Many Americans assume that the drive-in movie business is moribund and rightfully so, now that there are only about 360 screens left around the country, down from about 4,000 in the 1960s. Now the movie industry's plans to stop producing traditional 35-mm movie reels threaten to do the rest in, because that's the equipment used by most remaining drive-ins.
But to Honda, helping preserve the dwindling but iconic business has become a cause celebre. The brand has launched a national campaign to save drive-ins from possible closure by seeking donations under its Project Drive-In for the new industry-standard digital projectors that drive-ins, like other theaters, will have to use. They cost about $75,000 per screen, so Honda and the project's supporters have a big mountain to climb.
The woes of the once-thriving drive-in business have been well-documented. Drive-in movies were a staple of American culture during the Sixties and Seventies but now rank as more of a once-a-decade lark, if that, for most people. Still, a few new drive-ins are opening, such as one in Fort Worth, Texas.
"It is an affordable entertainment experience for families," Alicia Jones, manager of social marketing for Honda, told brandchannel. "Drive-ins are an important part of the communities in which they have been a part of for decades."
But why does Honda need to rescue them? After all, conceded Jones, "We're a car company, not a film or entertainment company, and we're not getting into the drive-in business. But," she said, "we believe this is an important part of American car culture—who better than a car company, like Honda, to help bring some attention to the situation these small-business owners are facing?"
And out of the chute, Jones noted, Project Drive-In received some significant support. Within a day, nearly 300,000 people had voted in an online ballot to help determine which five drive-in theaters will receive a new digital projector from Honda. There were 5,000 pledges and nearly $4,000 in donations at that point.
There's also a tie-in for Project Drive-In with Sony Pictures, whose new release, the animated Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, will be the subject of a celebration and special screening on September 27 at the five winning theaters.
Will Honda's efforts save the drive-in industry—or even the five theaters that get the new projectors? Grab some popcorn, sit back and watch the show.