Ultimate Drive-In Movie Car Setup Ideas For An Unforgettable Summer

Summer is the perfect time to enjoy outdoor activities with your family and friends. If you’re looking for a fun and unique experience, why not try a drive-in movie theater?

With only around 300 drive-in theaters left in the United States(1), it’s a rare and exciting opportunity to enjoy a classic movie under the stars. However, to make the most of your drive-in cinema experience, it’s important to properly set up your car.

Comfort is key, and you’ll want to make sure your car is prepared for a double feature, including a way to listen to the movie.

Additionally, it’s important to be considerate to other movie-goers and make sure everyone has a great time. In this article, we’ll explore some ultimate drive-in movie car setup ideas to help you enjoy an unforgettable summer night at the movies.

What is The Proper Drive-in Movie Car Setup?

Thunderstorm clouds
At 8:10 PM the deluge began. These clouds are bad news for a drive in

There really is no right answer to this. It’s what makes you comfortable while still being a considerate guest. 

So, if this means folding down the rear seats in the mini-van or sitting in the back of your pick-up truck; it’s what is comfortable for you. As far as setting up your car for the drive-in, there is not much to do, or so I thought.

In an effort to help my readers, I staged a number of ways you can set your car up for a drive-in movie. The reason I am not at an actual drive-in is that I live in the Southeast and it thunderstorms every night about the time a drive-in would start. If you decide to go, bring your umbrella.

So without further ado, let’s get to the good stuff. I subjected my family to this, so please be kind in your thoughts.

Drive-in Movie Car Setup Ideas

First off, I believe to be the most comfortable you need room. We have a minivan and my faithful Tacoma. Both of these are ideal for a pleasant movie experience as the back seat can be folded down.

An SUV would be a good choice, too. You can modify the arrangements below to match the vehicle you have. Whatever the case, there are a few essentials you are going to need.

  • Comfortable seating (folding chairs, blankets, pillows, etc.)
  • Water / Snacks
  • Pillows
  • Portable radio or phone with FM radio app
  • Insect repellent
  • Flashlight
  • Camp fan
  • Battery Power Pack
  • Cash for admission and snacks
  • Umbrella or rain poncho (if attending a movie during rainy weather)
  • Cooler with ice

Drive-In Movie Comfort: The Bare Essentials You Need

When it comes to enjoying a drive-in movie, comfort is key. Whether you’re sitting in your car or lounging outside, having the right essentials can make all the difference. From cozy blankets to comfortable seating, there are a few items that can help you relax and fully enjoy the movie experience.

One of the most important things to bring to a drive-in movie is comfortable seating. While some people prefer to stay in their car, others like to set up a cozy outdoor space. This can include folding chairs, camping chairs, or even a picnic blanket.

Having a comfortable place to sit can help you fully relax and enjoy the movie without any discomfort. Additionally, bringing a few extra cushions or pillows can make the experience even more comfortable.

Another essential item for a drive-in movie is a cozy blanket. Even if the weather is warm, it can get chilly at night, and having a soft blanket to snuggle up with can make all the difference. Whether you’re sitting in your car or outside, a blanket can help keep you warm and comfortable throughout the movie. Plus, it’s a great way to add a little extra coziness to the experience.

Seating Options


One of the most important things to consider is seating. While some drive-ins provide chairs or benches, it’s always a good idea to bring your own comfortable seating options. Consider bringing blankets, pillows, or even a camping chair to make your viewing experience more comfortable.

If you’re bringing your own chairs, make sure they are lightweight and easy to transport. Folding chairs or beach chairs are great options. Additionally, consider bringing a small table or tray to hold snacks and drinks.

An excellent choice for comfort and durability is the Alpha Camp Chair from Amazon. This chair is the perfect addition to any drive-in movie experience. Its large size and comfortable padding would provide ample space and support for viewers to sit back and relax while watching their favorite films. Plus, the added cup holder and cooler bag would make it easy to keep drinks and snacks close at hand without having to leave the chair.

And when the movie is over, the chair can be easily folded up and transported home in its convenient carry bag. While some customers have reported concerns about durability, the ALPHA CAMP chair is still a great option for anyone looking for a comfortable and practical seating solution at a drive-in movie.

Portable Radio or Phone with FM Radio App

Next to comfortable seating, a portable radio is absolutely essential to a good drive-in movie experience. This will allow you to listen to the movie’s audio without draining your car battery or disturbing your neighbors with loud car speakers.

A portable radio is a great option for those who don’t want to drain their phone battery or who don’t have a phone with an FM radio app. We used a Jensen CD Boombox, similar to the Jensen CD-490. This small radio was perfect for a drive-in; it didn’t take up a lot of room, and the sound was decent.

