Texas’s Last Great Drive-Ins

Texas’s Last Great Drive-Ins

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 Theatrebefore 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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