And action! A guide to Wisconsin's drive-in movie theaters
The movies are back ... or at least some of them.
While most of the state's cineplexes are still in an intermission, a disappearing part of moviegoing's past is now our sole hope for the moviegoing present: the drive-in. After all, social distancing is essentially built into this particular big screen experience; people are watching from the locked-away comfort of their car seats, with audio pumped in either through speakers or a radio frequency. And now that they've got the green light, we can soon roll film on going to the movies again from the safety of our sweet rides.
Here are several Wisconsin drive-ins still keeping the glorious tradition of movie-going – both retro and current – alive and well.
2801 S. 5th Ct.
It's the end of the world as we know it – but we'll all feel fine at this makeshift pop-up drive-in, hosted by Bounce Milwaukee and presented by Milwaukee Record. The un-killable Apocalypse Drive-In was originally scrapped back in March when Gov. Evers' "Safer at Home" order was put into effect, but it's now been given second life, screening delightfully dystopian end-of-days fare on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. on the side of Bounce, with the movie picks announced at the beginning of each week. Sound will be piped in via an FM radio frequency, a full menu of food and beverages (plus Milwaukee Record gear) will be available, social distancing practices will be enforced and good times will be had. (Well, not for the characters in the apocalyptic movies we'll be watching, I imagine.)
Big Sky Twin Drive-In Theater
N9199 Winnebago Rd, Wisconsin Dells (about an hour and 50 minutes from Milwaukee)
Check out the big screens at the Big Sky in Wisconsin Dells, featuring two full-sized outdoor screens playing two-for-one first-run feature films. The drive-in opens at 7:30 p.m., with the first movie starting at dusk – and even pets are allowed to enjoy the show (if they're well-behaved; turn off your cell phones, pups). Audio comes through the FM radio, and tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for children under 11 years old – but make sure to bring cash because the Big Sky does not take credit/debit cards. And make sure to leave some room for snacking, because the concession stand proudly touts the famous Big Mamaburger on the menu.
Chilton Twilight Outdoor Theater
1255 E. Chestnut St., Chilton (about an hour and 30 minutes from Milwaukee)
Generally open for double features when the weather allows Wednesdays through Sundays, the single-screen Chilton Twilight Outdoor Theater is one of the youngest breed of this old-fashioned way of moviegoing, just opened in 2012. Plus, for your pre-show entertainment, there's a mini-golf course (albeit closed for the time being to encourage social distancing). The Chilton Twilight opened back up for the season on May 15 with a double-feature of "Sonic the Hedgehog" and "Jumanji: The Next Level" hitting its big screen throughout the month of May. Gates open at 6:30 p.m., with the first show starting around 8:30 p.m.
Field of Scenes Outdoor Theater
N3712 WI-55, Freedom (about two hours from Milwaukee)
Built in 2003, Field of Scenes is also one of the younger drive-ins still surviving in Wisconsin, but what it may lack in history, it more than makes up for in quality (and in quality puns, judging by its name). This two-screen drive-in offers double features at $8 for adults and $4 for children 11 and younger on a first come, first served basis, and the venue comes complete with two playgrounds, a basketball court and a volleyball court to keep the kids occupied before the opening credits start to roll. Field of Scenes will open for the season on May 29, with recent kid-friendly favorites like "The Call of the Wild," "Trolls World Tour," "Jumanji: The Next Level" and "Spies in Disguise" on the docket for weekends before expanding to Wednesdays through Sundays starting June 10.
Highway 18 Outdoor Theatre
W6423 US-18, Jefferson (about 50 minutes from Milwaukee)
If you live in Milwaukee, this one-screen drive-in is probably your best bet for catching an outdoor blockbuster. Located west of Jefferson about 50 minutes outside of Milwaukee, the state's first digital drive-in theater offers two-for-one movie nights for $10 for adults, $6 for children ages 5-11 and $8 for seniors (65-99) and active duty military personnel. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, pets are allowed, the audio comes through either old-school speakers or an FM station, and there's even a playground for some pre-show entertainment for the kids. Just follow the retro neon sign on your way, and you'll find an equally delightful old-school time at the movies starting June 19 this summer.
Marcus Parking Lot Cinema
Marcus Majestic in Brookfield
770 Springdale Rd., Waukesha
A movie theater ... at a movie theater? Who would've thunk? Indeed, while the cinema itself remains dark, the Marcus Majestic in Brookfield has turned its parking lot into a movie auditorium with Parking Lot Cinema, opening up a big screen on the building's outside on May 29 with a classic Spielberg double feature of "E.T." and "Jurassic Park." The first movie starts at around 9 p.m. (aka sundown) with a 15-minute intermission between the two flicks, audio provided via FM radio frequency and online ordering for concessions and snacks to complete your movie theater experience. Tickets – available online only – cost $30 per carload on weekends and $25 per carload on weekdays, so come enjoy a movie at the movie theater once again ... just a little different than usual.