For those who prefer to use their phone, many phone makers, including Samsung, LG, HTC, and Motorola, have enabled FM radios in their chipsets. FM radio app NextRadio has published a list of devices and carriers that support its software. Users can also download other FM radio apps from their app store.

It’s important to note that FM transmitters only works with an antenna, so users will need to use wired earbuds or headphones to listen to an FM radio broadcast on their phone. This is because the wires in the earbuds or headphones act as an antenna.

Overall, bringing a portable radio or phone with an FM radio app is essential for a comfortable drive-in movie experience. It allows you to listen to the movie’s audio without disturbing others and ensures that you won’t drain your car battery.


You need a flashlight. There is ambient light, but you will need help getting to and from the bathroom…especially if you stay for a double feature. It can help you navigate your way around the theater, find your car, and even provide a little extra light during the movie. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a flashlight for your next drive-in movie night.

Ultimate Drive-In Movie Car Setup Ideas - Flashlight

A small, pocket-sized flashlight is perfect for a drive-in. You want something that you can put in your pocket easily. These small tactical flashlights are what you want. They are bright and small. You aren’t going on an expedition. You are using the bathroom.

Bring more than one…trust me.

Battery Life

Another important factor to consider is battery life. You don’t want your flashlight to die in the middle of the movie, so make sure to choose one with a long battery life.

Some flashlights also come with rechargeable batteries, which can be a convenient option, or simply always bring extra batteries in your vehicle, they come in handy on so many occasions out road tripping with the family!.

Hands-Free Options

If you’re looking for a hands-free option, consider a headlamp or a clip-on flashlight. These types of flashlights can be attached to your hat or clothing, leaving your hands free to enjoy your snacks or drinks.

Red Light Mode

Some flashlights also come with a red light mode, which can be useful during the movie. Red light is less harsh on the eyes and won’t disturb other movie-goers, making it a great option for finding your way around the theater without causing a distraction.

Overall, a flashlight is a must-have item for any drive-in movie experience. Consider the size, brightness, battery life, and hands-free options when choosing the perfect flashlight for your next movie night.

Insect Repellent

Mosquitoes and other insects can quickly ruin a good time. To avoid being bitten, bring insect repellent or DEET-free repellent bands. Choose a repellent that is safe for the skin and effective against mosquitoes and other biting insects.

Ultimate Drive-In Movie Car Setup Ideas - Insect Repellent

Another option is to bring citronella candles or torches to help keep the bugs away. These can also add a nice ambiance to your viewing experience.

Warm Clothing

Even on warm nights, it’s always a good idea to bring warm clothing. As the night goes on, the temperature can drop quickly. Bring a jacket, sweatshirt, or blanket to stay warm and cozy.

If you’re worried about being too warm during the movie, consider bringing a light jacket or sweater that you can easily remove if needed.

Overall, these bare essentials can help make your drive-in movie experience more comfortable and enjoyable. By bringing comfortable seating options, insect repellent, and warm clothing, you’ll be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Snacks and Drinks

I bring a small cooler with some water and a few snacks with me to the drive-in. I recommend purchasing major food items from the concession stands and food trucks rather than bringing all your own food; even if outside food is allowed, most local drive-in theaters rely on the concession sales for their survival.

It will add to the drive-in experience and help support the theater. Go ahead and splurge a little bit. Treat yourself to a foot-long hot dog and a big pretzel from the snack bar, and go enjoy the movie.

Remember to bring along cups, napkins, and utensils as needed, too. And don’t forget a cooler or insulated bag to keep your snacks and drinks fresh and cool.

Standard Drive-In Movie Formation

Okay, so this is your standard Drive-In movie formation. Yes, that’s my house in the background. Just imagine being at the drive-in.

This is a great setup for a few people. Any more than three, and people in the back, are going to have a hard time seeing the movie.

Snacks are easily accessible, bug count can be reduced (windows can be up), and you can occasionally run the AC when it gets sticky.

Let me tell you, even at 8:00 pm in the evening in the Southeast, it’s sticky.

Pure Comfort

Pure comfort

Okay, so I hate this picture, but it perfectly embodies a comfortable experience. Pay attention to the details in this photo.

First, the bean bag. It’s only partially filled, so you can sit back and enjoy the movie. The hatch of the van or SUV will be open, so you have a perfect view.

The bean bag provides the perfect balance of back support and cushion. Now, it takes some prep at home to get the right amount of fill in your bag. But when you are done, you can sit back and enjoy the movie.

Just a note: I could have fit a second bean bag in here. You don’t have to bring your dog. This bean bag chair fromAmazon is perfect.

The next thing to notice is the camp fan. The one pictured is a little bit underpowered. However, it provides a little bit of soft light for being able to find things in your car. It also moves the air around. Even if it’s a little bit, it makes a big difference.

