Moviegoers of the Valley, grab your car keys and sign off Netflix. Drive-in theaters have sprung 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. We’ve also updated this story to reflect which ones will be operating after Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s executive order on June 29 in response to the recent spike statewide in COVID-19 cases.
West Wind Glendale 9
5650 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.
Gates open at 7 p.m. each night with showings starting at 7:45 p.m. Per a recent message on its Facebook, the West Wind is still operating. 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 six 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 AZ
1901 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 the drive-in theater. Each vehicle gets its own stall, which is 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 Farms
24810 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 movies 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.
Schnepf Farms has announced it will continue showings during the curfew under the provision allowing Arizona residents to patronize private business after 8 p.m. each night.
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.
Pleasant Harbor Drive-In Movie Nights
8708 West Harbor Boulevard, Peoria, 623-203-5173
Operating days vary
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. Owners will decide daily if the theater will be operating.
Digital Drive-In AZ’s current screening schedule can be found on its website.