience will be contactless. Bonus: Drew Barrymore will be the virtual host for each film, and other surprise guests will make an appearance. 

DYK: There is a drive-in theater just up the road in Waynesville – Smoky Mountain Cinema has safety measures for COVID in place and tickets are $15/car or $20 for a double feature.

All this got us wondering about the history of drive-in movies, including our very own, Dreamland Drive-In. Here’s what we found out –

  • The first official drive-in opened in 1933 in New Jersey by Richard Hollingshead. He was inspired to create it by his mother, who complained about movie theater seats being uncomfortable
  • Their high in popularity came during the Baby Boomer era – a.k.a. the ‘50s and ‘60s. There were 4,000+ drive-ins across the country at that time.
  • They became less popular with the rise of home TV ownership and that ’80s childhood staple, the VCR. Land drive-ins used (usually at least 15 acres) also steadily increased in value, and much of it was sold or leased to developers
  • Dreamland Drive-In opened at 91 S. Tunnel Rd. in April of 1948now the site of Lowe’s. The flea market opened in 1970.
  • Besides showing films on Fri. + Sat. nights, including a weekly double feature, it was also a flea market on weekends. Check out memories from locals on this thread from the Facebook group You know you grew up in Asheville, North Carolina If…Comments include the first movie people ever saw there (like Star Wars and The Cat From Outer Space), their favorite concessions + more.
  • There were 500 parking spaces.

The drive-in closed in 1990, and the flea market was last in operation in 1999.