Summer is still the busiest season at movie theaters, but there is something counteractive about sitting in a dark theater while there’s so much sun and relaxation to offer outside. (When free air conditioning is involved, perhaps it’s not so counteractive.)
But as box office profits for major studios continue their gradual slump, there is a noticeable change in the zeitgeist. The era of drive-in theaters ended a couple decades ago (revisit EW writer Anthony Breznican’s lovely longform piece “Last Night at the Pleasant Valley Drive-In” here), however outdoor movie screenings have never before been as omnipresent and in vogue as they are right now.
And now that the calendar has flipped to June, you can count on finding a movie to watch under the stars almost any night of the week in any major city. The majority of these take place in parks, where pre-movie picnics are encouraged — and many of them are free to attend. It’s truly something worth experiencing: Nothing quite beats the simple pleasure of laying on the grass and watching Gene Kelly singing in the rain, Indiana Jones running from a giant rock, or Jimmy Stewart spying through binoculars at his neighbors, or E.T. in a bicycle basket, silhouetted in the sun.
In acknowledgment of this very welcome turn in moviegoing events, we’ve curated a list of the best place to watch films outdoors in 10 of America’s biggest metropolitan areas. This list is by no means comprehensive — there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other towns and cities that have scheduled outdoor movie events this summer — but if you have a hot tip about a series or screening not included here, definitely leave a comment below.
HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival
Midtown NYC’s one-block park is turned into a sprawling picnic ground every Monday night. Now in it’s 25th year, this is the city’s most popular outdoor movie-watching experience, complete with an irresistible pre-show boogie set to HBO’s classic 1983 intro. Must-sees: Wall Street, North By Northwest, Dirty Dancing, All That Jazz.
NYC Parks Free Summer Movies
Bryant isn’t the only park in town. In all five boroughs on practically every night of the week, NYC green spaces (and some not-so-green ones) host nighttime screenings. Must-sees: The Wiz (in Queens), Finding Dory (in the Bronx), Moana (in Staten Island), Purple Rain (in Brooklyn), and Moonlight (in Manhattan).
Rooftop Films Summer Series
Founded 20 years ago in Brooklyn, Rooftop has become synonymous with the outré side of outdoor cinema. There is an admission fee, but for all the indies, documentaries, shorts, live music, atmosphere and alcohol you get, it’s well worth it. Must-sees: Trapped: Uncanny Short Films, Animation Block Party, Sundance Short Films (free), Net Positive: Internet Heath Shorts (free).
Rooftop Cinema Club
Not to be confused with the similarly named enterprise (see above), these rooftop screenings take place at two locations in NYC. The prices are steeper than movies at the multiplex but the trade-off gets you one of most eclectic and full lineups of any series in the country. (Also operational in Los Angeles and London.) Must-sees: Predator, Blue Valentine, Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain, The Handmaiden.
The Park at Wrigley
Right outside the Chicago Cubs’ home, this park space screens movies every other Wednesday. Must-sees: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Blues Brothers, the original Ghostbusters.
Movies in the Parks
Now in its 17th year, this successful series is part of an initiative that features more than a thousand cultural events in Chicago’s public spaces. More than 100 parks participate in screenings all summer. Must-sees: Moonstruck, The Dark Knight, Southside With You, Field of Dreams, I Am Not Your Negro.
Millennium Park Summer Film Series
Across the street from Grant Park, Jay Pritzker Pavilion’s great lawn is the site of Tuesday night screenings all summer long. Must-sees: La La Land, Network, El Norte and a special double feature on August 8 of The Shining and Ghost.
Hotel Del Coronado’s Movies on the Beach
Directly across the San Diego Bay sits this gorgeous Victorian hotel, which first opened in 1888. Sixteen presidents have stayed here — as did L. Frank Baum, who wrote much of The Wizard of Oz while a guest. Must-sees: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Rogue One, The Wizard of Oz (of course).
The Pearl Hotel’s Dive-In Theatre
This boutique hotel is a block away from Americas Cup Harbor and presents a weekly “cinema social” on Wednesday nights in and around the oyster-shaped pool. Movies are projected on a poolside 10-by-13-foot wall. Must-sees: Almost Famous, Grease, Spaceballs.
Cinema Under the Stars
Billing itself as San Diego’s premier outdoor theater, this venue in the Mission Hills neighborhood does not screen movies for free — but the cost of a ticket comes with a retractable roof and space heaters for an all-year, all-weather experience. Must-sees: Rear Window, Annie Hall, Pulp Fiction, Raising Arizona.
Philly @ the Movies
St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children presents three summer screenings at iconic Philadelphia locations. The highlight is an annual showing on the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s steps of the movie that made those steps world famous: Rocky.
