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Memorial Day Weekend Top Drive-In Films of All Time

by Released : 2023-05-26

1. American Graffiti 

Before “Star Wars” George Lucas made another masterpiece that transformed coming of age films into commercial teen centered films, which would dominate the 1980s. Previous films like “Summer of 42”  would have a more earnest approach to romance in adolescence. American Graffiti takes place on the last day of summer vacation in 1962 and features a young Harrison Ford, Ron Howard, and Richard Dreyfus. A film that helped transform its genre and an essential watch for anyone who enjoys teen films. 

2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

One of most patriotic movies of all time, but avoids feeling cheesy or dated like other films from that era. Jimmy Stewert gives one of the most loveable performances of all time. If you want to feel optimistic about America this weekend, check out this idealistic film 

3. Paths of Glory  

Most Memorial Day lists are littered with war films and this list tried to avoid that theme. But, it could not be a true Memorial Day list without mention of at least one war film. “Paths of Glory” is one of the best war movies of all time directed by arguably the greatest director ever, Stanley Kubrick. Kirk Douglas gives a powerful performance as a commanding officer trying his best to protect his soldiers. What makes this film special is that it takes no sides and does not criticize or glamorize WWI-- instead it shows just the cold hard truths. One of the most realistic war movies ever. 

4. JFK

There are many popular American conspiracies and one of the best ones is: Who killed JFK? No filmmaker is more intertwined with America than Oliver Stone. A soldier turned director, whose paranoia and dark feelings about America are shown in his film. JFK’s historical accuracy might be argued. Kevin Costner in the 90s was at the peak of his powers. However, this film has one of the most stacked supporting casts of all time including stars in small or weird roles and respected character actors: Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, John Candy, Kevin Bacon, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Vincet D'Onofrio, Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci, Michael Rooker, Laurie Meltcaf and Donald Sutherland. If you want to enjoy the best experience make sure to check out the director cut. 

5. Winter Kills 

If JFK is too depressing, then maybe a spoof of the events would be more intriguing. This forgotten farce has John Huston giving one of the best performances ever. Jeff Bridges plays the Kennedy-type as the brother of a dead president looking into his death 10 years later. A crazy film with an even crazier production. The film was so controversial that the Kennedy family was actually responsible for getting it pulled from theaters after less than 2 weeks. They had also previously tried to kill the film during production and it took 2 years to compete. Jeff Bridges even had to make another film in Europe with the same director in order to finance the completion of this film. Check out the documentary “Who Killed Winter Kills” to learn about its wacky production and troubled release. 

6.  Mischief 

In the 1980s, teen films were exploding thanks to the success of American Graffiti. One of the best forgotten teen films of that era sought to combine the raunchiness of the 80s with the nostalgia of the 50s to create “Mischief”: sort of like an 80s version of American Graffiti or a more tamed version of Porkys. This film has great music, costumes, and cars from this period. A young Kelly Preston is also great here and clearly having fun in her role, as are all the other young actors who have great chemistry here. This film also includes one of the best drive in theater scenes ever. 

7. The Manchurian Candidate

If JFK or Winter Kills doesn't satisfy your appetite for conspiracy theories then this film certainly will. A soldier returns home but doesn't know who to trust. A timeless film that speaks to the horrors of war and the danger of muddled politics. Angela Lansbury gives one of the most sinister performances ever. Meryl Streep was also great in the role in the 2004 remake with Denzel Washington, which is also worth a watch. 

8. Election 

Memorial Day gets us feeling patriotic and what's more important than the right to vote. One of the smartest political satires ever. “Election” reminds us how powerful voting is and what people help mold politicians. The best MTV movie ever. Young Reese Witherspoon gives the best performance of her career and Matthew Broderick shows he has another great high school film not called Ferris Bueller. A sequel to this film was announced last year and is set to be released on Paramount Plus.   

9. Thank You for Smoking 

What's more American than guns and apple pie? Cigarettes!! A film about a lobbyist for big Tobacco played by Aaron Eckhart, who gives a slimy but terrific performance as a smooth talking lobbyist. The film also has fun performances from JK Simmons, Robert Duvall, Sam Elliot, Rob Lowe, William H Macy, and David Koechne who plays a character similar to his one from Anchorman. A searing black comedy about the inner workings of the tobacco industry. 

10. Captain America 

The most patriotic film on this list! One of the best and most underrated films of the MCU. Joe Johnson would first direct an all American hero in “The Rocketeer”. He would later recapture this classic Americana culture in First Avenger.