I would recommend a more powerful fan and light. The OUTXE Camping fan, also from Amazon, is a great choice for your movie-going experience. As a bonus, it is rechargeable. My little fan eats batteries.

Perhaps the most important thing here, next to being comfortable, is being able to hear the movie. You want something that is smallish, with good sound, and can run on batteries. The Jensen CD-490 checks all the boxes.

Okay, next set up…

Drive-In Movie With Kids…

You can’t beat this setup with kids. It’s roomy, it’s comfortable, and everyone has a nice time. Hopefully.

Drive-In Movie With Kids

For this setup, you need all of the standard equipment mentioned in the previous setup, with one exception. The bean bag is gone. I mean, you can use one for the kids in the back. But for the adult, you want a comfortable camp chair or two.

You have to get one with at least a table. The table holds the essentials: the radio, a drink, a snack, and the bug spray. A bonus cooler is awesome, too. You can stash away a few things so that the kids don’t get their hands on them. This camp chair at Amazon was built for drive-in movies.

With this setup, a little bit more power may be needed if you are looking to be really comfortable. The little camp fan is good inside the car. But a larger fan may be needed when sitting outside. It serves two purposes.

  1. To keep you cool
  2. To keep the bugs moving along

This is where the battery power pack comes in. It will not only power your fan but also your radio and charge your devices if needed. This is especially useful if you are at a drive-in with a pickup truck.

As a last line of defense, though, jumper cables should always be kept with your vehicles emergency kit.

Drive-In Movie Pickup Truck Setup

Drive-in movies have always held a special place in my heart, and throughout the years, I’ve acquired my fair share of experience in setting up my pickup truck for the perfect movie night.

With a few clever ideas and a bit of preparation, anyone can transform their truck into a comfortable and enjoyable theater on wheels.

Drive-In Movie Pickup Truck Setup

In my experience, the key to a successful drive-in movie setup is ensuring the best possible viewing and seating arrangements. I’ve found that using an array of lawn chairs, blankets, and pillows can create a cozy atmosphere that enhances the overall experience.

Additionally, playing around with different positions for the screen and speakers can ensure that everyone gets the best possible view and sound quality.

As a seasoned drive-in enthusiast, I know that each truck and movie night can be different – and that’s what makes it exciting! With a bit of ingenuity and a willingness to experiment, you can transform your pickup truck into a mobile theater that provides hours of entertainment and countless memories.

Comfortable Seating

Suggestions For Comfortable Seating Options In The Bed Of The Truck

When setting up for a drive-in movie with my pickup truck, I like to ensure that everyone has a comfortable and enjoyable experience. One of the best ways to do this is by creating a cozy seating area in the bed of the truck. Personally, I’ve found a few seating options that work well:

Ultimate Drive-In Movie Car Setup Ideas - Suggestions For Comfortable Seating
  • Folding chairs: These are easy to transport and provide a comfortable option for those who prefer sitting upright.
  • Bean bag chairs: A bit bulkier, but they can contour to your body, offering both comfort and support.
  • Cushioned floor mats: These are excellent for covering the truck bed’s surface, providing a comfortable area for sitting or laying down.

Use Of Pillows, Blankets, And Air Mattresses For Added Comfort

To make the seating area even more cozy, I like to add some additional comfort items. These can include pillows, blankets, and even an air mattress, depending on the preferences of my guests. Layering these items can create a soft, cushioned space that’s perfect for lounging and watching the movie.

  • Pillows: They can provide additional support, especially if you’re sitting on cushioned floor mats or a bean bag chair.
  • Blankets: They’re great, not only for covering up on a chilly night but also for adding an extra layer of cushioning between you and the truck bed or seating option.Air mattress: If you don’t mind going the extra mile, inflating an air mattress can provide a comfortable, elevated surface for lying or sitting.
  • Air mattress: If you don’t mind going the extra mile, inflating an air mattress can provide a comfortable, elevated surface for lying or sitting.

Tailgate As A Seating Area

Besides using the truck bed itself, I’ve also found that the tailgate can serve as an excellent seating area for a drive-in movie. By propping it open, you can sit either directly on the tailgate or place folding chairs or cushions on it to create a comfortable and elevated seating space.

This way, you can fully immerse yourself in the movie experience and have a great view of the screen. Do not forget to park your truck tailgate facing the screen for optimal viewing.

To sum it up, when setting up my pickup truck for a drive-in movie, I make sure to focus on creating a comfortable seating area that works best for my guests and me. With a few simple items like folding chairs, bean bag chairs, cushioned floor mats, pillows, blankets, and even an air mattress, I can transform the bed of my truck and the tailgate into a cozy, enjoyable environment to enjoy a movie under the stars.

