The Starlight Drive-In Theater is a rare surviving drive-in movie theater, Atlanta’s only extant and still active example of a building type and popular cultural experience that is rapidly disappearing across the country. The drive-in opened in 1949 with one gatehouse (to the south) and one large screen showing first-run movies. In 1956 a second screen was added, along with an additional gatehouse, and the drive-in’s name was changed to the Starlight Twin. In the 1980s, competition from multiplex theaters, offering a wider choice of films under one roof (though on smaller screens) prompted the Starlight in 1983 to convert to a six-screen complex accommodating 1,250 cars. The marquee was enlarged that same year.
The neo-Deco craze of the late 1980s and 1990s increased attention on historic roadside architecture while stimulating a general nostalgia for a youthful past. This made the Starlight Drive-In even more popular and a second generation of outdoor moviegoers discovered what their parents had grown up with in the 1950s. When the only other drive-in theater in Atlanta, the North 85 Twin, closed in 1998, the Starlight became a unique venue in the region. Around this time (the first “Drive-In Invasion” was held in 1999), the theater began to host multi-day events including weekend flea markets, extravaganzas like the “Rock and Roll Monster Bash,” live concerts, on-site camping, and screening “off-beat” classic movies. In 2013 the Starlight upgraded to a digital projection system indicating the operators’ determination to maintain “the highest quality ever experienced at the Drive-In.” The drive-in theater continues to show double features under the stars, operating as a form of entertainment venue that has become extinct in most communities.