How Walmart Is Opening 160 Drive-in Movie Theaters

With the coronavirus pandemic getting worse throughout the United States, movie studios are once more rescheduling “Tenet” and “Mulan”. Indoor movie chains like AMC are postponing reopening from July to August.

Drive-in movie theaters, however, are still open in most areas. The car being the ultimate form of social distancing when seeing a movie in public. Bring your own food and drinks, stay inside the car, and lock the doors to keep Zombie Karen out.

When businesses like drive-ins suddenly revive from the dead, it’s an opportunity for new players to enter the market. Walmart announced that they will open drive-in movie theaters at 160 supercenters across the United States from early August to October.

How is it that Walmart is opening drive-in movies during a pandemic?

Before we deep dive into the Walmart drive-ins, we got another round of rescheduling and postponements.

  • Warner Brothers removed “Tenet” from the schedule but may have it open in December if “Dune” gets postpone to summer next year.
  • Disney removed “Mulan” completely from the schedule without setting a new date.
  • AMC may still reopen in mid- to late-August, if things don’t get any worse than they are now.

One movie I haven’t mentioned in my previous videos was “Bill & Ted Face The Music.” That movie got postpone from August 21st to September 1st for a simultaneous release to theaters and through Video On Demand (VOD).

Indoor movie theaters had traditionally demanded a 90-day exclusivity period for showing new movies. Drive-ins don’t care about that and will show any movie that they can get. “Face The Music” may be an important movie to watch for and at the drive-in.


Walmart has three things that makes it worthwhile for them to open temporary drive-in movies across the United States.

  • Massive parking lots
  • Truck LED screens
  • Curbside pickup

MASSIVE PARKING LOTS

Walmart planning to open drive-ins at 160 supercenters sounds like a lot. Especially when there are only 330 drive-ins still in business today. Walmart, however, has 3,569 supercenters in 49 states. Hawaii being the only state without a supercenter.

Which Walmart Supercenter is likely to get a drive-in?

Probably the stand-alone supercenters with a massive parking lot surrounding it. A far corner can turn into a drive-in without impacting parking for the supercenter. In Silicon Valley, I think only one of the San Jose supercenters will qualify for a drive-in.

Supercenters that anchor a mall or share parking with other stores probably won’t get a drive-in.

TRUCK LED SCREENS

Unlike conventional drive-ins, Walmart won’t need to build a projector building and an outdoor screen. They can rent a truck LED screen, park it in the corner, and unfold the panels to form a large electronic screen that rises above the truck.

I’ve seen advertising trucks with an LED screen on the flatbed driving around Silicon Valley. Those LED screens are very bright during the day and should work very well at night.

Watching a truck LED screen in your car should be like watching an HDTV in your living room.

CURBSIDE PICKUP

Concessions—not ticket sales—are the true moneymakers for indoor and drive-in movie theaters. Walmart is in a unique position to offer curbside pickup from their nearby supercenter. Place an order online, pick up the order at curbside, and park the car to watch the movie.

I doubt that Walmart will offer any kind of hot food takeout. Walmart restricted from preparing fresh food under current county health guidelines. A better option is to order and pickup takeout from nearby restaurants. Or bring your own hot food from home.


When I surveyed my friends about going to a Walmart drive-in, they were all positive about wanting to go see a movie. Mostly because the curbside pickup. Walmart does sell theater box candies cheaper than the theaters.

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