When was the last time you went to a drive-in movie theater?

Chances are, it's been quite a while.

I mean, it's hard to beat that 75-inch 8K TV in your living room that has surround sound, a super comfortable couch, and all of your favorite snacks at your fingertips (not to mention air conditioning). But still, there's nothing like catching a movie at a drive-in.

The good news is if you want to experience a true slice of Americana, there are numerous drive-in movie theaters in and really close to New Jersey and every single one of them is worth visiting.

A Quick Drive-in Movie Theater History Lesson

The history of drive-in theaters in the Garden State — and the nation — started in the early 1930s when America's first drive-in opened in Pennsauken. As the story goes, after experimenting with showing movies outside by setting up a projector in his driveway, on June 6th, 1933, Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr., opened a drive-in theater on Admiral Wilson Boulevard (the Zinman Furs building and Rosemont Avenue sit there today).

The location of America's first drive-in movie theater in Pennsauken NJ - Photo: Google Maps
The location of America's first drive-in movie theater in Pennsauken NJ - Photo: Google Maps

His theater had room for some 400 cars and featured a 40x50-foot screen, however, showing the movie was the easy part. Hearing it was a different story.

An efficient way to deliver sound in this setting had yet to be invented, so to hear what you were seeing, you had to roll your car windows down and listen to giant speakers that were next to the screen (yes, there was an echo). Not only could you hear the movie, but so could everyone who lived around the drive-in. It would be another seven years before in-car speakers were introduced.

Drive-ins were all the rage for decades until the '70s and '80s rolled around and VCRs started popping up in practically every household in the nation.

Fast forward to today and about 300 drive-in theaters remain in operation across the country, although, I've seen that several have closed for good already this year.

Screen at the old Absecon Drive-in in Absecon, NJ - Photo: Chris Coleman
Screen at the old Absecon Drive-in in Absecon, NJ - Photo: Chris Coleman

A Revived Passion for Drive-in Theaters

Not too long ago, Hollywood transitioned over to digital projection and movie distribution systems, which meant that little mom-and-pop drive-ins had to either invest huge amounts of money into new equipment or simply turn their lights off for good. But there was a third option.

Allow me to share the story of the drive-in that rekindled my passion for watching movies in the great outdoors: The Mahoning Drive-in in Lehighton, PA, up in the Poconos.

The Mighty Mahoning, as it's sometimes called, has been open for 75 years and they were faced with having to make just that choice — spent money they didn't have to go digital or go dark... or do something even crazier: they decided to only show old movies.

Mahoning Drive-in Theater in Lehighton PA
Mahoning Drive-in Theater in Lehighton PA - Photo: Chris Coleman

Since that decision, the Mahoning has embraced not only featuring old movies but doing so on 35mm film using their original, 75-year-old projection equipment.

The result? A massive cult following that reaches from coast to coast.

Just imagine going to a drive-in that'll show all three "Back to the Future" movies in a row and there's a good chance someone will park a DeLorean in front of the screen. Or, what about an entire weekend when they'll show seven or eight "Friday the 13th" movies or more Godzilla movies than you know ever existed? Or a whole weekend of kitschy B-movies (their famous SCHLOCK-O-RAMA VIII is happening soon!) and one of the actors will stop by for an appearance.

Going to The Mahoning is unlike any movie experience that you've ever been a part of. You can visit their Facebook page to check out some pictures to see exactly what I mean.

Drive-in Theaters in and Around New Jersey

Sometime this summer, why not hop in your car and check out a movie under the stars? There are eight drive-in theaters in and close to New Jersey that you should check out over the next few months...

8 amazing drive-in movie theaters in and around New Jersey

While New Jersey only has one drive-in movie theater, there are quite a few within a short drive from the Garden State.

Gallery Credit: Chris Coleman

Remembering 21 Old South Jersey Drive-in Movie Theaters and What's There Now

South Jersey used to have nearly two dozen drive-in movie theaters -- now, only one remains. Let's take a look at those old theaters and what has replaced them.

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