A Night at a Houston Drive-In During The Pandemic

Moonstruck Drive-In has a theater screen that overlooks the downtown skyline.
Moonstruck Drive-In has a theater screen that overlooks the downtown skyline. Photo by DeVaughn Douglas
Sometime last December the mysterious trailer for Tenet popped up on my phone. Scenes of John David Washington and Robert Pattinson speedily rappelling up a building, were followed by fancy people in suits doing spy things while characters spoke over ominous music. The clip ended with the unexplainable action sequence of a car flipping on the highway and then reversing back to normal. Like other Christopher Nolan films I had no idea what the story was about, but I knew I wanted to see it in the theater.

Then we were hit by a pandemic.

Now I, like a lot of other people, was just not ready to sit in the enclosed space of a movie theater…but I also wanted to see Tenet on the big screen. I saw Inception and the Batman trilogy on the big screen and really enjoyed them. I saw Interstellar and Dunkirk on my TV.


I wasn’t going to let my small TV affect my viewing of Tenet so, as reports continued to come out that Nolan wasn’t going to release the film straight to video, I began to look up options. I finally landed on seeing the film at the drive in, a movie watching option I would be experiencing for the first time. I found a theater, booked a ticket, and after finally seeing Tenet, I was able to come to a few points.

I don’t know if Tenet has a few major plot-holes or if the entire story is one big plot-hole but:
1. It looks incredible
2. The acting is superb (well most of it…there’s a Russian bad guy pulled straight from old '80s movies)
3. It should be seen on the largest screen possible.

The largest screen possible for me was provided by Moonstruck Drive In, one of the new drive-in theaters springing up in Houston as businesses try to figure out ways to operate in a pandemic. Moonstruck overlooks the city from the East River development site, the new city center-ish 150-acre space which is part of the push to bring more arts, entertainment, businesses, and living downtown. Right now, development is in the early stages, so the area is mostly a gated, empty field. It’s a setting that is perfect for a drive-in theater. Driving up to the theater it’s impossible to miss the massive white screen mounted on a stack of 16 shipping containers placed in front of the city skyline. 
click to enlarge People looking for a more social distanced movie experience can take advantage of our local drive-ins - PHOTO BY DEVAUGHN DOUGLAS
People looking for a more social distanced movie experience can take advantage of our local drive-ins
Photo by DeVaughn Douglas

One of the owners, Alicia Tashiro, took a moment to speak about Moonstruck and says that they have more to offer than just movies.

“We are equipped to show new movies, but we also show concerts and more. We had a sold-out event for Metallica, and we are preparing for a series of live comedy shows in October. We have food trucks out here like Muiishi and Boom Box Tacos. We’re even going to have a weekly bingo night so keep checking our website for updates. So please come, enjoy a movie, and support some of the local businesses that are out here.”

Food trucks aren’t the only business being helped by the new drive-in. The neighboring bar, The New Potato, provides drinks alongside the concessions stand. One of the bartenders, Ethan Crooks, spoke about how the drive in is affecting business.

“I think it’s great. It’s only been a week, but the relationship is very symbiotic for both of us. Our regulars see the theater and it gives them one more thing they can do and now we’re seeing a lot of new faces that like to come here after a show and have a drink.”

So, if you’re like me and not ready to sit in the theater a drive in might be for you. Theaters like Moonstruck and Showboat are playing new films but there are also others that are playing classic movies and offering different themed cinema nights.  I still don't fully know what Tenet was about...but at least I have a place to see it, and other new movies, on the big screen.

Things to know before you go
- Tickets are purchased in advance at many of the drive-ins so make sure to check the locations policy before you go
- The sound at many locations is broadcast through the radio so either be prepared to have your car on for the length of the movie or do what some theaters suggest and bring a radio with an FM receiver.
- You do not have to sit in your car. Some families brought chairs and sat outside near their car. The best seats in the house are the two front seats of the car. The back seat? Not so much. So if you’re bringing a full carload you might want to bring a chair or two to sit outside. Check with your location to make sure it’s OK but many of them are really accommodating.
- Get there early. Doors usually open an hour before showtime, and you want to get there to get the best parking/viewing spot possible.

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Houston Press contributor DeVaughn Douglas is a freelance writer, blogger, and podcaster. He is 1/2 of the In My Humble Opinion Podcast and 1/1 of the Sleep and Procrastination Society. (That last one isn't a podcast; he just procrastinates and sleeps a lot.)