Some people might think drive-in movie theaters are a thing of the past; after all, we remember their presence in retro movies like Grease and The Outsiders. However, several are still in operation, and many are thriving all across Oklahoma.

Blake Smith, owner of Tulsa’s Admiral Twin Drive-In, estimates there are about 300 or so outdoor drive-ins scattered across America. 

“Going to the drive-in is a very Americana [thing to do],” he says. “Folks have been coming to the Admiral Twin since the 1950s and bringing their kids.”

Why Drive-In? 

Compared to the regular theater experience, the drive-in presents more flexibility, says Smith. 

“Going to the drive-in with family or friends is far more social than going to a regular theater. You can move around, converse or be on your phone,” he says. “Going to the drive-in on a date allows more cuddling and conversation time than a regular movie. Children have room to move around and don’t need to be silent. And young children can be tucked into the back seat at bedtime, and the night can go on for everyone else.”

Along with convenience, seeing a movie at a drive-in can also get you a better value.

“Drive-ins are cheaper than regular movies,” says Smith. “Often you will pay the same price for a double feature that you would for a regular indoor movie ticket.”

But these days, going to the drive-in isn’t just about the movie; many locations offer other forms of entertainment. 

“We want every movie to be more than just a movie,” says Sarah Lehew, business services manager of the Tee Pee Drive-In located in Sapulpa. “We look at every movie showing as an event that children will one day tell their children and grandchildren about.

At Tee Pee Drive-In in Sapulpa, guests can rent a vintage trailer for overnight stays. Photo courtesy Tee Pee Drive-In

Remaining Relevant 

Staying competitive in a market where the indooe alternative offers a lot of bells and whistles takes some hustle. 

“We stay relevant by leveraging the nostalgia of the drive-in experience while incorporating modern technology and amenities,” says Lehew. “Our renovation includes state-of-the-art projection and sound systems, renovated concession stands and the introduction of alcohol sales, which cater to contemporary audiences’ expectations. Special events, promotions and the unique offering of overnight stays in vintage trailers also distinguish it from indoor theaters, providing a unique experience.” 

Engaging the Community 

Both drive-ins are open throughout the warmer months and closed in the winter. In case of bad weather during the spring and summer – not an unheard of issue in Oklahoma – most events will be rescheduled or canceled. 

The Tee Pee Drive-In hosts special events for numerous occasions, like movie premieres, classic car shows, reunions, company parties and special screenings of nostalgic films. 

“These events serve to engage the community and attract visitors looking for a unique entertainment experience,” says Lehew. 

The Admiral Twin runs special events throughout the season, as well. 

“In September, we run a special retro Sunday where we show double features from the past,” says Smith. “In October, we do a promotion called ‘Scary Movie Sundays’ where we do double feature horror movies.”

Drive-In History

Most drive-ins have been operating for decades, often steeped in history. The Tee Pee Drive-In is a historic site on Route 66 since its opening in 1950. It survived a tornado in 1960, a fire in 1966, and several periods of closure before being renovated and reopened in 2023, says Lehew. 

“The drive-in’s story is a testament to resilience and the community’s commitment to preserving a piece of American culture,” she says. 

In 1982, the famed movie The Outsiders was shot in Tulsa. Quite a few of the scenes were filmed at the Admiral Twin, says Smith.

 “That is really our claim to fame, that movie,” he says. “Several of the actors in the movie went on to be huge movie stars. The Admiral Twin still plays The Outsiders either annually or every other year. And in 2024, it will be our 73rd season in business.”

Main image cutline: The Admiral Twin Drive-In was featured in the 1982 famed hit The Outsiders. 2024 welcomes the theater’s 73rd season in business. Photo courtesy Admiral Twin Drive-In 

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