History of the drive-in and open-air cinema

One may think that open-air cinemas are a relatively new invention but the opposite is the case. So let’s take a look into the history of outdoor movies. In 1895 the Lumière brothers invented cinematography – the moving image. At the start of the 20th century these ‘living photographs’ amazed people in larger halls and traditional theaters. In 1907 the first mobile cinema came to life as a fun fair attraction.

Travelling Cinema in 1907
Travelling Cinema in 1907

The world’s oldest open-air cinema in operation can be found in Broome, Australia. Since 1916, Sun Pictures Garden Cinema has been screening films outdoors – a Guinness world record.

The history of Sun Pictures in Broome, which opened as a picture theatre in 1916, includes tidal flooding during films, seating based on race, a boycott in response to this segregation and interruption by aircraft at the nearby airport.

First outdoor movie screening around 1916, Berlin, Germany
An open-air cinema in Berlin in the 1920s

In 1933 the world’s first drive-in movie theater opened in Camden, New Jersey. The concept was developed by Richard Hollingshead Jr., who experimented with various projection and sound techniques in the driveway of his house. Using a 1928 Kodak projector mounted on the hood of his car and aimed at a screen pinned to some trees, Hollingshead worked out the spacing logistics to make sure that all cars had an unobstructed view of the screen. He received a patent for his idea in May 1933 and opened his first drive-in theater only three weeks later.

“Electronics”, August, 1933, Vol. 6, No. 8, McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Inc., New York, USA
The Pico Drive-In, 10860 W. Pico Boulevard,  Los Angeles, California, USA opened in 1934

They quickly fanned out across the USA. The drive-in offered cheap family entertainment, a place where parents could take the kids without having to shell out for a baby sitter, or worry about the little ones bothering other patrons – this still holds good today! In fact, that was Hollingshead’s original hook: “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.” The drive-in’s peak popularity lasted from the late 1950s until the mid-’60s, when nearly 5,000 theaters were operating in the United States.

It wasn’t only the Americans enjoying the drive-in cinema, but also the Europeans wanted a slice of the action. The first drive-in in Europe is located in Frankfurt and operates today.

Günter Ganzevoort: invented the world’s first inflatable movie screen in 1994
In the center of Berlin in 1998: one of the first AIRSCREEN models ever built in front of the National Gallery

In the 1990s the inflatable screen came into action. The first prototype of the brand-named AIRSCREEN was invented in August 1994 by the German engineer Günter Ganzevoort. From now on, any location could be turned into an open-air cinema quickly and inexpensively. Quickly, the inflatable screen idea spread around the world and certainly revolutionized the outdoor movie market.

Can be placed anywhere: AIRSCREEN on a lonely island in Croatia.

Of course the great advantage of mobile cinema is that it can go practically anywhere. The world provides unlimited beautiful backdrops for the perfect movie night under the stars. And AIRSCREEN provides the fantastic screen technology for the world of outdoor cinema.