Movie Night Out

The Nostalgia of Drive-Ins Thrives In the Carolinas

At the bottom of a hill, a monster movie screen rises 50-feet high along South Battleground Avenue, a well-intentioned sore thumb in a clearing among a perimeter of tall oaks. Kings Mountain, off in the distance, creates an idyllic panorama for a film set in its own right. 

We’re at Hound’s Drive-In in Kings Mountain, N.C. Thin, white posts partition off spaces where dozens of cars will park, row after row in stadium style, for tonight’s feature. The movie will start at dusk, the car radios tuned to 88.1. Radios are also for rent for $5 — cash only. Southern staples like barbecue and bologna burgers outshine standards like popcorn — a small tub runs $2 — and hot dogs. Slim Jims, cotton candy and nachos also make the concessions cut. Each is served with a side of times gone by, a time before smartphones tracked every step and reminded us of where we’re supposed to be at every moment.

Drive-in theaters were introduced in Camden, N.J. in 1933, when Richard Hollingshead sought to create a more comfortable movie-going experience. Noticing the success of the drive-in restaurant, he furthered the concept to include Hollywood hits.

By the 1940s, order-at-your-car concessions proved more popular than waiting in long popcorn lines, with patrons perturbed by missing parts of the featured film. Greensboro, N.C., drive-ins trailblazed in the 1950s, offering moviegoers a way to simply push a button on the side of the car speaker to summon a car hop, who would return with requisite RC Colas and moon pies for a small fee. 

But the convenience, comfort and affordability of this newly exploding entertainment option saw its biggest growth at the height of the baby boom. By 1958, the drive-in theater count in the U.S. was 4,063.

Today that number is closer to 300 nationwide. Over 1,000 screens closed between 1978 and 1988. And in the 1990s, there were fewer than 600 drive-ins left in the U.S. — over 3,000 defunct from just several decades earlier. 

Like the roller rink or swing dance halls, the drive-in theater lives on in some rural pockets of the Carolinas. From Beaufort to Eden you can find them, now just with more advanced, digital projection systems. Hound’s is just one of nine drive-ins operating seasonally across the region. The lot closed in late November, and will reopen after winter thaws to spring. 

When warmer temperatures become a constant again in the Carolinas, consider a visit to one of these iconic outdoor gems. And don’t forget the popcorn!


Great Picks for  Outdoor Flicks

North Carolina

Badin Road Drive-In
2411 Badin Rd., Albemarle

Eden Drive-In
106 Fireman Club Rd., Eden

Hound’s Drive-In Theatre
114 Raven Cir., Kings Mountain

Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre
3336 Raleigh Rd., Henderson

The Sunset Drive-In Theatre
3935 Sunset Blvd., Shelby

South Carolina

25 Drive In Theatre
3109 Highway 25 South, Greenwood

Airport Drive-In Theatre
180 Log Cabin Rd., Bowman

Highway 21 Drive In
55 Parker Dr. (off U.S. 21), Beaufort 

Monetta Drive-In Theatre
5822 Columbia Highway N., Monetta

Make a weekend of it! Call your local AAA Travel Agent at 800-398-0379 for hotel reservations and area attraction suggestions.

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