Once something of a rarity outside of cities like New York, al fresco movie screenings — and no, we’re not talking about the endangered phenomenon known as the drive-in theater — have emerged as crowd-pleasing summertime staples in towns large and small across the U.S. Both budget- and family-friendly — they’re often free and feature PG-13 and under flicks — outdoor summertime film series can take place in locales expected (public parks) and unexpected (high-end supermarkets, cemeteries). All that’s needed is a screen, a projector and a crowd (snacks certainly don’t hurt). In addition to the cinematic main event, many outdoor movies offer bonuses like live music, giveaways, valet parking for bikes and edible offerings that transcend traditional concession stand fare.
With various fresh air film events happening everywhere from Pittsburgh to Portland, Ore., this summer, below you’ll find 10 that, for one reason or another, have us wishing we were comfortably splayed out on a blanket watching “Dirty Dancing” — or “Dirty Harry” — underneath a star-filled night sky. Most outdoor movies start at dusk or sunset (pre-show entertainment, if offered, can start earlier) and require that you bring your own chair or blanket. And remember to check weather conditions and rules about bringing your own food and alcohol before setting out …
Given that this isn’t a definitive list by any means, we’d love to hear about outdoor movie screenings in your neck of the woods. Tell us about them in the comments section! What’s the most memorable al fresco moviegoing experience you’ve had?
Where: Piedmont Park, Atlanta
When: Every Thursday in June
2011 cinematic highlights: “Sixteen Candles,” “Imitation of Life”
Be sure to bring along a booze-filled picnic basket (no glass, though).
Be sure to leave any unapproved lawn chairs at home.
Despite the fact that last summer’s screening of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” was disrupted by violence (we guess the event organizers should have opted for “On Golden Pond”) and nightmarish Chick-fil-A flash mobs, the temporarily canceled Screen on the Green in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park returned triumphant for another brief, eclectically programmed 2011 season heavy on crowd-pleasing 1980s nostalgia.
Where: Fremont Studios, Seattle
When: Saturdays all summer long
2011 cinematic highlights: “Pulp Fiction,” “Princess Bride”
Be sure to bring along your love of everything zombie (and Jeff Bridges).
Be sure to leave your uptight, conformist attitude at home.
In line with Fremont Outdoor Movies’ location in Seattle’s forever free-spirited Fremont neighborhood (nude summer solstice bike parades and Lenin statues anyone?), this long-running outdoor film series offers something for everyone. And by everyone we mean those who can appreciate stoner humor, the living dead, Stanley Kubrick, “Tron” and last but not least, the Dude (that’s a hell of a lot of Jeff Bridges).
Where: Pier 1, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn
When: Thursdays, July 7-Sept. 1
2011 cinematic highlights: “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
Be sure to bring along your bike (there’s free bike valet).
Be sure to leave the bottles of Ramona Pinot Grigio at home (public consumption is illegal in NYC parks — so if you’re going to do it, be discreet).
Despite the prominent placement of this year’s presenting sponsor, Syfy, the films selected for the 12th season of this beloved Brooklyn summer film series have nothing to do with science fiction. Kicking off with “Manhattan,” this year’s films all fall under the theme of “New York stories.” For the kids and anyone who wants to have “Somewhere Out There” voluntarily stuck in their heads for a week straight, there’s “An American Tail.” Because really, you can’t get more New York than Woody Allen and Fievel.
Where: Bryant Park, Manhattan
When: Mondays, June 20-Aug. 22
2011 cinematic highlights: “Dirty Harry,” “Easy Rider”
Be sure to bring a pair of binoculars and your patience.
Be sure to leave your tarps, dogs and explosive devices at home.
While the lineup for the grand dame of all NYC outdoor film series, the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, is predictably great — if a bit somber this year — the whole experience can be overwhelming (read: really, really crowded) depending on the film. We don’t want to pooh-pooh this quintessential summer-in-New York experience, but keep in mind the less-claustrophobia-inducing alternatives like River Flicks in Hudson River Park and Summer Screen and Red Hook Summer Movies, both in Brooklyn.
Where: Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles
When: Weekends, May through September
2011 cinematic highlights: “Heathers,” “Harold and Maude”
Be sure to bring your purchased-in-advance ticket (unlike many outdoor movie screenings, Cinespia is not free) and money for parking.
Be sure to leave your tall chairs and BBQ grill at home. However, picnic dinners and alcohol are more than welcome.
