Walmart Launches Free Drive-In Theaters in Parking Lots across the Country

moviegoers longing for the big screen can reserve seats for a classic experience

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Wal-Mart parking lots will offer drive-in film screenings for free, USA Today reported. The chain of superstores will show classic movies and summer blockbusters with Drew Barrymore virtually hosting all events. Film is a unique art form and one of the most popular.

Movie projector
With cinemas closed nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic, moviegoers are looking for other film-viewing opportunities. Photo By Pixel 4 Images / Shutterstock

According to USA Today, one solution for Americans longing for the cinema experience is coming from an unexpected source: Walmart. “Walmart parking lots across the country are being transformed into drive-in theaters,” the article said. “From August 14 to October 21, the retailer will have 320 movie showings at 160 of its stores, including E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Wizard of Oz, Black Panther, as well as animated movies like Cars and The Iron Giant.

“Walmart, in early July, announced plans to show free movies, which are being curated by the Tribeca Film Festival, and […] released the list of the movies with dates and cities where the movies would be shown.”

Film is an utterly unique storytelling medium. Everyone enjoys a good movie, but what makes film so popular? Why do we love going to see movies?

Optical Illusions

Most people know that a movie is a series of still pictures run in such a quick sequence that they appear to be moving on the screen. However, the technical details of the process are fascinating.

“Film is projected at a rate of 24 frames per second, which means that the film gets pulled along every 1/48th of a second, not every 1/24th,” said Professor Eric R. Williams, Professor in the School of Media Arts & Studies at Ohio University. “In order for the 24 frames to be seen each and every second, first the film frame is seen. That’s the first 24th, and then a shutter falls in front of the light source while the film is then moved.

“That’s the second 24th, and then the next frame is in place and it can be seen—and this pattern continues.”

Professor Williams said that this means that for every two-hour movie we watch, we’re actually sitting in total darkness for a total of an hour. However, we don’t register the darkness because our brains are remembering the image that showed the previous fraction of a second and piecing it together with the images that follow.

Movie Magic

So what is it about movies that sets them apart from, say, theater, which is a close cousin to cinema?

“Theater gives the audience freedom—yes, there is a script and yes, there is a set and actors,” Professor Williams said. “But we, the audience, we get to choose what to look at, which character to watch, how close we want to pay attention to an idiosyncrasy of an actor on stage. With film, it’s different; the choice is controlled. A close-up on a bead of sweat, a wink, a smile—this is all decided for us.”

Additionally, Professor Williams said, film is like a time machine. He cited Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which we journey from the dawn of intelligence with a herd of hairy simians to a spaceship, in the blink of an eye. He also mentioned Christopher Nolan’s Memento, in which half the story travels backwards in time while the other half proceeds forward.

“Film, in my opinion, is much more like a dream than reality, taking us, against our will, to different times and different places, introducing us to images and individuals that we often never expect to see.”

While movie theaters in the United States are still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, many film fans are missing the classic experience of the silver screen. It’s little wonder why they are, due to the technical and yet dreamlike work that goes into producing a film, at even the most basic level.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Professor Eric R. Williams contributed to this article. Professor Williams is a Professor in the School of Media Arts & Studies at Ohio University, where he teaches courses on screenwriting, film, and virtual reality production. He is also the director of the MFA in Communication Media Arts program at Ohio University. Professor Williams received his bachelor’s degree in Communication with a minor in Education from Northwestern University, and he earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in Film from Columbia University.