In the 1950s, over 4,000 drive-in theaters were in operation across the United States. As of 2022, roughly 320 remain. One resilient vestige of this midcentury pastime is Atlanta’s Starlight Drive-in Theatre—one of the last remaining drive-in theaters in the state of Georgia.
Built in 1949, Starlight originally offered only one screen. While most U.S. drive-ins folded under a wave of suburbanization throughout the 1950s and 60s, Starlight’s unusual location—nestled between a cemetery and landfill in an industrialized area—likely saved it from becoming another set of townhomes (or, in the case of the nearby North 85 Twin Drive-in, having a conventional multiplex built right on top of it). In fact, Starlight even expanded over the years, adding three screens in 1983 and eventually a top-of-the-line digital projection system for each in 2013.
In 1999, the Starlight hosted its first Drive Invasion, a three-day celebration of the theater’s 50th Birthday. Held over Labor Day weekend, the event included a vintage car show, all-night showings of B movies and cult comedies, daytime music performances, and an option for guests to camp on the lawn. The Drive Invasion occurred annually for well over a decade. If the huge Art Deco road sign, vintage posters, and historic property don’t scratch that nostalgic itch, visitors can peruse retro wares, curios, and everyday home merchandise at their weekend flea market.
Today, the Starlight is open seven days a week, rain or shine. Patrons often set up lawn chairs outside their vehicles and bring their own refreshments. Though the facility observes a B.Y.O. food policy as well, a full snack bar offering classic fare like hot dogs, nachos, and popcorn is available. All in all, the cost to have an old-school blast at the Starlight is minimal: A $10 admission ticket is good for two movies playing on the same screen, which is about half the price you’d pay to see a single film at a traditional theater in most major cities. Drive in, kick back, and toast a giant soda and popcorn to the good old days.
Know Before You Go
Arrive early to avoid a line and snag a good parking space (even if you’re late, the hilly terrain makes finding a decent spot fairly easy). On holiday weekends, the line can get particularly long. One admission ticket is good for two movies playing on the same screen.
To hear your movie’s audio, tune in to the FM radio station listed on your ticket with your car turned off. Running your engine during intermission can help keep your battery juiced, though if your battery does die, there’s staff on-hand to give you a jump-start.
The flea market takes place on Saturdays and Sundays from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m. The entry fee is one dollar per vehicle.