The death and (re)birth of the drive-in cinema in Sydney

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The drive-in cinema was once seen as an old-fashioned concept that couldn’t compare with today’s multiplexes. But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our social habits, and drive-ins in NSW are making a comeback, although briefly.

Here’s what you need to know about the history of drive-ins in Australia and where you can experience the drive-in on the Northern Beaches.

History of the drive-in cinema in Australia

When most people think of the drive-in cinema, they think of America in the time of Grease. But in fact, it all started in Australia – we had drive-ins as early as 1938 before the concept ever appeared in the US.

NSW got its first drive-in cinemas in 1956, with two providing accessible shows for Northern Beaches audiences – one at Frenchs Forest and the other at North Ryde. Many also fondly remember the Chullora drive-in from this time.

The drive-in cinema was at its most popular in the golden age of the car, between the 1950s and the 1980s. However, during the commercial height of the ’80s, many outdoor lots were snapped up by developers wanting to build shopping malls and – yes – multiplexes, such as the Collaroy and Warriewood cinema complexes. The drive-in cinema became a concept of the past – until now.

How the pandemic has changed our entertainment appetite

COVID-19 has changed so many aspects of our lives, and social activities have been particularly hard hit. We can’t gather in large numbers, and many families don’t feel safe sitting in close proximity to others at a multiplex cinema.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when Northern Beaches gig guides started featuring drive-in cinemas earlier this year. The drive-in gives families, couples and individuals a safe way to watch movies in the comfort of their cars without having to get too close to anyone else.

NSW still had some drive-in cinemas remaining from the past, including the Skyline drive-in at Blacktown, which has two screens. But new drive-ins have been popping up all over Sydney since the start of the pandemic, such as the Entertainment Quarter drive-in at Sydney’s Moore Park. The Ku-ring-gai drive-in at St Ives is currently advertising a full program for October, and Disney is opening a Sydney drive-in in October at the northern private car park of Bankwest Stadium.

The drive-in concept is even encompassing concerts, with Casey Donovan recently performing for a drive-in audience at a car park in Tempe. It can’t be long before we have drive-in live music on the Northern Beaches!

Will we ever go back to enclosed cinemas?

So many aspects of our lives are uncertain right now and many of us can’t imagine being packed closely together in a crowded cinema again. But the movie experience just isn’t the same at home. Going to the cinema with family or friends, buying your choc tops and popcorn, and experiencing the film large and loud is a social experience. This is something we’re still craving in spite of the pandemic.

According to a recent report by Deloitte, 40 per cent of Australians said they would prefer to watch a movie at the cinema rather than paying to watch it at home at the same time as the cinema release.

We also tend to feel more secure in our choice of movie when it’s popular with others and we’re sharing it with a packed cinema.

We are social animals (especially on the Northern Beaches)

Our appetite for communal entertainment is still there. We just have to find different ways of enjoying things, and drive-in cinema is a good solution until we can all safely mix again.

At JDH Real Estate, we’re continuing to provide the same standout service to sellers, buyers and landlords. If you’re thinking of selling or need help leasing a property, we’ll be happy to help.