Moviegoers of the Valley, grab your car keys and sign off Netflix. Drive-in theaters are springing up all over town, and they're showing films every night, filling the void left by the closure of indoor theaters because of COVID-19.
Each offers a big-screen movie-watching experience from the safety of your car. Some even have popcorn. They’re located at a variety of outdoor locations, and the Valley’s only permanent drive-in, West Wind Glendale 9, is also still operating.
They’re showing movies for every taste, from family-oriented titles and comedies to horror and action flicks. Since new releases have dried up during the pandemic, the selections are mainly films that have been out for months or are already available on streaming services.
But every drive-in has social distancing restrictions, such as contactless transactions and having moviegoers stay inside their vehicle except when using restrooms. (Some are cool if you want to kick back in the bed of pickup trucks or cargo areas of vans and SUVs, though.)
Bob Bentley, co-owner of Digital Drive-In AZ in Mesa, which made its debut in early April, says such rules are necessary during the pandemic.
“Everyone’s being super-cautious about their health right now,” Bentley says. “So we have safeguards in place, and it’s safer than going to the grocery store where you won’t have to interact with anybody outside your car. We want people to have a fun night at the movies, which is what people need right now.”
And it’s been nothing but good times so far, Bentley says, including people getting their first taste of drive-in movies.
“Drive-ins are pretty scarce these days,” he says. “It's pretty awesome that when you think about how these people have never been to one before. Now they're coming here and seeing it for the first time, and they're kind of blown away. Everyone goes, ‘This is so cool.’”
If you’d like to experience it for yourself, we’ve put together a rundown of what to expect at each of the Valley’s current crop of drive-in theaters.
West Wind Glendale 95650 North 55th Avenue, Glendale, 623-939-9715
The West Wind Glendale 9 has been around since 1979 and is Arizona’s only old-school drive-in still operating. It's been doing big business since mid-March, showing an eclectic mix of movies ranging from horror classics (Scream, The Ring) to more recent films like Sonic the Hedgehog and Onward.
Every screening is a double feature, and there have been some fitting pairings, like the Keanu-centric combo of The Matrix and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. This weekend, the West Wind will go indie when IFC Midnight screens grindhouse flick The Wretched along with gender-bending western True History of the Kelly Gang starting on Friday, May 1.
Gates open at 7 p.m. each night with showings starting at 7:45 p.m. General admission is $7.75 for adults, $1.75 for children 5 to 11, and free for kids 4 and under. (There’s also a “Family Fun Night” on Tuesday with discounted admission.) There's a limited selection of prepackaged snacks (chips, candy, and soda) for sale if you get hungry and a QuikTrip nearby if you'd like a better variety.
Social distancing rules are strictly enforced by employees who patrol the lot in golf carts. Patrons must park 10 feet away from others and stay in their vehicles at all times (although you can sit in truck beds or the cargo areas of vans). Only four people at a time are allowed to use the restrooms.
A list of current and upcoming films can be found on the West Wind’s website.
Digital Drive-In AZ1901 North Alma School Road, Mesa, 480-308-1515
If you think the setup at Digital Drive-In AZ looks like something you’d see at a music festival, you’d be right. Its 40-by-40-foot stage, 24-foot-high LED screen, and security barriers have been used at many local outdoor concerts in recent years. They now have a different use at the moment: screening movies like Fantastic Mr. Fox and Bohemian Rhapsody.
Digital Drive-In AZ was launched in early April by a few Valley residents who work in the concert industry, which was decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With concerts getting canceled, we found something else to do with our equipment,” says Bob Bentley, who also owns Arizona Festival Staging. “We came up with this idea to see what we could do to help ourselves and our friends who are gig workers making their living from concerts.”
Besides doing their friends a solid, Bentley and company are also bringing entertainment to the hundreds of Valley residents who come to drive-in theater every night. Each vehicle gets its own stall, which are 12 to 20 feet away from others and separated by ropes and security barriers.
