Daniel Fuller inflated a camping mattress, tossed it into the back of his pickup and settled in with his wife to watch “Trolls World Tour” at the Coyote Drive-In in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Friday night show was the first time the 37-year-old had been to a drive-in movie since he was a kid. The couple isn’t ready to face the risk of indoor theaters, and the Coyote was one of the few options to get out of the house and break the lockdown routine. So they drove 30 miles to see the animated tale of mythological creatures uniting musical tribes, which played out against the glowing backdrop of Fort Worth’s night skyline.

“This is probably our first date night since before the pandemic started in February,” said Fuller, who works at the restaurant chain Chili’s Grill and Bar. “It’s a fun experience. It’s different.”

In recent decades, drive-in theaters have existed mainly as an entertainment novelty — quirky throwbacks to a bygone era. Now virus-wary movie fans avoid crowding indoors where they face a higher risk of catching Covid-19.

Never since their 1950s heyday have drive-in theaters seemed more attractive.

“You’re safe at a drive-in,” said John Watzke, owner of the Ocala Drive-In Theater 80 miles north of Orlando, Florida. If at least one good thing can come out of the deadly pandemic gripping the nation, he says, it might just be the popular rebirth of this particular piece of Americana.

More than 300 drive-in theaters — basically parking lots equipped with a giant outdoor movie screen — are currently in business across the U.S., down from about 4,000 in 1958. With lockdowns beginning to ease across the nation this month, the drive-ins are drawing a whole new corps of customers from the pandemic generation.

Open-air movies were among the first businesses cleared for opening by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday. Websites for the theaters promote their outdoor advantage, while stipulating new rules such as wearing masks if you leave your car, tickets that reserve two spaces instead of one, and new apps for ordering concessions from your car.

Cars formed a long line for the May 5 opening of Donna Saunders’s Tiffin Drive-In Theater in Ohio.

“Everyone that drove up said, ‘We are so happy to get out of our house and have something fun to do,’ ” said Saunders, who bought the outdoor theater in 2011. “I assume there were smiling faces behind those masks they were wearing — because we were all wearing masks — but everybody seemed to be in a jolly mood.”

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