The movies are back ... or at least some of them.
While the state's cineplexes evolve out of their intermission, a disappearing part of moviegoing's past is now one of the safest hopes 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 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 Fridays through Mondays. (This weekend features a Halloween-approved double of "It" and "It Chapter Two" as well as "Jumanji: The Next Level" and "Bloodshot.") 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 $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 in May, and this weekend, they'll light up Friday night with both the animated adventure "Kung Fu Panda" as well as the retro classic "Back to the Future" on its big screen this weekend. Gates typically open at 6:30 p.m., with the first show starting around 8:40 p.m.
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 7:30 p.m. on Sundays, 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 twofer of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and, just in time for football season, the original "Longest Yard."
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! 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 currently including kids favorites ("Shrek," "The Secret Life of Pets 2"), bombastic blockbusters ("Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Man of Steel," "The Fast and the Furious"), creepy late-night fate for the adults ("The Conjuring," "It Chapter Two") and some nostalgic favorites ("The Matrix," "The Mummy") throughout the end of September and into October. 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.
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. This weekend, get ready for a time-traveling twofer under the stars with "Back to the Future" and "Back to the Future Part II" starting at around 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. (Sunday and Wednesday will just feature "Back to the Future.")
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 and is now showing a classic twin-spin of "Footloose" and "Planes, Trains and Automobiles."
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 Stardust is still entertaining away, with a swoon-worthy double feature of the new releases "The Broken Hearts Gallery" and "Alone" as well as a twofer of wizardry with the first two "Harry Potter" movies. The gates open at 6:30 p.m., with the first show and FM audio typically pressing play around 8:35 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 on Friday and Saturday nights during these strange times. (This weekend, however, the drive-in is closed for a series of concerts – but stay tuned!) 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.