Honda launches project to save drive-in movie theaters

Crowds enjoy a movie at a drive-in theater on Cape Cod, Mass. Drive-in theaters will need to change to digital projection by the end of this year.

Drive-in theaters across the country have until the end of this year to switch to digital projection, something that could spell the end for many of them.

Honda is on a mission to save an American icon – drive-in movie theaters.

Hollywood is expected to stop distributing 35mm film by the end of this year — a move that threatens to shut down the roughly 300 drive-in theaters still operating across the country because of the expensive switch to digital projection, estimated to cost more than $75,000 per screen.

Related: Reel history: America's oldest drive-in theater

Project Drive-In, launched by Honda, seeks to save as many drive-in theaters as possible by raising awareness about this historic part of American cinema and car culture.

The automaker is raising money to provide at least five drive-ins with digital projectors, giving the public a chance to vote until Sept. 9 on which five drive-in theaters will receive a projector. Honda also is encouraging people to donate to raise money for the drive-in fund.

"Cars and drive-in theaters go hand-in-hand, and it's our mission to save this decades-old slice of Americana that holds such nostalgia for so many of us," said Honda spokesperson Alicia Jones.

Project Drive-In: Help Honda Save an American Icon

Project Drive-In: Help Honda Save an American Icon
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For the majority of the drive-ins left in America, this is a "do-or-die" moment.

"For a drive-in theater with a screen as big as ours [the cost to switch to a digital projector] is around $85,000," the owners of Mahoning Drive-In near Leighton, Pa., — one of the theaters in the running to receive a digital projector — say in the video. "For the kind of business we do, it would probably take around 10 or 15 years to pay for something like this."

Drive-ins, which first opened in 1933, reached their peak after World War II, during the 1950s and '60s, when there were more than 4,000 across the country.

Related: Almost Gone: Drive-In movie theaters

According to Drive-Ins.com, Richard Hollingshead Jr. invented drive-ins, drawing inspiration from drive-in restaurants.

Honda's promotional video for Project Drive-In interviews a number of people — for whom drive-ins are still an essential part of American tradition.

"It's as American as baseball and hot dogs," one of them says.

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