Jurong, Singapore: Outdoor Movies at Singapore's Only Drive-In Outdoor Cinema

Outdoor Movies at Singapore's Drive-In Theater in JurongSingapore's only open-air drive-in cinema, the Jurong Drive-in, was opened by the then Minister of Culture, Jek Yuen Thong, on 14 July 1971. The brainchild and pride of Cathay Organisation, it was located at Yuan Ching Road, next to the Japanese Gardens. Built on a 5.6 ha site leased from the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), the cinema could accommodate 900 cars and an additional 300 people in its walk-in gallery for outdoor movies. The Drive-in closed on 30 September 1985 due to poor attendances and increasing competition from video pirates.

History of the Outdoor Cinema

Cathay Organisation adopted the drive-in outdoor cinema concept from the O'Halloran Hill cinema in Adelaide, Australia, and opened Singapore's first and only drive-in theater in Yuan Ching Road, Jurong (next to the Japanese Garden) on 14 July 1971. Also the largest in Asia, the opening of the Jurong Drive-in was officiated by the then Minister of Culture, Jek Yuen Thong. Premiering at the opening night of outdoor movies was Ralph Thomas' Doctor in Trouble. Box-office proceeds for the opening were donated to Jurong Town Creche and Jurong Town Community Centre. On the opening night, about 880 cars packed the 5.6 ha drive-in with an additional 300 patrons occupying its walk-in open gallery. They viewed the outdoor movie on a giant screen measuring 47 ft by 100 ft. Tilted at an angle of six-and-a-half degrees, the screen was raised 25 ft above ground. The movie soundtrack was played over 899 speaker stands on the drive-in grounds and special car speakers attached to individual cars. Patrons munched on snacks and ate ice cream sold during the outdoor film screening.

Description of the Drive-In

The drive-in theater attracted thousands during its heyday in the 1970s. Outdoor movies were screened daily at two time slots 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm. Tickets were priced at S$2 for adults and S$1 for children under 12 years. It featured mainly first-run English language films and Hong Kong action movies. For instance, films starring Bruce Lee were very popular with patrons. His movie, The Big Boss, broke the drive-in cinema's box-office record, collecting S$12,000 for one night. The popularity of the Drive-In owed to the experience of watching a giant outdoor screen in the privacy of the car. It was also one of the few outings in which the whole family could go to. But the novelty slowly wore off as the open air cinema was at the mercy of tropical weather conditions, especially heavy downpours. Patrons complained that prolonged use of their windshield wipers throughout the shows when it rained was hazardous to their car's ignition system. The open-air screening was also harder to manage and led to chaos as patrons who were impatient when car queues leading to the Drive-in became too long got off their vehicles and walked. Gate-crashers also added to the unruliness and many who turned up did not pay for their tickets. Getting audiences to settle down led to delayed screening of shows. Plans to open other drive-in cinemas never materialised, leaving Jurong as Singapore's only drive-in theater.

Outdoor Movies: Winding-up

As early as 1981, Cathay Organisation was already musing about closing the Drive-in. Dismal attendance and illegal racing activities were their major concerns. For the past several years before it closed in 1985, on average only 200 people or 100 cars turned up for its daily outdoor film screenings, occupying only a fraction of its 900-car capacity lot. The drastic drop in cinema attendance was attributed mainly to video piracy. The large vacuum invited unwelcome guests as motorcyclists were reported to use the drive-in site for illegal racing activities after the shows ended. In view of these factors, Cathay Organisation decided not to renew its lease from Jurong Town Corporation (JTC). On 30 September 1985, Jurong Drive-in theater screened its last outdoor movies and closed its chapter after 15 years of operation.

Drive-in Theater Revival

Through the years, drive-in cinemas were periodically revived. As part of the 1996 arts festival fringe, the People's Association Paya Lebar carpark was transformed into a temporary drive-in from 31 May to 1 June, screening family-oriented outdoor movies on both days. In 2003, Kallang carpark was the venue for a drive-in movie organised during the Romancing Singapore Festival. Currently, outdoor films are held once a month at Carpark B, Downtown East, an NTUC Club at Pasir Ris. From "Jurong Drive-in cinema" By Nureza Ahmad -National Library Board Singapore. Read full article at: http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_478_2005-01-22.html.

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