Once upon a time, this country was littered with more than 4,000 drive-in movie theaters, representing a quarter of all the movie screens in America. Now, that figure is around 1.5%. There are fewer than 370 left in the country—and the switch to digital projection is threatening to close many of the remaining drive-ins, which have struggled to come up with the roughly $80,000 it costs to replace their 35mm projectors.
That’s a lot of doom and gloom, but the drive-ins have one unlikely supporter: Honda and agency RPA launched "Project Drive-In" to allow fans of the theaters to vote for how the car manufacturer should allocate five digital projectors it’s tagged for drive-ins who’ve been unable to make the switch. The winning theaters will each receive a new projector, and they’ll be able to celebrate with a special screening of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.To promote the campaign, they’ve also launched a YouTube video that highlights the classic iconography of the remaining drive-in theaters.
The drive-ins listed for voting are mostly centered in the Midwest and the Rust Belt—largely in small towns in places like Indiana, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania. In places like that, these theaters are an important part of the culture. The video, which looks at the theaters and their patrons, highlights the sense of community that the drive-ins provide. The theaters are an important part of Americana and our shared cultural history, but many of them—for instance, the Pheasant Drive-In in Mobridge, South Dakota—are more than just a historical oddity: They’re the only place in town where you can go to the movies.
In addition to giving five projectors to the winners of the voting, Honda is also collecting donations via Indiegogo to raise money to help other theaters with the conversion—all proceeds, minus the IndieGoGo cut, go to the theaters in need. As far as being asked for donations by a multinational corporation goes, this one at least cultivates the appropriate sense of "we’re all in this together."