The Blue Starlite Provides for the People As Drive-Ins See Resurgence

Juan Ramirez Delgadillo, Staff Writer

As of October 2019, there were only 300 drive-in theatres in the U.S., and attendance at drive-ins was outmatched by the numbers at regular theaters. However, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the once-unpopular option for a moviegoing experience has now gained some unexpected popularity with the accessibility and safety it provides.

The Blue Starlite is the first mini-urban drive-in in Austin, with 10 years of operation under its belt already, and leaves 15-40 spaces for cars each show depending on location and screen size available. The local drive-in shows a variety of “childhood favorites, drive-in classics, indie films, art house, cult and Gen X/Y pop culture faves,” according to the drive-in’s website.

Ben Roberts, the longest-serving employee at the Blue Starlite, said he has had lots of fun working there. Even with COVID-19 affecting job security across the country, working at a drive-in seems to be a job that hasn’t been affected too badly, according to Roberts.  

“It’s the best job I’ve had,” Roberts said. “The environment is super chill, and I get along with my co-workers.”

The Blue Starlite largely divides up its diverse catalog based on the season. Movie genres fitting each season’s aesthetic are then shown at their respective times.

“We have a canister for different movies,” Roberts said. “Summer movies, winter movies, we play movies based on the season,…for example our fall movies are from September through October. We usually play horror movies.”

Senior Abby Greendyk has gone to the Blue Starlite drive-in before and said she has enjoyed it. She said she appreciates how it feels that she gets to be around people, even if socially distanced.

“I went to go see ‘Back to the Future’ with a friend at Blue Starlite,” Greendyk said. “It was a super cool and intimate way to enjoy a movie while still feeling like a part of the community.”

While other businesses like grocery stores and restaurants have had to redesign almost all interactions with customers, drive-in theatres like the Blue Starlite have only been affected by government mandates like wearing masks and social distancing.

“It’s crazy that we are one of the few places with not a major difference in how we operate,” Roberts said. “For starters, we don’t have a physical concession stand anymore. We give them whatever they ordered at the gate…the nature of a drive-in really works well with COVID restrictions.”

With the rising popularity of drive-in theatres, there have also been many upgrades, such as an increase in the number of screens so there can be a greater variety of movies. Even with all these upgrades, some things, like parking spaces, had to be blocked or removed to restrict the number of people in the area.

“Demand has been higher, and it’s reflected in how a lot of movies are sold out,” Roberts said. “Weekdays were pretty full during the summer. Currently, in our main location, we have five screens, [where] we had three before COVID, and we also have two other locations in downtown Austin and in Round Rock.”

The “window up policy,” which allows attendees to keep their car on if their windows are up, has been set in place due to COVID-19. According to the Blue Starlite website, windows must be at least 75% up if passengers are not wearing masks.

“One of the biggest things is to stay in your car the whole time,” Roberts said. ”Don’t walk to us, there are text options for a reason, it’s not hard to follow.”

Now that the winter season has begun, movies now expected to be on the Blue Starlite big screen towards the end of 2020 will revolve more around Christmas. Showing options will also continue to include regular indie movies during the holiday season.

“Recently, we have been showing new movies like ‘Fatman’ and ‘The Dark and the Wicked,’” Roberts said. “We have been playing ‘Harry Potter’ recently since the fandom is pretty big. But as we go to Christmas, expect movies like ‘Gremlin’ or ‘Home Alone’. We are just following the seasons at this point.”

Some more movies that are expected to show are movies like “The Goonies,” “Stardust,” “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” “The Thin Man,” “Elf” and many more. Tickets for the Blue Starlite drive-in are available online and must be reserved; no walk-ins are currently available due to COVID-19.