When Walmart first announced its plans to turn its sprawling parking lots into a series of drive-in movie theaters as a response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we rather naturally assumed it would primarily be a money-making endeavor—a way to capitalize on the fact that there was a pent-up demand for communally seeing films on the big screen, with most of the nation’s theater chains still out of commission. Now, however, it seems that the folks at Walmart realize that the drive-in screenings have a more valuable purpose: Good PR. They will therefore be free, in a series of 320 drive-in screenings across the country between Aug. 14-Oct. 21, at 160 Walmart locations. Of course, if the company should happen to make some cash off concession sales, that would also be acceptable, right? One also has to wonder if independent drive-ins have been dreading this particular news.
Operating in partnership with the Tribeca Film Festival, Walmart’s drive-ins will all be films curated by Tribeca, and they mostly skew toward family favorites as one might expect. Black Panther, E.T., Space Jam, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Goonies, Beetlejuice and The Wizard of Oz are all on the docket, along with many others. You can find a full listing of all the films and locations here, on the official website. They include Walmart locations in 26 states, although some (such as Texas) have far more screenings than others. All screenings will apparently begin at 7:30 p.m. local time.
The screenings will be virtually hosted by none other than Drew Barrymore, and other celebrity guests such as LeBron James and Jennifer Garner are expected to make virtual or even in-person appearances at select shows. These dates will also include pre-show screenings of select short films such as Bilby, Bird Karma, Looney Tunes’ Boo! and Marooned.
“We recognize the challenges our customers and their families have faced over the last few months and we wanted to create an experience where they could come together safely to create new memories,” said Janey Whiteside, Walmart’s chief customer officer. “The Walmart Drive-in is one small way we’re supporting the communities we serve.”
It may seem like asking a lot to take the intentions of a corporate megalith at face value, but hey—at least it’s an opportunity to see movies on a big screen, right? Perhaps that’s all that matters right now.