Ah, the drive-in. The joy of finding just the right parking spot, hooking a tinny speaker into your window … and then splattering nachos and orange soda all over your soft Corinthian leather upholstery.
Drive-ins, actually, were already back on America’s 21st-century radar as the nostalgic alternative to the theater multiplex, and then COVID-19 cautions put them at the forefront of socially distanced moviegoing.
But with only about 300 drive-ins operating in the whole country, it might be easier to pop up a drive-in vibe right in the comfort of your own home. And for that, all you really need is the right movie — something summery and light, or goofy and gory, with more than a pinch of sweet nostalgia — and a bucket of buttered popcorn to spill all over the sofa.
Check out these 16 critic-picked films that bring the drive-in to you.
Olivia Newton-John sings! John Travolta dances! This bubbly musical rom-com set in the late 1950s — greaser Danny and good girl Sandy fall in love, break up, reconcile, then inexplicably fly off together in a convertible at the end — is such a drive-in classic that it actually includes a scene set in a drive-in. (Sadly, the location for that sequence — Pickwick Drive-In in Burbank, California — was demolished in 1989, replaced by a strip mall.) Travolta had a smaller part in the earlier Broadway production and almost didn’t make it into the film version; the producers wanted Henry Winkler for Danny, but the Fonz turned them down.
The best drive-in movies are thrill rides, and they don’t get more thrilling than Steven Spielberg’s classic fish tale. A drive-in in Texas figured out how to make the film even more gripping by holding screenings in a lake with the audience floating in inner tubes. Bruce — as Spielberg nicknamed his mechanical great white shark — was back in land-based drive-ins early in the pandemic when they screened mostly vintage features as they waited for studios to start releasing new pictures again. But it plays just as well at home, with or without inner tubes.
RELATED: Which Jaws cast member was shot at the day he arrived on Martha’s Vineyard to film? Who kept having nightmares for weeks after the movie wrapped — and why? Get the answers to these and 18 more trivia ticklers for Jaws aficionados, right here: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About Jaws
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Slasher movies and drive-ins go together like chainsaws and Texas. After all, who better to encourage dates to scoot closer together than a disfigured maniac slicing and dicing teenagers? This particular B movie, directed by Wes Craven, stars Robert Englund as the demented Freddy Krueger, and Heather Langenkamp as his victim-who-gets-away, Nancy Thompson. It also happens to include a then-21-year-old Johnny Depp in his first film appearance, as Nancy's boyfriend, Glen Lantz. Depp gets sucked into a bed as his blood splatters to the ceiling.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry Thomas, Jonathan Winters — this Stanley Kramer-directed chase movie, with straight man Spencer Tracy leading the cast on a wacky scavenger hunt for $350,000 in stolen cash, squeezes so much comic talent on the screen that you almost don’t notice its running time clocks in at a hefty three hours and 12 minutes (and that’s the shorter version, after United Artists forced Kramer to make cuts).