Other safety measures include porta-potties being sanitized by attendants after each use and a contactless ticketing system where people can hold their phones up to the car window to be scanned.
Admission is $22 per car. Movies start at 6:45 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays and at 6:45 and 8:45 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Previously films featured include Ferdinand, The Book of Life, and Ice Age. You may even see '80s favorites like Stripes on the schedule.
“That was one of my picks. I love Stripes,” Bentley says, laughing. “That's one of the perks of having your own drive-in. We want to stay current for the kids, but for adults, how about those movies you haven't seen for 15 to 20 years like Caddyshack or Uncle Buck?”
The Drive-In at Schnepf Farms24810 East Rittenhouse Road, Queen Creek, 480-987-3100
Open Wednesday through Sunday
The setup at Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek differs from other local drive-ins. There’s much more room (vehicles will be 20 feet apart), as well as darker skies and a laid-back vibe. “We don’t have much light pollution out here, just a lot of fresh air and open space,” co-owner Carrie Schnepf says. “People are going stir-crazy at home right now and we’ve got 300 acres where they can come out and see a movie.”
You’ll also get to stretch your legs when nature calls. “It's not an incredibly long walk [to the bathrooms], but it’s a good walk away,” Schnepf says. “I don't have porta-potties, just cleaned and sanitized restrooms where people can feel safe and comfortable.” Doors are also locked (so you’ll have to get the code from the staff) and only one family will be allowed at a time.
Schnepf Farms is also only showing one film per night, which will include “some of your all-time favorite movies and the good ol' classics.”
Titles won’t be announced beforehand, due to their licensing agreement with a film distributor. Wednesdays and Fridays will have rom-coms and moives of the action-adventure and suspense variety. Family films will be shown on Thursdays and Saturdays. Schnepf says they’ll show crowd-pleasing classics on Sundays.
Films will run from 7:30 to 10 p.m. There’s a $15 “parking fee” to attend, and only 60 spaces will be available each night. “I don't care how many people you put in your car, but you got to stay within your space,” Schnepf says. Make sure to bring enough refreshments for everyone, since the farm isn’t selling snacks.
Moonlight Movie NightsVarious Valley Locations, 480-306-5845
Open Thursday through Saturday
In the mood for dinner and a movie? This pop-up drive-in film experience, which is taking place at local upscale shopping centers each weekend, offers a mix of food and flicks. Double features will be screened while takeout orders from nearby restaurants can be purchased and delivered to your car.
According to organizers, there will be a minimum of 10 feet between vehicles. Staff will be wearing gloves and face masks. Tickets will only be sold online to ensure contactless payment. As with other local drive-ins, you’re required to stay put in your car throughout the screening.
Sonora Village, 15576 North Pima Road in Scottsdale, will host this weekend’s edition from Thursday, April 30, to Saturday, May 2. (The entrance will be located off of Arriba Drive near Best Buy.) The first movie starts at 7:15 p.m. with the second following at 9:15 p.m. Participating restaurants include Oregano’s, Hot Noodles Cold Sake, and Wildflower Bread Company. Movies will be announced on the Moonlight Movie Nights website a few days prior to the event.
Tickets are $15 per vehicle for up to two people and $20 for vehicles with three or more people. Anyone who purchases takeout orders of comparable price can have their admission costs reimbursed (more details can be found here).
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess7575 East Princess Drive, Scottsdale, 480-585-4848
Open Thursdays through Saturdays
Are you seeking some family-oriented fare? Pack up your brood and head for this Scottsdale resort, which is showing animated and kid-friendly movies on a giant inflatable screen in its valet parking lot on weekends through May 30. The selection will include live-action films (Dolittle, Maleficent), Pixar hits (Finding Nemo, The Incredibles), and other flicks suitable for your young 'uns.