Delaware River Waterfront’s Screenings Under the Stars
The Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing in Philly is both a tourist attraction and home to year-round concerts and events. Every Thursday in July and August, the plaza draws crowds as an outdoor theater. Must-sees: Captain America: Civil War, Beauty and the Beast, Sing.
Schuylkill Banks Movie Nights
Ten movies are shown in two different locations in this beautiful park on the shore of the Schuylkill River. Thursday nights are when you bring your blanket and picnic baskets to either the Walnut Street Bridge or the Wharton Street Esplanade. Must-sees: Young Frankenstein, Hidden Figures, Rear Window, Jaws.
Austin Parks Foundation’s Movies in the Park
Austin’s own Alamo Drafthouse partners with the capital city’s parks foundation to put on movies all summer long. This year, in celebration of the foundations 25th anniversary, the series is presenting a full slate of movies from 1992. Must-sees: Sister Act, Aladdin, Death Becomes Her.
Blue Starlite Drive-In
Blue Starlight is a pop-up drive-in, showing up in different locations to treat about 50 cars to mainstream hits, cult classics, and perfect double features. Must-sees: Labyrinth and Purple Rain double feature, Jaws and Jurassic Park double feature.
Rooftop Cinema Club
Two top-floor locations (at Level in Downtown L.A. and the Montalban in Hollywood) provide audiences with an incredible summer slate of old and new classics. Must-sees: GoodFellas, Get Out, L.A. Confidential, Casablanca, Heat. (There’s also a Rooftop Cinema Club slate in New York, which you can see here.)
Cinespia at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Watch great films surrounded by the ghosts — and headstones — of Old Hollywood stars. This one has an admission fee, but you won’t regret spending a few bucks for one of outdoor moviegoing’s most unique experiences. Must-sees: The Usual Suspects, Dirty Dancing, Jurassic Park (the latter two come with a fireworks show).
Street Food Cinema
An expertly curated blend of food trucks and pre-movie music pair perfectly for L.A.’s largest outdoor movie series. Must-sees: Deadpool, 10 Things I Hate About You, Boogie Nights, La La Land.
Film Night in the Park
The Monterey Bay Aquarium sponsors San Francisco’s most popular outdoor film series, held at three wondrous parks around the Northern California city. Must-sees: The Breakfast Club, The Graduate, La La Land.
Free Movies on the Beach
Come out the the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on Wednesdays all summer for perhaps the most beautiful night of movies, kettlecorn, corn dogs, salt water taffy, all in the moonlit shadow of the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster. Must-sees: Gremlins, Clueless, Shrek, The Lost Boys.
Golden Cinema at Farragut Park
Ten movies screen throughout the summer every Friday at the capital city’s centrally located Farragut Park. Must-sees: Big, Hidden Figures, 500 Days of Summer.
National Harbor Movies on the Potomac
Thursdays are date nights and Sundays feature more kid-friendly double features at this bursting series along on of America’s most famous waterways. Must-sees: Mean Girls, Sully, Mary Poppins, double feature of Babe and Sing.
Colombia Lakefront Summer Festival
Two dozen movies will reflect off the waterfront in Colombia, Maryland, which sits about 30 miles north of D.C. Must-sees: Cars, The Little Mermaid, Guardians of the Galaxy.
Movies in the Park
Last year, Portland’s Movies in the Parks series screened 41 movies at 40 sites over a 12-week run. In 2017, the list might be even longer — and more Portland-defining eclectic. Must-sees: The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Dead Poets Society, Kubo and the Two Strings.
Night Movies at Cartopia
Only in Portland: This food truck hub also moonlights on Sundays as an outdoor screening venue, with decidedly more adult-fare titles to go along with grilled peanut butter and jelly, crepes, and a popular cart called Potato Champion. Must-sees: American Psycho, Scarface, Sling Blade. (And July is Quentin Tarantino month.)
Minneapolis and St. Paul
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Movies in the Park and St. Paul’s Movies in the Park
Minnesota’s Twin Cities, voted among the most livable places in America, play host to a wide array of fun, family-oriented summer programming. Must-sees: Zootopia, E.T., Mrs. Doubtfire, The Neverending Story.
Bloomington Moonlight Movies
Ten miles south of Minneapolis, the suburb of Bloomington also offers up a rich summer movie schedule. Every Friday night, head to Red Haddox Field or Normandale Lake Park for movies under the stars on a 30-foot screen. On select Saturdays, come out for the “sweetheart series” of romantic flicks. Must-sees: Rogue One, Sleepless in Seattle, The Princess Bride, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.