One part of the technological boom that we are experiencing is the change in how we consume entertainment. With services like Netflix, video-on-demand and the rising cost of a general movie ticket, people are looking for other ways to watch the latest blockbuster or Oscar-contending movie. Strangely enough, this search for a cheaper and more unique experience isn’t limited to the technology of the future; many are rediscovering an element of movie history.
Out in Stephens City, the Family Drive-In is experiencing a resurgence, with general manager Jim Kopp saying patrons are making the pilgrimage to this classic-style theater from all reaches of the DMV, Baltimore and, in at least one case, as far as North Carolina. The Family Drive-In isn’t an attempt to recapture some memory of a simpler time; it has been here the whole time, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
The Drive-In was built in 1956 by the Dalke family; Kopp, a longtime patron of the theater, signed a lease to take over for Tim Dalke in 2010 and currently has a lease through 2020. So what has kept this theater going while its former contemporaries began to die out in the 1980s? According to Kopp, it’s the loyalty of his patrons and the drive-in’s refusal to change its image.
“Back in the ’70s, some of the drive-ins started to show X-rated movies,” explains Kopp. “The Family Drive-In never did that.” The theater remained a place that families could come and enjoy a movie.
That doesn’t mean that it has remained unchanged. The theater, like practically all movie theaters, drive-in or otherwise, is now digital. It has also expanded its content, showing special concert films and DirecTV offerings. Kopp also recognizes that streaming services like Netflix are a potential threat, but he is confident that the experience will keep bringing people to the Family Drive-In.
Part of that is cost. Adult tickets (anyone older than 12) run at $8, but for that price patrons are able to see a double feature. Concessions like hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, shrimp and the classic popcorn are offered, but patrons can also bring their own food for a $5 fee.
“But it’s really a retro experience,” Kopp says. “It’s a unique experience of sitting outside with family under a beautiful starry sky [watching a movie] on an 84-foot-wide screen.
“We believe in the moviegoing experience [and] that there is not a better way to see a movie than to see it on the big screen instead of the TV screen, or a phone, or the computer screen,” Kopp says. That’s why in this age of technology, Kopp and the Family Drive-In will continue to strive for an alternative experience.