Drive-In Movie Theaters in Houston: An American Tradition

I’ve always had a secret personal obsession with Drive-In movie theaters. There’s something special about watching a movie, outside, under the stars. My first experience with drive-ins was in college, where we were lucky enough to still have an operating drive-in nearby.

When I became a mom I realized there was a new benefit to drive-ins. I didn’t have to worry if my kid suddenly had the urge to ask me a question, needed to use the bathroom or run through the theater in the middle of a movie. We could go to a movie without the pressure of being “on our best behavior” or absolutely quiet. As a mother of a toddler the freedom to see a new release was finally back within my grasp. Interestingly enough, this was the exact original selling point of the drive-in theater, proof that aspects of motherhood haven’t changed all that much over the years.

History of Drive-In Movie Theaters in Houston

In June 1933 the first drive-in movie theater opened in Camden, New Jersey advertised with the slogan, “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are”. Seven years later, in the beginning of June, Houston’s first drive-in opened, The South Main Drive-In. By 1958 there were over 4,000 drive-ins across the United States. Drive-ins of the day were in rural areas, and family run. During the peak of drive-ins, Houston housed more than 20 within Beltway 8, which was still considered rural at the time.

Drive-ins were a popular date night location and destination for the whole family. Many boasted restaurants and playgrounds for the kids. The Loew’s Sharpstown Drive-In near Bellaire and Hillcroft even had children’s train that gave rides through a tunnel at the base of the screen. Drive-ins offered more flexibility than an indoor theatre, the whole family could attend, and kids were free to run off their energy when needed.

As cities like Houston began to grow, the value of the 15+ acres it took to run a drive-in outweighed the income families were receiving from running them. Many drive-in owners sold their land to developers for new neighborhoods or retail development. Houston’s own Thunderbird Twin Drive-In on Clay Road is now home to the Waste Management recycling center. The Airline Drive-In off I-45 and Airline is now an area smattered with retail stores. The Chocolate Bayou Drive-In near Airport Blvd. is now home to a CVS.

Over the years the number of drive-ins dwindled, and today it’s estimated only around 320 are still around across the United States. Around 20 drive-ins remain active in Texas, two of which are in Houston.

Drive-In Movie Theaters in Houston

map showing drive-in movie theaters in HoustonShowboat Drive-In Movie Theater

22422 FM 2920, Hockley, 281-351-5224, www.theshowboatdrivein.com

What was once a horse pasture is now Showboat Drive-In Movie Theater. They opened in 2006 with two screens, space for around 800 cars, a playground, a snack bar {which you can order from through an app}, and features new releases and cult classics.

Showboat screenTickets

Online tickets are discounted over purchasing at the gate {it also means you get through the gate faster}. Typically you purchase one ticket for the driver and a passenger ticket for each additional person in the car ages 3 and up. Occasionally they host “carload” events where you pay one price for the entire car.

Tips

  • Showboat theater view inside carThey have two screens to choose from. Most tickets are for a double-feature, meaning you get two movies for the price of one! You’ll have to tune in to a specific station on your car radio to hear the movie.
  • Where you sit is totally up to you! You can sit in your car or in the bed of a truck or SUV. Some patrons bring folding chairs and a battery powered radio and sit outside their car. But note, you cannot leave your car running during the feature.
  • Arrive early to get a good parking spot and bring games to play. The drive in so much more than the movie, it’s a family event.
  • Plan to purchase concessions. About 70-80% of ticket sales go right back to the movie studios. Note Showboat has a limited concession menu at this time.

Moonstruck Drive in Cinema

Moonstruck drive-in movie theater100 Bringhurst Street, Houston, 77020, www.moonstruckdrivein.com

Moonstruck Drive in Cinema opened in 2020, in part of Houston’s new East River development. It is the antithesis of the original drive in movie as it’s right near downtown {not on the outskirts as they were in the 1940s}. While you’re waiting for your movie to begin, you can watch the sunset over the Downtown Houston skyline.

Welcome sign at MoonstruckTickets

Your ticket price is per car. Tickets can be purchased on their website. Make sure you enter the correct email address, as the original email confirmation serves as your ticket.

Tips

  • This is a one screen drive in with a single feature. They play classics and new releases.
  • Pets are welcome, but all pets must be leashed.
  • You can sit in your car, outside your car or in a truck bed, but you cannot sit on top of your vehicle.
  • Care idling is allowed, but you must have your headlights off.
  • They have a concessions area {as we said before, this is where the drive-ins actually make their money} and a food trucks on Saturday night.

 

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Christina {Chris} is a Houston native. She grew up just north of the Heights and after a short stent in Oklahoma to obtain an advertising degree, she now resides in Spring with her husband, daughter {2013} and black lab {2016}. In 2017, just before Hurricane Harvey, their lives were devastated by a house fire. They lost their home, belongings, dog and her husband almost lost his life. Chris had two options, succumb to PTSD, guilt and depression, or live. She chose to live life brazenly. Today she is a marketing consultant, writer, artist, and adventurer; working from home or from the woods with her family in their renovated camper. Together they have a goal of visiting every state park in Texas {there are 89 total}, stand up paddle board in tow. Chris is currently writing a book about their home fire journey. She has a passion for mental health, exploration and encouraging others to see the world, follow their dreams, and live life brazenly. You can find more of her writing and art at @strongerthanfire.com, or follow her on Instagram @strongerthanfire, where she shares her family’s adventures, encouragement and weird humor like the backyard telenovela and reviews of made-for-TV Christmas movies.

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