Creating A Private And Intimate Viewing Experience

Use Of A Canopy Or Cover For The Truck Bed

When I go to a drive-in movie, making my pick-up truck as comfortable as possible is a top priority. One way to create a private and intimate viewing experience is by using a canopy or cover for the truck bed. This provides some shelter from the elements and adds a cozy feel to the space. There are many options available, from simple tarps to more elaborate truck bed tents.

Popup Tent Or Canopy For Additional Shade And Privacy

Another option for creating a secluded space in my pick-up truck is using a popup tent or canopy. These can be set up alongside the vehicle, which is perfect for those who want some extra shade or a place to retreat to during intermission.

Ultimate Drive-In Movie Car Setup Ideas - Creating A Private And Intimate Viewing Experience

They also offer increased privacy and can even protect against bugs, especially if insect repellent is applied to the tent’s fabric.

Use Of String Lights Or Lanterns For Ambiance

Finally, I like to enhance the atmosphere of my local drive-in movie setup by adding some gentle exterior light. To avoid disturbing other movie-goers, I use string lights or lanterns, which create a warm and inviting environment without being too bright. I also like to have a flashlight handy for any trips to the concessions stand or restroom.

By incorporating these strategies, I’m able to transform my pick-up truck into a personal, intimate viewing experience that showcases the magic of camping while still taking full advantage of the unique outdoor setting of a drive-in movie.

Turning Off Headlights And Using The Truck’s Built-In Sound System

Lastly, when attending a drive-in movie in my pickup truck, I always make sure to turn off my headlights. Not only does this save my car battery, but it also prevents disturbing other moviegoers around me.

In addition, if you prefer to use your truck’s built-in sound system, you can do so; just ensure the audio quality is good and doesn’t disrupt nearby viewers.

If your vehicle has a built-in car radio, you can tune into the designated frequency provided by the drive-in to listen to the movie audio right from your truck. However, be mindful of the strain it may put on the car battery, and consider bringing a portable battery or power source as a backup.

Parking And Etiquette

Parking In A Spot Where The View Of The Screen Is Clear And Not Blocking Anyone Else’s View

As a pickup truck owner, I know how important it is to find that perfect parking spot at the drive-in movie theater. When I go, I always aim to get there early so I can choose a spot that provides a clear view of the screen for me and doesn’t obstruct anyone else’s view. I’m especially mindful of this since my truck is taller than most vehicles; even if there are closer parking spots, its just not cool.

Ultimate Drive-In Movie Car Setup Ideas - Parking And Etiquette

In my experience, it’s best to park close to the sides or the back rows of the parking lot. This way, I can ensure that my truck won’t block the view of fellow movie-goers, allowing everyone to enjoy the double feature.

I also make sure to park at least six feet away from any neighboring vehicles to give us all ample space to get in and out.

Etiquette For Attending A Drive-In Movie In A Pickup Truck

When it comes to drive-in movie etiquette in a pickup truck, I try to be as respectful and considerate as possible. Here are a few pointers that I always keep in mind:

  • Turn off all lights: It’s important to ensure that my truck’s headlights, taillights, and interior lights are off during the movie. This not only prevents distractions but also helps save my battery
  • Lower the volume: If I’m using my truck’s sound system to enjoy the movie, I make sure the volume is at an appropriate level so it doesn’t disturb others. Alternatively, I sometimes bring a portable radio and tune in to listen.
  • Plan ahead for snacks: Before going to the drive-in, I pack some snacks and drinks for my movie night. If I plan to purchase anything from the concession stand, I remember to bring cash since not all places accept cards.
  • Clean up after: As part of my drive-in movie theater etiquette, I always ensure to tidy my truck bed after the show and dispose of any trash responsibly.

By following these simple guidelines, I can create an enjoyable movie experience for myself and others at the true drive-in theater, making it a memorable road trip destination or even a great idea for a Kickstarter project. So, as I gear up for my next open-air movie night, I’ll continue to be mindful of parking and etiquette to ensure everyone has a fantastic time.

Where Can I Find a Drive-In Movie Near Me?  

Well, all of this preparation is for naught if you can’t find a movie theater to go to. With only a little over 300 theaters left in the United States, chances are you are going to have to drive a bit to find a drive-in. 

This website here www.driveinmovie.com  will help you find a theater near you.

Here are a few more tips for drive-in movies if its been a decade or three since your last visit!

Final Thoughts on Car Setup…

Now, obviously, you have to adapt your drive-in movie setup to meet your needs, but this should give you a few ideas about what you need.

Get creative. Can you fold down all the seats in your SUV or minivan? If so, can you fit a twin air mattress back there? There are many possibilities. With some movie theaters setting up drive-ins in their parking lots and Wal-Mart about to open up their parking lots for drive-in movies, there will be time to employ these suggestions.

Contributed by our Roadway Ready Dad Jeremy

© Family Road Trip

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