IN THE late 1940s until the 1960s, drive-in cinemas abounded in the US as more and more people were able to buy vehicles. Decades later, the proliferation of TV, cable, and video rentals signaled the decline of these cinemas. Now, with the pandemic making going out to the movies a health and safety risk, SM Cinemas is trying to bring back drive-in cinemas as a “fun and safe movie watching” option, according to a cinema executive.

“Drive-in theaters provide a quick escape from quarantine while keeping social distancing protocols in check. As everyone is transitioning to the new normal, SM Cinema finds it important to introduce new and [innovative] ways to create a fun and safe movie watching,” Ruby O. Reyes, VP for marketing at SM Cinemas, told BusinessWorld in an e-mail on July 31.

The company’s (and the Philippines’) first drive-in cinema is located at the SM City Pampanga Amphitheater and shows the films Train to Busan 2: Peninsula by Yeon Sang-ho and My Spy by Peter Segal.

Tickets are priced at P400 per person and will include popcorn, bottled water, and beef franks. Two to four people per vehicle will be allowed.They will be screened using thermometers and will be required to wear masks at all times. Only viewers aged 21 to 59 will be allowed at the venue. Tickets must also be purchased in advance via and viewers are asked to be at the venue 30 minutes prior to the start of the screening.

Guests will be assigned to their own parking spots by traffic marshalls and will be able to view the films on a 20 meter by 8 meter screen raised three feet above the ground.They will be asked to tune their car’s FM radio to a specific frequency to broadcast the audio straight into their vehicles.

Screenings are from Thursdays to Sundays at 6:45 p.m. The amphitheater can accommodate 87 cars within its 800-square-meter venue.

Five more drive-in cinemas are scheduled to open though Ms. Reyes declined to reveal where they will be.

For much of last year, SM Cinema had been doing extensive renovations of its cinemas, with SM Mall of Asia’s launching in late January. The new cinemas feature fewer seats — between 80 to 144 — and are regarded as a template on how future SM Cinemas would look like. Several renovated cinemas, such as those in SM Southmall and Sta. Mesa, were scheduled to open within the year, with those in SM North EDSA, SM Baguio, and SM Megamall expected to be renovated this year.

All these plans were put on hold because of the pandemic.

“The renovation program has always been centered on elevating our customer’s experience and that has never changed. The pandemic may have paused us for a while but it gave us opportunities to further enhance the program by ensuring a safe cinema for everyone,” Ms. Reyes explained.

While traditional cinemas are still waiting to reopen, SM Cinema gave assurances that it is adhering “to all health and safety standards from social distancing, temperature check, wearing of face masks, use of hand sanitizers, and foot bath at the entrances,” according to Ms. Reyes.

“We will also implement a two-seat gap policy and strictly monitor this in and out of our theaters,” she added. — Zsarlene B. Chua