It seemed like old times. Rows of cars filled the Roadium Drive-In once more — promptly at 6:30 p.m. Friday night, June 7, 2019 in Torrance, California, USA.
Some pulled straight in while others backed in, dropped the tailgate and busted out the pillows and blankets for a cozy movie night under the stars.
That’s right, the Roadium outdoor theater is back in business for 13 nostalgic showings, every Friday evening until the end of August. The first screening Friday was, aptly, Robert Zemeckis’ beloved time-travel comedy “Back to the Future.”
“A cool retro (movie) for the retro theater,” said Peter Yaskowitz who brought his girlfriend, Bethany Quirk, for a date night in the back of his Jeep. “We get to sit in our own little private car (so there’s) comfort and privacy. I don’t like sitting next to people in the theater — they bother me.”
According to the Smithsonian, the drive-in movie concept dates all the way back to 1933 — and took off when outdoor “hang on the window” speakers were introduced in the 1940s.
By 1958, the number of drive-ins peaked at more than 4,000 venues, the Smithsonian reported. But only about 300 remain open nationwide, online movie archivists say.
On Friday, such 1950s treats as Bubble Up soda and Look! candy bars were nowhere to be seen. But a handful of vendors sold burgers, candy and churros, to name a few. During this revival run, folks can also bring their own snacks — a stark contrast from these days’ normal movie-theater concessions policies.
Another perk: tickets are sold per car, not per person. Kim Ternenyi crammed nine people into two cars. “None of my family have been to a drive-in theater. I wanted them to experience the old-fashioned theater life,” she said.
“It’s just nostalgic,” Ternenyi said. “Just coming in and driving over the humps got me really excited.”
The crowd was a mix of older folks who longed for another drive-in movie experience and a younger crowd interested in experiencing it for the first time. Despite the decline of the drive-in, outdoor movies are plentiful each summer these days, from the beach to parks to the sides of urban buildings.
“The reason why I wanted to come into the drive-in theater was because my grandpa used to come to one all the time and I thought one day I would,” said Ternenyi’s grandson Aj Robles, 11.
It wasn’t just Robles’ first time at a drive-in movie but also his first time watching “Future” — a contemporary classic that’s been around long enough to have aired on the big screen, VHS, Beta, cable TV, DVD, network TV, Blu-Ray and all those streaming services.
A most familiar flick that many fans here had practically memorized, “BTTF” made a then-mammoth $210 million back in 1985, according to Box Office Mojo. Adjusted for inflation, that’s more than $500 million in today’s dollars.
On Friday, plenty of superfans — clad in t-shirts, hats and even shoes bearing the image of then teen-aged Michael J. Fox or the trademark time-traveling DeLorean — proved it still had plenty of pop-culture power, maybe even enough to fuel a Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor.
A few classic cars made appearances, too. Maury and Lily Cardenas drove their classic 1931 forest green Ford Model A — which was actually built long before the Roadium rose.
“We’ve got old classic cars so we might as well,” said Lily. “And we’re big ‘Back to the Future’ fans.”
A major difference between the drive-ins in the ’50s and the Roadium: the audio is played over the autos’ radio. Sure, the sound is superior, but that meant cars have to be turned on and the radio turned up enough to be heard from the bed of a truck or outside in your lawn chair.
“We’re all hoping our batteries don’t die,” said Ternenyi.
Visit www.eventbrite.com/o/the-roadium-open-air-market-20131865454 for tickets and a list of upcoming shows.