Screens Go Dark At Drive-Ins Across The Country

Oct 2, 2013
Originally published on September 27, 2013 4:20 pm

By the end of 2013, most major film companies will stop offering movies on 35-millimeter film reels.

That’s no problem for multiplexes, which can afford digital projectors at about $100,000 each, but most small drive-in theaters are unable to afford the digital transition.

To save a lucky few, Honda Motor company launched “Project Drive-in” this summer, promising a digital projector to the top voted drive-ins across the country.

Nine walked away with brand new equipment and a second chance. But what about the theaters that didn’t win?

Here & Now talks with the owner of the Apache Drive-In in Globe, Arizona — the last single-screen drive-in the state. After 60 years, the screen will go dark.


  • Bob Hollis, owner of the Apache Drive-In in Globe, Arizona.
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At the end of this year, most major film companies will stop offering movies on 35-millimeter film reels. No problem for megaplexes that is successful enough to afford digital projectors that can cost $100,000 each. But what about small drive-in theaters that can't afford that? Globe, Arizona is home to the last single-screen drive-in theater in the state, the Apache, and it is closing this weekend after more than 60 years. Joining us from Globe is Bob Hollis, owner of the Apache. And, Bob, must be a tough moment for the community.

BOB HOLLIS: I mean, everybody wants to save the drive-in. I mean, the - you know, they're disappointed that it's closing. It's a family-oriented business. I mean, you know, the family comes out on a Friday or Saturday night or a Sunday evening and, you know, they'd put up their lawn chairs, they can sit and they watch movie, the kids get cranky, they go in the car and go to sleep.


HOLLIS: It's - that's the way the drive-ins have always been.

HOBSON: And you've been there all along for this drive-in. Tell us about growing up at the Apache. You took it over from your father, right?

HOLLIS: I did. My father was a manager for 20th Century Fox. I took over pretty much in '82, '83 in there. And been doing it ever since.

HOBSON: What's the best memory you've got there, of actually seeing a movie at the drive-in?

HOLLIS: Oh, gosh. You know, one is "Rocky." I remember when "Rocky" came and it was big. It was - it was one of those - it's one of the classics. And, I mean, the drive-in was packed, and people were just really excited to see that. And I - I mean, I can actually remember seeing this, and it was just amazing to watch that. But, I mean, there's several memories. I mean, you know, that's kind of special. And for our community, that's a big thing.

HOBSON: Could you have just stayed open and run old films that are still on 35-millimeter?

HOLLIS: They're getting harder and harder to get. I mean, I could've stayed open and played movies that were older this year, but it's just getting very hard to get them now.

HOBSON: Well, how much of this is about the digital projector cost and how much of it is it about the fact that young people these days don't really go to drive-in theaters anymore?

HOLLIS: You know, look, it's almost all about digital. If 35-millimeter was still the norm, the drive-in would stay open. A lot of the big cities, the drive-ins close because you're sitting on an eight- to 10-acre parcel of land for a single screen drive-in. Eight acres of land in Phoenix, Arizona or Boston, it's worth a lot of money. Worth more than you'll ever make operating a drive-in.

HOBSON: Well, what's the last movie you're going to show because you're closing up tomorrow night?

HOLLIS: Linda Gross, a lady that runs a local newspaper here in town, is actually sponsoring an event tomorrow night. And it is an event, not just a movie. I mean, they have got a lot of stuff going on out there. And we're going to actually play "American Graffiti."

HOBSON: All right.

HOLLIS: Drive-in classic.

HOBSON: Bob Hollis, owner of the Apache theater, which is closing tomorrow with, sounds like, "American Graffiti," joining us from Globe, Arizona. Bob, thanks so much for talking with us.

HOLLIS: Jeremy, have a good day.


HOBSON: And this, of course, "Rock Around The Clock," from the opening scene of "American Graffiti."


And you're heading for Arizona, are you not?

HOBSON: Soon, yes.


HOBSON: I will be in Phoenix in a couple of weeks.

YOUNG: Excellent, so listeners there will see you. You will not, though, be able to wear your PJs to the drive-in.


HOBSON: I guess not.

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.