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Worth the Drive: Drive-In Theaters

Posted on July 1, 2018 by Cody Wiesner

Next time you’re in the mood to catch a new movie, why not inject a bit of ’50s nostalgia with a drive-in instead? These seasonal attractions will require a bit of a road trip, but the moonlit spectacle that uniquely comes from an outdoor flick easily makes the trip worth it. Here are five Wisconsin drive-in theaters that are budget-friendly and will brighten up your summer.

Moonlight Outdoor Theater, Shawano

In any drive-in movie theater, the experience is all about the unique atmosphere you can’t replicate at an indoor theater. With fewer than a dozen Wisconsin drive-in theaters left in business today, drive-in owners like Tim Suick, of Moonlight Outdoor Theater, see the drive-in as a unique niche that makes it worth driving out to see what the experience is all about. “Everybody hangs out until the show starts,” Suick says. “Just coming out and sitting down, it’s a real light atmosphere.” Suick says that drive-ins are cost effective as well – for only $8 for adults and $3 for children, viewers can take in a double screening, an industry standard indoor theaters aren’t allowed to do. “The uniqueness of it is that you get two movies for the price of one,” Suick says. “Drive-in theaters have done double-features since day one.” Drive-ins are weather dependent, and movies start at dusk. For those making the road trip to Moonlight, Suick recommends checking weather listings and scheduling accordingly to ensure arrival before it gets dark. Once the sun goes down and the movie starts, Suick says there’s nothing quite like taking in a great show with a moonlit night sky in the background. “You get to sit underneath the stars, and that’s a unique business in itself.” Visit shawanocinema.com for more details about the drive-in.

Chilton Twilight Drive-in Theater

At only $6 for adults and $4 for children and closer to the Fox Cities than other outdoor theaters, the Chilton Drive-in Theater provides the outdoor movie experience without straining your wallet or taking you too far away from home. And that’s for a double feature. During the summer, the theater is open for business Wednesday through Sunday, and the first movie starts at dark, so be sure to get to the 200-car theater ahead of time in case it gets dark early. While you wait, consider bringing in sporting equipment to use at the on-site basketball hoop, or bring extra money for indoor arcade games or outdoor mini golf at $3 per person. If you call ahead, you can reserve a fire pit to watch the films by fireside. For details, visit getreelcinemas.com.

Highway 18 Outdoor Theatre, Jefferson

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, can’t eat gluten or are lactose intolerant, you know the struggle of having very few, if any, options at most concession stands, especially at theaters that don’t allow outside food. But thanks to Highway 18 Outdoor Theatre’s variety of concessions, those with special dietary needs can enjoy the classic movie-and-snack pairing too. “We feel that if there are people with special dietary needs, we need to have some options for it,” owner Lee Burgess says. “We go out of our way to have as broad of a concession stand as possible.” Non-meat-eaters should try the vegetarian burger (which is vegan), and those with specific allergies can rest assured that foods are cooked separately to avoid cross-contamination. The theater also shares specific ingredient information for those who email or ask at the concession stand. In addition to the concession stand, the theater also opens its full-service bar for over-21 customers who want a drink before the show. “We have a nice deck at the bar, and people can go up and have a drink and enjoy the Wisconsin evening,” Burgess says. But the outdoor theater isn’t just known for its variety of food options, $9 for adults and $5 for children ages 5 to 11 allows access to a double feature with a screen large enough to accommodate 600 cars. Visit highway18.com for more information.

Big Sky Drive In Theatre, Wisconsin Dells

Located in Wisconsin Dells, you’ll have a much longer road trip en route to the Big Sky Drive In, but if you’re already planning to make a Dells trip, the drive-in is a great cinematic addition to the city’s vibrant tourist attractions. This theater is noteworthy because it combines the best aspects of drive-ins and popular indoor theaters – not only do you get the drive-in standard double feature for only $8 for adults and $5 for children, but Big Sky also gets top releases on their earliest available dates, just like large-scale indoor theaters. Plus, Big Sky offers two full-sized screens with two sets of double features, and while you can’t switch screens halfway through without buying a new ticket, this does give you twice the options. And that’s worth the drive. For showtimes and hours, go to bigskydrivein.com.

Skyway Drive-in Theatre, Fish Creek

Although the Skyway Drive-in Theatre has made some changes due to evolving industry standards, such as modern digital projection, its core elements remain largely authentic to when it originally opened in 1950, making it worth adding to the destination list of any Door County summer trip. The snack bar looks almost the same as it did in the ’50s, the theater shows vintage cartoon advertisements before the movies and if you arrive early enough to find a spot in the first four rows, you can use traditional speakers instead of FM radio, just as avid moviegoers would have in decades past. “It’s a unique thing, there aren’t a lot left. A lot of times, somebody hasn’t experienced [drive-ins], so it’s a opportunity to see what it’s about,” says owner Dale Jacobson. “It’s something you don’t see every day.” A double feature is only $9 for adults and $5 for children ages 5 to 11. Only cash is accepted, so be sure to make preparations ahead of time or use the theater’s on-site ATM. For info and showtimes, visit doorcountydrivein.com.

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