As movie theaters struggle to re-open and attract patrons again, even while the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, they’ll be facing yet another obstacle to financial recovery this summer as Walmart has revealed plans to turn its parking lots into drive-in movie theaters starting in August.
It doesn’t matter how much disinfectant is sprayed into a theater, or how many seats are removed to ensure social distancing, the thought of sitting in an enclosed room full of people for two hours, many of whom are eager to ditch their mandatory masks, isn’t exactly appealing. As a result, drive-in theaters are enjoying a surprising renaissance, allowing fans to enjoy the movie-going experience with others while continuing to quarantine themselves in their vehicles.
The problem is that movie theaters now far outnumber drive-ins, and those that are still standing and operating are already sold out for months as people are desperate to get out and do anything social right now. Building a new drive-in is expensive and they need lots of land. That isn’t often easy to come by in dense suburban areas where they can be most profitable. So it’s a smart move by Walmart as the company already has thousands of sprawling parking lots across the country. Converting them to a drive-in just needs the screen, projector, and the short-range broadcast equipment to deliver the sound to every vehicle.
There’s no details on what Walmart plans to show at its drive-ins, although the company has created a website that sets early August for their openings. In a tweet the company did reveal a little more about the initiative; it’s part of a partnership with Tribeca (who’s already been organizing movie showings at other drive-ins around the country) and like movie theaters, Walmart will be offering snacks through a car side service that will ensure social distancing is maintained. Whether or not the movies will be free, with Walmart making its money through concession sales, remains to be seen.
It’s safe to assume that Walmart will run its make-shift drive-ins well into the late summer, or at least until it gets too cold outside for patrons to comfortably sit in their cars without the engine and heater running for the duration of a film. There’s also the concern that the monstrous big box chain will do what it did to small mom and pop stores by making it impossible for other drive-ins to compete. But what’s more likely is that it will rekindle an interest in the drive-in theater experience that could continue long after Covid-19 is long gone.