Outdoor cinemas featured in Watertown, Sparta and Woodbury
Most kids and adults alike would agree that catching a good flick at a drive-in movie theater is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a warm summer night.
Drive-in movies are a uniquely American form of entertainment, and few Americans who’ve ever visited one now and again can’t recall having a pretty good time.
Around the Center Hill Lake region we’re in the happy circumstance of having not one, not two but three drive-ins within leisurely driving distance: The Stardust Drive-In Theater in Watertown, the Sparta Drive-In, and Woodbury’s Moonlite Drive-In.
Barry and Dawn Floyd, along with their three boys, run the Stardust Drive-In Theater in Watertown. Their dual-screen double-feature operation, open seven nights a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day, consistently posts the best attendance numbers in all of Middle Tennessee.
Floyd says Stardust, which opened its gates in 2003, maintains success by keeping with the times, not trying wistfully to relive the past.
“We’re not so much about nostalgia here. The ‘57 Chevys and poodle skirts, that ain’t really us,” he said.
The drive-in concept isn’t new, but the cinematic technology on display is state-of-the-art. Stardust is purely a first-run film venue (although they host one “throw-back night” a year), and that’s a big reason why the cars start lining up at the entrance well before sundown.
In 2013, USA Today rated Stardust among the nation’s ten best drive-ins, lauding its “theater-quality viewing.”
“We’re not running out of a 60-year-old building with no air conditioning and that kind of stuff,” said Floyd, noting that digital projectors can cost $100,000 or more. “The majority of our customers drive 30 or 40 miles to get here. So it is really hard to convince people to drive that far to watch a movie they already own at home”
Filmmaker April Wright, who made the 2013 documentary film “Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the American Drive-In Movie,” said the resurgence in drive-in popularity over the last decade or so is due both to a new generation of parents seeking “simple family activities to do,” and Hollywood studios “putting out movies that are very drive-in friendly and very family friendly.”
“All these animated and superhero films, they play great at a drive-in,” she said.
Floyd said this year’s summer blockbuster, “Finding Dory,” was exactly the kind of movie that works for a drive-in.
“The drive-in movie business is about two things, movies and weather,” said Floyd. “If the movies are good and the weather is good, it can be a perfect storm of everything being fantastic. If one of those two things aren’t right? Well, owning a drive-in is like planning an outdoor wedding: There is no Plan B.”
Pictured at Top: The Floyd family of Watertown has operated the Stardust Drive-In since 2003. Dawn and Barry are shown with the oldest of their three boys, 16-year-old Christopher.