The Milky Way Drive-In
7900 Crystal Ridge Rd., Franklin
Who needs baseball when you've got the big screen? Popping up from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day in the parking lot of the Milwaukee Milkmen's stadium in Franklin, this new drive-in hotspot costs $35 per vehicle per movie with on-screen action including a range of family friendly fun ("Shrek," "Abominable"), bombastic blockbusters ("Men in Black: International") and even some edgier late-night entertainment for the adult crowd ("The Lodge," "Ted"). Food will be delivered carhop-style from both food trucks and the ballpark's concession stands; the audio will stream in via outdoor speakers, FM station or a streaming app; and shows will run every day so you can always find an out-of-this-world movie experience within your galaxy.
Moonlight Outdoor Theater
1494 E. Green Bay St., Shawano (about two hours and 15 minutes from Milwaukee)
This location offers the choice between a classic indoor movie screening in one of its four auditoriums or an retro-cool drive-in viewing at the outdoor screen. But come on, even if we weren't living in social distancing times, who wouldn't pick the unique majesty of watching a movie on a giant screen under the gorgeous night sky? The Moonlight Outdoor Theater is currently up and running with double-features (currently showing combinations of "Onward" and "The Call of the Wild" as well as "Bad Boys" and "Bad Boys for Life") starting nights around 8:40 p.m.
Parking Lot Theatre
701 W. St Paul Avenue
We've got plenty of places to see a film on this list – but Parking Lot Theatre hopes to offer a little bit more than just a movie. This new pop-up drive-in, hosting its inaugural edition in the lot in the Menomonee Valley at 7th Street and St. Paul Avenue with a PG-rated family-friendly option, hopes to combine movies with local businesses and local artists. And those hopes will be reality on opening night, featuring something else that's become a myth in our coronavirus times: a live music performance in front of a crowd, in this case of cars pulling in for a night of entertainment on and off the screen. Tickets cost $25 per car – and tickets must be bought online prior to arrival – and food will be available for ordering from Sobelman's, so you can enjoy dinner and a show!
Sky Vu Drive In Movie Theater
N1936 WI-69, Monroe (about two hours from Milwaukee)
This Monroe entertainment spot has been "where the stars come to play at night" for 65 years, but with the pandemic, it was uncertain if the Sky Vu Drive In was going to see its 66th anniversary. Thankfully, like the rest of the state's drive-ins, the Sky Vu – built in 1954 and gone fully digital in 2012 – is gearing up for its latest season complete with a tasty concession stand, clear digital audio over the FM dial, a giant screen and a ceiling of the stars. Just make sure you bring cash because the Sky Vu doesn't take card – and unfortunately, your furry four-legged film lovers will have to hear about the experience when you get home, since they're not allowed. Get ready for the shows to hit the big screen again come next month!
Skyway Drive-In Theater
3475 State Highway 42, Fish Creek (about three hours from Milwaukee)
On the hunt for a drive-in around Door County? Look no further than the Skyway, one of the oldest remaining drive-ins in Wisconsin, opening all the way back in 1950. It's a classic – but it's stayed classy as well, still providing a quality and well-kept experience for young and old (and well-behaved pets!) thanks to a solid screen, good audio – car-speaker access for the first few rows, over FM radio for the rest – and tasty treats. Tickets for a twofer are $9 for those 12 and older, and $5 for kids aged 5-11, and though the drive-in is cash only, thankfully there is an ATM for those who forget. The Skyway yelled "Action!" on the summer drive-in season over Memorial Day weekend with "Onward" and "The Call of the Wild," still running at the theater now.
Stardust Drive In Movie Theater
The Stardust two-screen drive-in in Chetek wasted no time at all opening back up, already playing recent kids movie favorites "Onward" and "Sonic the Hedgehog" on both of its screens as soon as they were allowed. And the Stardust is still entertaining away, with "Trolls World Tour" and "Sonic the Hedgehog" on one screen while the other tries out the more adult-oriented double-feature of horror flicks "The Invisible Man" and "The Hunt" starting May 30. The gates open at 6:30 p.m., with the first show and FM audio typically pressing play around 8:40 p.m. Tickets cost $8.50 for adults (13 and older) and $4.50 for children (ages 5-12). Speaking of kids, normally there's a playground and even a train ride for children needing amusement before the show, but unfortunately during these strange times, the train must stay in the station and the playground is prohibited. But at least the featured presentations are back and beautiful on the big screen.
BONUS: The McHenry Outdoor
1510 N. Chapel Hill Rd., McHenry, IL (about an hour and 15 minutes from Milwaukee)
I know, many of the above options can seem like quite a trek. In fact, one of the closest options for many Wisconsinites is actually in a completely different state altogether. The McHenry Outdoor Theater in McHenry, Illinois, is just over an hour away – and now open, currently sticking with past Hollywood favorites (for instance, the last weekend of May will host a John Candy double feature of "Uncle Buck" and "The Great Outdoors") every night during these strange times. Tickets – sold on a first come, first served basis – are $12 for adults and $6 for children and seniors/military, the concession stand and box office accept credit cards, and there's even a smart tiered parking system for big cars and small cars so all can see the screen as best as possible. Add that all up, and this retro cinema classic, built back in 1951, might be your best bet for a big screen visit – if you're willing to risk venturing into Chicago Bears territory.
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