Date Night, Family Time, Baby Sitter: How Do You Watch Movies in Cars?

Movies In Cars
Movies in cars have changed from drive ins like this in Texas to built in DVD players. Credit: WikiCommons

From drive ins to built in movie screens, movies in cars have evolved.

Growing up, watching a movie in a car meant my parents loaded my brothers, sister and me in a station wagon and went to the drive in. We hooked up our radio to the drive-in’s sound system and the tinny audio filled our Plymouth Belvedere.

Times have changed radically. My oldest daughter had a hand-held DVD player, while my youngest got to watch movies on screens built into the back of the front seat.

As Hollywood gears up for the Oscars, AGirlsGuidetoCars asked moms about screen time in the car.

Movies In Cars

The drop down rear entertainment system in a Chrysler Town & Country

Watching a movie leads to a family trip

Sarah Pittard had a very meta answer. She said her son watched the movie ‘Cars’ for the first four years of his life, but then she got a new car without a TV. “In the original Cars DVD, if you let it run through, you’d see a preview for CarsLand. My husband and I always listened to it thinking we needed to go when it opened. It opened. We didn’t go.”

“Then when my son was about 5, he suddenly didn’t love Lightning McQueen as much. So we booked the trip and went 2 weeks later so we wouldn’t miss it while he was still into ‘Cars.’ It is still one of our favorite family trips and never would have happened if it wasn’t for that DVD. My son even randomly got chosen to open California Adventure and to lead the parade with Lightning McQueen.”

Family favorites … even Mom’s

“We watch Elf over and over in the car,” Meagan Wristen, mother of three, said. Making the drive between their home in Oregon to family in Texas has meant for hours and hours of Elf. “I can quote the entire movie. I once won a Christmas party trivia contest because all the question were based on Elf.”

Moving beyond the built in DVD player

Chrysler Town &Amp; Country

The integrated DVD screens in a 2015 Chevrolet Equinox. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

Desiree Miller said, “We’ve graduated beyond the need for a TV in the car and I only just realized this as we drove eight hours home from Florida…my children were all watching different shows on Netflix from their cell phones. Times are changing.”

Nicole Wakelin agrees, “My kids bring their laptops on road trips. Sometimes they watch movies, sometimes they play games, but that in-car DVD system never gets touched. They’re more engaged with their games and creative activities on their laptops than they are with watching a movie.”

Or maybe you can just sing…

Retro mom Mary Moore said, “I like to pretend that the movie player is broken in the car.”

Family date night… in the car?

“We are a RedBox family when we travel” says Scotty Reiss. “We stop along the interstate, pick up a movie, watch it as we drive, then stop for another when we are ready. I love that we can return them at any location.  Also many locations are right off the highway and a lot of them are outside by the store entrance so if the store is closed you can still get a movie.”

Movies were central to the last trip the Reiss family took. “We drove to North Carolina in a Dodge Caravan with a double screen DVD system and theater-quality speakers. We actually got into the car to watch “Amy,” the Amy Winehouse biopic, because it was filled with such great music and we really wanted to hear it all. It was sort of like family date night in the Caravan.”

If you like to go to the drive in, maybe an installation of Empire Drive-In will be held near you, or perhaps you’ll stumble across one of the very few left in the country on your next road trip.

Do you encourage your children to watch movies in the car? What is their favorite?

Judy Antell, who is's Free in 50 States editor, lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband and... More about Judy Antell