Puerto Rico’s 50 Year Old Drive-In cinema

Photo by José L. Cruz Candelaria

“When I was a kid, the only way I saw movies was from the back seat of my family’s car at the drive-in.” – Forest Whitaker

They say the era of drive-in movie theaters is long gone or just a nostalgic revival, but Auto Cine Santana in Puerto Rico has kept the drive-in experience going, on and off, since 1957. It may be the last one on the island, but this is no dinosaur.

So we decided to go and see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Relying on their Facebook page as there was no website and limited street signage, we turned the car off the main road in Barrio of Santana de Aricebo to find the entrance chock-a-block with cars. It took 15 minutes and assertive driving to get to the booth to pay a pleasing $10 for three tickets. The field with two screens was full for the Friday evening  sitting, maybe 120 cars. Families picnicking, the young sitting on car roofs and in the back of pickups, doors flung open to share the soundtrack from car radios – an all for one and one for all film experience.


There are lots of outdoor film festivals nowadays to replace the drive-in experience but this is cinema shaped by the experience of sitting in, with or near your car. Unfortunately, most of today’s cars are not made with this is mind and lack the comfortable wide front seat for whatever folks are planning to do there. Those cup holders…

Will Auto Cine Santana be there in another 20 years? Perhaps it will, because it has been maintained as a local tradition and by inquisitive travelers. And while our social behavior has changed and drive-in theaters are rarely comfortable or convenient, going to the drive-in still satisfies community with privacy (the cinema and the car) and we still need that tricky combination.

That might explain why 320 drive-in movie theaters are still open for business in the US (there were once over 4,600), though many are struggling to adapt to digital projection. If you are interested in the culture and history of this phenomenon, catch the 2013 documentary Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the American Drive-in Movie directed by April Wright.  Details at http://www.goingattractions.com/films.

If you want to catch a drive -in movie experience near Washington DC, the options are still there. Union Market in DC has a summer series, but it was always better in a field away from big city lights and noise. So more rural alternatives are:  The Family Drive-In Theatre , the only remaining drive-in theatre operating in the Northern Virginia, 7 miles south of Winchester, VA and just off Exit 307 on I-81.  Or going north of Baltimore, there is Bengies Drive-In Theater. Both have been operating for over 60 years.

– From the laptop of Deirdre Evans-Pritchard, Executive Director at DCIFF