Entering its 10th season, Cinespia is a summer film series that takes place in a cemetery where numerous film stars of yesteryear (Douglas Fairbanks, Jayne Mansfield, Tyrone Power, et. al) and Sophia Petrillo are buried. Just think of it as Film Forum meets the Hollywood Walk of Fame in a graveyard and you’ve got the right idea. The film selections tend to cater to more serious film aficionados — 2010 selections ranged from “Beetlejuice” to “All About Eve” to “Goodfellas” — and are projected onto the side of a mausoleum where Rudolph Valentino is interred. Slightly creepy, but mostly cool.
When: Saturdays, July 9-Aug. 27
2011 cinematic highlights: “Point Break,” “Monty Python & The Holy Grail”
Be sure to bring a low-back chair and cash for a donation-based ticket and classic concessions, including freshly popped popcorn, donated by a local Whole Foods store.
Be sure to leave your boom box at home. Pre-show entertainment is provided.
Despite the lack of something that many other outdoor film programs boast — grass — film fanatics have been flocking to an empty Colorado parking lot since 1995 to experience what’s described as “a quintessential Boulder summer experience.” In addition to the movies themselves — a lively mix of cult classics, ‘80s comedies, and kid-friendly features — the Boulder Outdoor Cinema prides itself on providing movie-goers with “pre-show awesomeness” that includes live music, trivia contests and short films.
Where: Central Market, Austin, Texas (North Lamar location)
When: June 15- Aug. 10
2011 cinematic highlights: “Weird Science,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”
Be sure to bring reusable shopping bags.
Be sure to leave your outside food and beverages at home.
A popular summer movie series that’s held in the “park area” of a gourmet Austin grocery store/tourist attraction? Sure, this may seem unusual, but remember, it’s Austin we’re dealing with. Rock radio station 101x and fancy Texan food retailer Central Market have teamed up for the sixth consecutive year to bring high-end nibbles and lowbrow films — 2011 selections include “Insane in the Brain Tribute to Randy Quaid: ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’” and “We <3 the '90s: ‘Dumb and Dumber’” – to the hungry, cinema-literate Austinites. What’s next? A “Police Academy” retrospective screened in a Trader Joe’s parking lot?
Where: Various Minneapolis parks including Minnehaha Park, Bohanon Park and Phelps Park
When: Six nights a week, June 13-Sept. 3
2011 cinematic highlights: “Stand by Me,” “Harry and the Hendersons”
Be sure to bring bug spray.
Be sure to leave your film school pretensions at home.
Generally, most al fresco summer movie programs are limited to screenings one night a week in one fixed location so if you don’t like any of the 10 or so screenings being offered throughout the summer, well, you’re out of luck. Then there’s the gloriously free Minneapolis Movies in the Parks program, which offers multiple movies in multiple parks six nights a week. The 2011 schedule — which is actually overwhelming to look at, in a good way — includes more than 80 films with a focus on kid-friendly new releases and classic family fare.
Where: Tingley Plaza, Washington
When: Thursdays, May 26-July 28
2011 cinematic highlights: “Dirty Dancing,” “The Social Network”
Be sure to bring your appetite. Food trucks, popcorn, cotton candy and Micha’s Sorbet are available.
Be sure to leave your overflowing picnic baskets at home (see above).
Front Flicks, a perfectly acceptable — if not more interesting — alternative to the popular, recently relocated Screen on the Green series on the National Mall (which, by the way, features the same movies as HBO’s Bryant Park Summer Film Festival in NYC) is back for a 2011 run. This year’s theme is “Best of the Oscars,” so expect Gwyneth Paltrow in period garb, adorable extraterrestrials and the late Patrick Swayze shaking his moneymaker.
Where: The Hatch Shell at the Esplanade, Boston
When: Fridays, June 17-Aug. 26
2011 cinematic highlights: “Iron Man 2,” “Toy Story 3”
Be sure to bring a blanket or three.
Be sure to leave that six-pack of Sam Adams at home (“Alcohol is strictly forbidden at the Esplanade, with violators subject to arrest.”)
Although the kid-centric programming for the 2011 edition of Free Friday Flicks is somewhat uninspired (“Daddy Daycare” … really?), the stunning backdrop for WBZ Radio’s 25-year-old free outdoor film series, the Esplanade along the banks of the Charles River, is anything but. It’s a New England tradition with or without horrible Eddie Murphy films.
Click for photo credits
Atlanta: Lance McCord/Flickr
Seattle: Fremont Outdoor Movies
Brooklyn: Julienne Schaer
Manhattan: Digiart2001 | jason.kuffer/Flickr
Los Angeles: current events/Flickr
Boulder: Boulder Outdoor Cinema
Minneapolis: Scott Schneider
Washington: Capitol Riverfront BID
Boston: Chris Devers/Flickr
MNN homepage photo: voteprime/Flickr