Two screenings will take place each night at 7:30 and 10 p.m. and include a 15-minute preshow. The lot opens 30 minutes before each showing. Vehicles will be situated 10 feet apart, and spaces will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Patrons must be inside their cars except for restroom breaks, and no alcohol consumption will be allowed on the premises (so forget about sneaking in your flask).
Separate admission is required for each film. It's $10 per adult, $5 per child ages 6 to 12, and free for kids under 5. (Proceeds benefit a hot meal program for Fairmont employees.) A “no-contact” concession bundle is available for $10 and includes one bag of popcorn, two boxes of candy, and two bottles of water.
Here’s a rundown of what they’ll be showing each night.
Thursday, April 30: Toy Story 4, 7:30 p.m.; Dolittle, 10 p.m.
Friday, May 1: Madagascar, 7:30 p.m.; Yours, Mine & Ours, 10 p.m.
Saturday, May 2: Toy Story 4, 7:30 p.m.; Dolittle, 10 p.m.
Thursday, May 7: The Secret Life of Pets, 7:30 p.m.; The Pink Panther 2, 10 p.m.
Friday, May 8: Aladdin, 7:30 p.m.; The Pink Panther, 10 p.m.
Saturday, May 9: The Secret Life of Pets, 7:30 p.m.; The Pink Panther 2, 10 p.m.
Thursday, May 14: Coco, 7:30 p.m.; A Dog's Journey, 10 p.m.
Friday, May 15: Maleficent, 7:30 p.m.; Father of the Bride, 10 p.m.
Saturday, May 16: Coco, 7:30 p.m.; A Dog's Journey, 10 p.m.
Thursday, May 21: Onward, 7:30 p.m.; Beauty and the Beast, 10 p.m.
Friday, May 22: Abominable, 7:30 p.m.; The Incredibles, 10 p.m.
Saturday, May 23: Onward, 7:30 p.m.; Beauty and the Beast, 10 p.m.
Thursday, May 28: The Lion King, 7:30 p.m.; The Parent Trap, 10 p.m.
Friday, May 29: Finding Nemo, 7:30 p.m.; Aladdin, 10 p.m.
Saturday, May 30: The Lion King, 7:30 p.m.; The Parent Trap, 10 p.m.
Salt River Fields Drive-In Movie Experience7555 North Pima Road, Scottsdale, 480-270-5000
Open Friday through Sunday and special occasions
An enormous parking lot outside of Salt River Fields will transform into a cinema under the stars over the next few weekends, complete with a high-definition LED big screen. Vehicles will be separated to adhere to social distancing but will also be arranged by height (with cars and trucks having their own respective sections) to have optimal sightlines.
Restrooms inside Salt River Fields will be open. A concession stand will have “family packs” with a large popcorn, two selections of candy, and four bottled waters for $20. You can also get popcorn or individual ice cream cups for $5 each and bottled water or soda for $3.
They’ll be showing two movies per night at 7 and 9:30 p.m. with Frozen II and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker featured this weekend. It’s $25 per car, per movie. Patrons are asked to arrive 30 minutes before the first flick. No one will be allowed to enter 15 minutes after the showing begins.
They’re also planning a Cinco de Mayo screening on Tuesday, May 5, with Coco at 7 p.m., followed by Three Amigos at 9:30 p.m.
Tickets for each movie must be purchased online and either printed out or available on your phone. Complete details can be found here.
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Pleasant Harbor Drive-In Movie Nights8708 West Harbor Boulevard, Peoria, 623-203-5173
Open Thursdays through Saturdays
If you’d prefer to take in a movie in a more picturesque setting, Digital Drive-In AZ’s proprietors opened a second spot next to Lake Pleasant on May 1. It features the same size HD screen as their Mesa location, a similar variety of films, and at least 10 feet of distance between your ride and others.
Showtime is at 8 p.m. with the current schedule available on Digital Drive-In AZ’s website and Facebook. It’s $22 per vehicle plus a $5 to $10 gate fee to get into Pleasant Harbor. No walk-ups will be allowed. Patrons are asked to purchase their tickets online before arrival.