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Texas’s Last Great Drive-Ins

Where to enjoy al fresco films around the state.

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San Antonio's historic Mission Drive-In Theatre was built in 1948.
Photograph by Joe Diaz (via Flickr)

In this day and age of upscale cineplexes, with their reclining leather Barcaloungers and gourmet menus, you’d think that the once-novel drive-in movie theater would be fully extinct. Though they’re certainly an endangered species, the old-school al fresco cinemas that were all the rage in the fifties are still holding their own in Texas, and not just in small towns either. They’ve begun to make a small but mighty comeback in big cities like Fort Worth and Austin too. I’ve assembled a list of drive-ins, both new and old, that are still in operation today (as well as a couple of walk-in/ride-in theaters, marked below with an asterisk).

But first, test your drive-in knowledge with a little Texas cinema trivia:

  1. At which drive-in did a then-unknown Buddy Holly perform atop the roof of the projector room?
  2. In which city was Texas’s very first drive-in theater? (Bonus points if you know the year it opened.)
  3. Which Dallas-born writer gained a national following in the eighties with his comical reviews of drive-in movies? (Bonus points if you know his real name and his pen name.)
  4. Which tune penned by two iconic Texas singer-songwriters mentions “the Palace walk-in”?
  5. At the height of the outdoor movie craze, how many drive-ins were there in Texas?

You’ll find the answers at the bottom of this post. No cheating!

 

Abilene // Town & Country Drive-In Theatre
$8 adults, $4 kids | open nightly | first-run flicks | first opened in 1956 | $4 for a large popcorn | homemade chili

Amarillo // Tascosa Drive-In Theater
$8 adults, $4 kids ($10/carload on Sun) | open 6 nights a week (closed Thur) | double features | $6 for a large popcorn | Coke floats

Austin // Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In
$5 for walk-up/bike-in plus $15 for a car slot | schedule varies |50 car slots | classic movies & new indies | $5 or $8 for popcorn | s’mores kits

Clarendon // Sandell Drive-In
$7 | open weekends | first-run flicks | opened in 1955 | hand-pressed burgers and homemade chili

Corpus Christi // Corpus Christi Ride-In Theater*
Free (bike rentals available before the show) | walk-in/ride-in only | schedule varies | BYO…lawn chair | classic movies | local food trucks & full bar

Ennis // Galaxy Drive-In
$7 adults, $3 kids | open nightly | first-run flicks on 7 screens | 2-for-1 features | $4 for a large popcorn | banana pudding

Fort Worth // Coyote Drive-In
$7 adults, $5 kids | open nightly | first-run flicks | $5 double features on Tuesdays | $6 for a large popcorn | Frito pie, churros, and lots of booze | + a Lewisville location coming soon

Gatesville // The Last Drive-In Picture Show
$10/car | open nightly | first-run flicks | double features | indoor cinema also

Graham // Graham Drive-In Theatre
$7 adults, $5 kids | open Thur–Sun | first-run flicks & classic movies | picnic tables | pulled pork sandwiches & snow cones

Granbury // The Brazos Drive-In Theatre
$10 adult or $20/carload (max 6) | open Fri & Sat | first-run flicks | first opened in 1952

Hockley // The Showboat Drive-In Theater
$7 adults, $5 kids | open nightly | first-run flicks | double features | $5 for a large popcorn (plus, frappuccinos)

Lubbock // Stars & Stripes Drive-In Theatre
$8 adults, $5 kids | open nightly | first-run flicks | $4.99 for a large popcorn | $3.19 Ay Chihuahua Original Mexican Sandwich

Mercedes // WesMer Drive-In Theatre
$11/car ($6 on Tues) | open nightly | first-run flicks | $6 for a large popcorn | Hot Cheetos and Takis with cheese

Midland // Big Sky Drive-In
$8 adults, $6 kids | open nightly | first-run flicks on 3 screens | double features | $4.79 for a large popcorn | Ay Chihuahua Original Mexican Sandwich, homemade corn fritters | + portable battery chargers if your car dies!

New Braunfels // Stars & Stripes Drive-In Theatre
$8 adults, $5 kids | open nightly | first-run flicks on 3 screens | $4.59 for a large popcorn | Frito Pie, a Kids’ Classic Car Meal

San Antonio // Mission Marquee Plaza
Free family film events | schedule varies | formerly the Mission Drive-In Theatre, built in 1948

Wimberley // Corral Theatre*
$5 (cash only) | walk-in only, so BYO…lawn chair | open Fri–Sun | first-run flicks | built in the late forties | all concessions still $1! | + read more about the Corral’s history here

Know of a drive-in that’s not listed above? Let us know in the comments so we can add it!

Trivia answers:

  1. The Lubbock crooner was known to play Lamesa’s iconic Sky-Vue Drive-In Theatre before he became a household name. Sadly, the venue was destroyed by fire last fall and remains shuttered.
  2. When the Drive-In Short Reel Theater in Galveston opened on July 5, 1934, it was thought to be the country’s third drive-in (the first, in Camden, New Jersey, opened a year prior).
  3. Joe Bob Briggs (neé John Bloom), once called “the Julia Child of B-movie gourmands” and beloved for his redneck humor and bolo ties, hosted the Movie Channel’s Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater for nearly a decade.
  4. “The Front Porch Song”/This Old Porch,” by Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, who each recorded versions of the song they’d penned together as Texas A&M students on their debut albums.
  5. It’s hard to say for sure, of course, but this Austin Chronicle article puts the number of Texas drive-ins at 388—a lot more, in other words, than the fewer than twenty still in existence today.

Read more:
“Screen Gem” by William Helmer (October 1992)
“The Last Picture Shows” by Anne Dingus (December 1995)
“Old-Fashioned Texas” (see, Drive-In Theater) by Anne Dingus (August 2001)
The Smithsonian’s “The History of the Drive-In Movie Theater”

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  • LindaRobin

    Speaking of Lyle Lovett, I still have never figured out why Julia Roberts married him. I wonder if even she has ever figured it out.

    By the way, I AM THE FIRST ONE TO COMMENT.

  • Jay Lowry

    As a kid I used to go to the Tascosa Drive in, and as a teenager, it was a great Friday Night date. (not that we watched the movies that much). I am glad it is still around.

  • rleissne

    Driving around backroads in the hill country west of San Marcos / New Braunfels in the mid 80s I came to a heavily wooded intersection of gravel roads. To my surprise I found what was a drive-in movie theater made out of logs in one corner. It could hold maybe 8 cars and had a “screen” made of whitewashed plywood like panels. Trees grew up in the lot indicating it had not been used in decades. They had to be small cars as my Volkswagen beetle would hardly fit in the entrance. The projector room sat above the first floor was made of logs as well. My guess would be it was from the 1920s – 30s.