While the state's cineplexes continue to evolve out of their intermission and people slowly adjust to being in crowds yet again – especially indoors – a disappearing part of moviegoing's past continues to be a piece of the moviegoing present: the drive-in.
After all, social distancing is essentially built into this particular big screen experience as people are watching from the locked-away comfort of their car seats, with audio pumped in either through speakers or a radio frequency. And even if you are vaccinated and completely comfortable in a movie theater once again, heading to the drive-in is still a delightful blast to the past all on its own – a great and unique experience no matter how the movie on screen turns out.
Now that the weather's begun cooperating and the big new blockbusters are beginning to roll out, we can 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.
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 nightly. (This weekend features two doubles, one for younger viewers with a blockbuster double of "Free Guy" and "Jungle Cruise" as well as a winning superhero twin-spin of "Shang-Chi" and "Black Widow.") The drive-in opens at 7:45 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 $10 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 and a game room. The Chilton Twilight opened back up for the season in April, and this weekend, the drive-in will rock the summer sky with an adventure-rich combo of "Peter Rabbit 2" and "Raya and the Last Dragon." Gates typically open at 7 p.m., with the first show starting between 7:50 p.m. and 8 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, with the gates opening at 7:30 p.m. The drive-in also 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 opened for the season in early June, and is now showing a horrifying sequel smash-up of "Don't Breathe 2" and "Escape Room: Tournament of Champions" as well as a more kid-friendly combo of "Free Guy" and "Space Jam: A New Legacy" through the end of its season (Sept. 4).
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. Running Fridays through Sundays, the box office opens at 6:30 p.m., 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 – currently showing a wildly unpredictable triple feature of the Sesame Street classic "Follow That Bird," the disaster movie favorite "Twister" and the old-school horror icon "Them."
The Milky Way Drive-In
7900 Crystal Ridge Rd., Franklin
Who needs baseball when you've got the big screen? OK, so, baseball IS back now in Franklin – but now you've got both! Running through the fall in the parking lot of the Milwaukee Milkmen's stadium in Franklin, this new drive-in hotspot costs $35 per vehicle per movie (with the occasional double feature) with an impressive lineup of on-screen action, including "In the Heights," "Soul," "The Conjuring 3," "Forrest Gump" and more. (For the latest bookings, check the Milky Way's website.) Food will be delivered carhop-style from both food trucks and the ballpark's concession stands; the audio will stream in via FM station or a streaming app; and shows will run just about every weekend so you can always find an out-of-this-world movie experience within your galaxy.
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. The Sky Vu opened for the 2021 season in late May, this weekend showcasing a Disney double of "Jungle Cruise" and "Shang-Chi."
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 $9.50 for those 12 and older, and $5.50 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 earlier this year and is now showing a Disney twin spin of "Jungle Cruise" and "Cruella" starting up around 8:30 p.m., with the gates opening at 7 p.m.
Stardust Drive In Movie Theater
995 22nd St., Chetek (about four hours from Milwaukee)
The Stardust two-screen drive-in in Chetek wasted no time at all opening back up – and the big screen is still entertaining away, with two double features running Friday through the weekend and this upcoming Thursday (a action-packed pair of "Shang-chi" and "Jungle Cruise" on one screen, a twin spin of scares with "Candyman" and "Don't Breathe 2" on the other). The gates open at 6:30 p.m., with the first show and FM audio typically pressing play around 9 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 featured presentation hits the big screen. With all that fun both on screen and off, there's nothing dusty about the Stardust.
Starlite 14 Drive-In
US Hwy 14 E, Richland Center (about two and a half hours from Milwaukee)
Thanks to new ownership, the Starlite 14 Drive-In – a movie-going tradition in the area for well over half a century – shines bright once again, bringing in popular big-screen hits as well as community acts. Tickets – $10 for adults, $5 for kids ages 3-13 – are sold at the gate, with crowds beginning to gather on weekend nights around 7:30 p.m. and no carry-ins allowed. This weekend's selection at the Starlite? Nightly double features of the new kids craze "Paw Patrol: The Movie" along with the classic "Raiders of the Lost Ark" are barking their way onto the big screen this week.
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 showing a retro-tastic rewind of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." 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.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.