The Truth About Walmart's New Drive-In Theaters

Walmart, in its ongoing quest to become Retail King of the Universe, really has only one serious competitor, that being Amazon. While Walmart may be catching up when it comes to delivery, so far entertainment options — streaming service Vudu never really caught on, and MediaPost reports that Walmart wound up selling it to Fandango. Where Walmart does have it all over Amazon, though, is when it comes to delivering an actual brick-and-mortar experience. 

In days gone by, perhaps the most amusement you could have at Walmart might involve getting caught in the scrum at a particularly bloody Black Friday punch-up, at least if your taste runs to action and adventure. If comedy's more your style, you might luck out and run into one of the infamous People of Walmart on any given shopping day. Now, however, you can actually go to Walmart to see a movie — and no, not just by awkwardly hovering around their TV department. We're talking about movies shown on the big screen, bigger even than an 86" Ultra HD TV.

Why Walmart's getting into the entertainment biz

Walmart will be teaming up with Tribeca Enterprises, the production company founded by Robert DeNiro, to turn 160 of its parking lots across the nation into drive-in movie theaters. While this isn't the first time Walmart has proven to be generous with its parking lot facilities (Call to Wander reveals that the company has a long-standing policy of allowing RVers to camp overnight for free at most locations), this is still their first attempt at providing live entertainment on such a scale.

So what makes Walmart so thoughtful, all of a sudden, besides making the most of an asset that parking lot-less Amazon can't possibly offer? Well, it seems that Walmart's chief customer officer, Janey Whiteside, may have a few restless kiddos of her own at home. As she admitted in a statement on the company website, "Summer hasn't really felt like summer yet, and I know I hear every day, 'Mom, I'm bored!'" So what does she intend to do about it? What every good mom who's a major corporate exec would do: Create the best bring your kids (and everybody else) to work day ever. As she explains, "Through our digital means and vast footprint of stores, we're hoping to bring some summer fun to families across the country. We know Walmart plays a role in our communities that extends far beyond getting them necessary supplies, and we see that now more than ever."

How Walmart's drive-ins are going to work

Walmart says their parking lot drive-ins won't roll out until August, but that once they do, this "drive-in tour" will run through October. They have not yet announced what movies will be shown, nor have they actually stated whether these movies will be free or whether there is to be an admission charge. We're going to go out on a limb and assume the latter, though, since how could Walmart tell if you're there to see a movie, or whether you're actually just parking in order to shop? Well, these and all other details will be disclosed at the proverbial later date once details have been finalized.

Even if Walmart does offer those movies free of charge, the chain won't be losing money, since they stand to make a bundle off all of the concessions that will be available for sale courtesy of their stores. As the announcement indicates: "Ahead of each screening, Walmart will make it easy for families to fill their picnic baskets by ordering their drive-in essentials online for curbside pickup on the way to their movie." Sweet! Mini Krispy Kremes and non-melty ice cream sandwiches and rotisserie chicken, and all at about 1/4 the price of a bucket of movie theater popcorn and a soda. Sorry, Amazon, looks like Walmart is winning this round.