Are Drive-Ins the Theaters of the Future?

The folks at Bengies sure hope so.

By Max Weiss | April 23, 2020, 1:06 pm

-Photography by James Trudeau

Are Drive-Ins the Theaters of the Future?

The folks at Bengies sure hope so.

By Max Weiss | April 23, 2020, 1:06 pm

-Photography by James Trudeau

The entertainment industry—and movies in particular—has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus.

Tons of films have shut down production or been delayed. And then there’s the larger, perhaps even more concerning question: Will people want to go back to movie theaters, where we’re all sitting in close proximity, munching on snacks, laughing, and breathing the same air?

Of course, there is one way to see a movie in public without having to sit near a bunch of strangers: You guessed it, drive-in movie theaters.

Drive-in theaters, once a staple of American culture, have waned to the point of near extinction today. (There are reportedly 350 left in the country, down from a peak of about 4,000 in the 1950s.) But is it possible that the theaters of the past might become the theaters of the future?

There is one famous drive-in movie theater right here in Maryland—Bengies Drive-In in Middle River, in business since 1956—which is sure hoping that’s the case.

“It does make a lot of sense,” says Ken Adam, Bengies' general manager. “I’d love to see more drive-ins.”

Adam has even heard that some of the big chain theaters—“the indoors” as he calls them—are considering some sort of model where they show films in their parking lots. But that would take a complete reinvention for those chains. Bengies already has the infrastructure.

Adam says that many customers have assumed that Bengies is open—and are “itching” for the theater to start showing movies again.

“We get lots of messages throughout the week from people asking if we’re open, asking about showtimes,” he says.

For now, they’re abiding by Governor Hogan’s social distancing guidelines, but they are discussing strategies for when the theater does reopen. And they do suspect they’ll get the green light before the big chains—with a caveat.

“Film studios are not going to release their big titles until everybody’s open,” he says. “So [when we do open], we’ll be limited to older films and revivals.”

As for the concessions stand, he says it’s unlikely they will turn to a carhop style model. He likens the Bengies concessions to a take-out restaurant.

“It’s a large snack bar in an open field,” he says, noting that it will be easy to stand six feet apart while getting your Coke and popcorn.

Meanwhile, the theater is doing its best to stay positive and use what it has at its disposal—namely its iconic art deco marquee—to send out a message of encouragement to its customers.

An earlier marquee message read: “Governor Hogan’s Rules To Live By. Avoid Crowds. Stay Home. Practice Distance. Wash Hands. Wash Hands. Wash. Protect Others By Protecting You.”

The current marquee reads: “Don’t Leave Home Without It!: The Mask” and “Stuck At Home? Dwell on What You Can Do, Not What You Can’t.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Meet The Author

Max Weiss is the editor-in-chief of Baltimore and a film and pop culture critic.

You May Also Like

Arts & Culture

Book Reviews: May 2020

The latest reads from Mary Rizzo and K.M. Szpara


Movie Review: Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Grimly powerful indie is available On Demand


Maryland Movie Corner: 'Step Up'

Our column reviewing films set locally, what they got right, and what they didn't.

Arts District

Black Musicians Write the Soundtrack of the City

Consider these Baltimore artists essential listening.

Arts District

Roundtable: With Many Funds Exhausted, What’s Next for the Arts Community?

Creative leaders gather to discuss artist relief, pivoting programming, and existing resources.


Ramona S. Diaz Discusses Impact of Canceled Maryland Film Festival

Independent film is one of the many art forms taking a hit.

Connect With Us

Most Read

Maryland Farmers Market Association Closes in Vital Time for Local Foodways: What will the loss mean for Baltimore farms and food-insecure communities?

Frustrated by Trump, Hogan Lands 500,000 COVID-19 Tests from South Korea: First Lady Yumi Hogan helped negotiations with South Korean suppliers.

Maryland Hoops, and Everyone Else, Stomachs A Sudden End to Their Seasons: Plus, an update on Trey Mancini’s health and Joe Flacco shows for Marshal Yanda’s retirement party

Lamenting a Spring Without The Orioles: What we miss most when the game goes away,

Grocery Workers Manage to Keep Morale High and Give Back Despite Long Hours: Managers and employees are working in overdrive to keep communities fed.