The drive-in began with a man hanging a simple sheet in his backyard and attaching a projector to his car in 1933. It was a marketing ploy to attract customers to his gas station. 76 years late, the drive-in is struggling to survive. But that doesn't mean outdoor cinema has gone the way of the dinosaurs. You can find outdoor movies everywhere, if you know where to look. And they may not look exactly like the American Graffiti style drive-ins; outdoor movies have evolved with the times.
Drive-in movie theaters peaked in popularity in the 1950's with over 5,000 theaters across the country. Now only 383 remain in operation. Fortunately, you don't have to go to the drive-in to see a movie under the stars. City parks and recreation departments have begun screening movies in the parks, or downtown movies in plazas or shopping centers. Film festivals have started integrating outdoor screenings to their programs. Individual homeowners are beginning to move their home theaters to the backyard with the use of inflatable screens and outdoor movie projectors.
Guerrilla cinema, or guerrilla drive-ins, are a phenomenon that are becoming more common. Guerrilla cinema is simply outdoor movies screened is public areas, usually without permits or permanent residence. West Chester Guerrilla Drive-In in West Chester, Pennsylvania screens movies all over the city, but doesn't reveal the location until right before the day of the movie. Movie-goers must hunt down the MacGuffin an AM transmitter broadcasting a secret code that will lead them to the outdoor film. John Young, creator of the West Chester Guerrilla Drive-In, has been screening all his movies on a 16-millimeter projector housed in the sidecar of his 1977 BMW motorcycle.
A similar set up in Oklahoma City screens cult classics such as The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona. "The Renegade Drive-In" was started in 2007 and projects outdoor movies on the side of a rock climbing gym. Fortunately the producer of the event also owns that building, so he doesn't mind the guerrilla cinema utilizing the wall space after dark.