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Drive-In Movies Coming to Walmart Later This Summer

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 7/6/2020 Sebastian Blanco
a car parked in a parking lot: It's not luxury, but it's a convenient way to experience a film outside the house without abandoning social distancing. © Walmart It's not luxury, but it's a convenient way to experience a film outside the house without abandoning social distancing.
  • There are just over 300 permanent drive-in theaters in the United States, but this year will see 160 more when temporary screens are set up at Walmarts across the country.
  • Family-friendly movies will be on the bill, selected by Walmart's partners in the Tribeca Drive-in team and showing in selected towns, when the series runs from August to October.
  • Experiences in other parking-lot movie "theaters" suggest that even in an outdoor setting, masks and social distancing are a good idea to enjoy a movie, or a double feature, safely.

Beware of a run on popcorn in the grocery aisle at Walmart. The corporate behemoth has decided to turn some of its parking lots into socially distant drive-in movie theaters this summer, one more example of everything around us changing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Walmart hasn't yet released the list of locations and dates.

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With coronavirus lockdowns closing movie theatre across the U.S., drive-in movie theaters have seen a resurgence in popularity since they can be a reasonably safe alternative to indoor movie watching. But not every town has one of these old baseball-field-size screening locations, and so Walmart saw an opportunity. The retail giant is partnering with Tribeca Enterprises (started by Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal and known for organizing the Tribeca Film Festival) to set up a touring drive-in movie theater experience that will put the outdoor movie experience into Walmart parking lots.

There will be a total of 320 showings at 160 store parking lots across the country, which will—temporarily, at least—add about 50 percent to the total number of drive-in theaters in the U.S. (which stands at 305, according to the Los Angeles Times). Exactly which movies will be screened has not been announced, but Walmart said that the list will include family-friendly films curated by the Tribeca Drive-in team, as well as "special appearances from filmmakers and celebrities." Perhaps this will give us the chance to see an A-lister’s house on the big screen, from the comfort of our cars with concessions delivered from the store to the window. Curbside pickup will also be available.

Walmart will host the screenings from August through October.

Walmart is not the only company turning its parking lots into ersatz cinemas. Marcus Theatres, a midwest movie theater chain, has a Parking Lot Cinema series running this year and has developed a number of rules to keep patrons safe. The chain says sick people should stay home, and face masks are required in restrooms or when picking up concessions. Social distancing is also a must, the company says, both between people and cars.

Separate from the Walmart parking lot experience, Tribeca Film is also bringing pop-up outdoor movies to five sports stadiums and beaches around the country in July. Places including the Rose Bowl and Orchard Beach in the Bronx, New York, will be treated to classics including Jaws and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure as well as some more recent films such as Black Panther, Love & Basketball, and the new documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble. Walmart is a sponsor of these showings, along with 11 other companies, including Entertainment Weekly and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

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