It’s a BOGO deal with a vintage flair. The Ocala Drive-In is a fun and affordable activity that anyone can enjoy.
The Ocala Drive-In has a humble, country feel. It’s in a large grass and dirt field, and the buildings onsite have wood or cinderblock exteriors. Orange and white markers divide slightly raised grass rows to indicate parking spots. The overall look is reminiscent of a farm, but accents of vintage Americana are intermixed, hinting at the glorious past of drive-ins.
The first drive-in movie theater opened in 1933. They became popular during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, when there were more than 5,000 across the United States. At one time, their popularity made drive-ins a staple of American culture. Today, fewer than 500 drive-in movie theaters can be found in the U.S. Fortunately, one of these blasts from the past resides in Ocala, less than an hour’s drive from Gainesville.
The Ocala Drive-In makes sure to incorporate Americana charm from the moment viewers arrive. Because cars play a crucial role in the movie-viewing experience, it’s only logical the ticket booth is drive-thru style. Above is old-fashioned signage, the kind that goes up letter by letter, surrounded by vintage glamour lights. The Americana feel does not end there.
Cartoons, similar to the style of Charlie Brown, are played on the big screen prior to movie showings. Pop art cartoons distinguish the bathrooms. The sinks in the restrooms maintain their art deco style with black and white diamond tiles. The national anthem plays before movies begin.
One major appeal to the drive-in is its price. While most movie theater prices are in the double digits, adult tickets at the drive-in are $6, children’s are $3, and children ages 5 and under are free.
Not only are tickets cheaper than the average movie theater, but they also buy a viewing of two movies. The drive-in shows four movies at a time and divides them into double features between its two screens. In the past, drive-ins could only afford to show B-rated movies, but the Ocala Drive-In plays the same movies being shown in modern theaters. Moviegoers choose which double feature they would like to see at the entrance.
“You have to get here early if you want a good spot,” said Carrie Rubink, a drive-in movie regular.
She started her love for drive-ins when she lived in Georgia. She was a regular there, too.
“You can eat, enjoy and meet great people here,” she said.
Angela Liberatore and Kasey Hillengas are also regulars. The two, along with their children, prefer to make the hour drive from their homes in Lake City rather than see movies in a modern theater closer to home.
“It’s cheaper and more entertaining,” Liberatore said.
Although BOGO movies at the theater sound like a deal, not all moviegoers stay for the second showing. It depends on the movies being shown, Liberatore said. She and Hillengas are not always equally excited for both movies, but they usually stay anyway because they enjoy the overall experience.
Some people are drive-in pros. Those with SUVs have what feels like an unfair advantage: cargo space. They park their vehicles with cargo areas facing the screen, leaving the rear door open. Inside is the perfect spot for movie-watching, complete with pillows and blankets.
Moviegoers with sedans approach their drive-in experience in one of two ways. Some lie out on top of their cars with hands behind their heads and ankles crossed. Others prefer to stay inside their cars, feet on the dashboard and seats reclined way back.
But, the moviegoers are in control of more than just their comfort. They’re also in control of the volume. The movie’s sound is played through the car’s stereo. Each screen has its own frequency that moviegoers tune in to. Visitors to the drive-in don’t have to worry about their car battery dying either, because employees carry booster packs to offer a jumpstart to customers who need it.
For those who want to enjoy the weather, there is the option to watch from the concessions patio, where outdoor speakers also play the movies’ sound.
The Ocala Drive-In provides thrifty, family-friendly fun. It can create a sense of nostalgia, even for those who were not around for the glory days of drive-ins. Unlike many of the trends of the past, the Ocala Drive-In is not going out of style any time soon.
Photography by John Sloan