Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Enjoy your summer nights at the movies

4 area drive-ins continue to offer fun for families


Anthony Gadson

Associate Editor

Published May 11, 2022

With spring comes the chirping of birds, the blooming of flowers and trees … and drive-in theaters.

Once a popular way to see movies, the number of drive-in theaters has plummeted the past couple of decades, with the moves to digital projectors and coronavirus pandemic delivering even bigger blows in recent years.

However, our region has four options within a short drive, including Auburn Garrett Drive In in Garrett, GQT Huntington Twin Drive In in Huntington, 13-24 Drive In in Wabash, and Van Del Drive-In Theater in Middle Point, Ohio.

“The community always looks forward to the opening of the drive-in,” said Phil Meek, Honeywell Arts & Entertainment’s director of movie operations.

Challenges

While there are plenty of drive-in options in our area, you must check their calendar to discover their opening dates.

Auburn Garrett got off to a fast start, getting its season under way April 1 this year, with Van Del following April 22. Huntington will begin showing films May 21, while 13-24 opens May 27.

Bruce Babbitt, who’s been operating the Auburn Garrett Drive In since 1989, says getting the season started in northern Indiana is always tricky.

“Weather has hurt us more than anything this year,” he said. “Even when it hasn’t been raining, we’ve had spots where we couldn’t park cars because the ground was too soft.

“We’ve had a few good pictures, but we’re lucky to have half the weekend be good for us,” he added. “It’s probably one of the wettest springs I can remember.”

Babbitt said the drive-in’s busiest weekend was for the animated film The Bad Guys, when temperatures reached the 70s, although the type of film playing is also key to whether or not he sees a good turnout.

“Family stuff, and anything with Marvel tied to it,” Babbitt said.

What movies to show

At 13-24, where the Beauchamp family donated the venue to Honeywell Arts & Entertainment this month after 11 years of partnership, attendees get a voice in deciding what is shown.

Before the season begins, a poll is set up to let people vote on which family movie and retro movie they would like to see played this year.

“That actually started as a fun thing many years ago, just to see if guests would be willing to give recommendations,” Meek said in an email response. “And they were definitely willing! We received thousands of votes and realized that was a great way to pick our movie offerings. We’ve done it every year since.”

And many of those retro movies got new life during the height of the pandemic, when drive-ins once again became the only place to see a movie. And with production studios also closed, drive-ins turned to retro movies – which was quite beneficial.

“We only ran two to three new movies during the pandemic, and a lot of those were also on streaming services at the same time,” Babbitt said. 

“We were able to live off retro movies, which actually did quite well.”

planning ahead

With things appearing to be getting back into a pre-pandemic groove, drive-in theaters can better prepare for seasons. For Babbitt, with more than 30 years of experience, getting ready for a season has become routine.

“I really don’t need too much time,” he said.

In Wabash, the Honeywell team takes many things into consideration before firing up the projectors, which includes trying to dodge unpredictable spring weather.

“We actually start having conversations in January to pick an opening date,” Meek said. “About a month before opening, we research movie options and ask our guests to vote on what they’d like to see. And of course, after winter there are numerous property maintenance projects to tackle. Those start as soon as the weather cooperates.”

Following month of wet weather, things finally seem to be looking up in the area, which isn’t only good for our farming community but also for those families that enjoy packing into the car and heading to the local drive-in for a double feature.

“Turned out this spring, just waiting out the weather was a good call,” Meek said.

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