Arts + Culture

World’s Best Outdoor Cinemas

Balmy summer evenings are made for picnic dinners and outdoor movies. Nikki Ridgway rounds up 9 showstopping alfresco cinemas to pull up a deck chair, picnic blanket or, yep, sweet retro ride, and experience movie night under the stars.

Photo by Andrew Maccoll

See recent posts by Nikki Ridgway

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Photo by Etienne Frossard

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Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC

At the southern end of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 1, the Syfy Movies with a View fest has a view that looks straight from a Spielberg CGI blockbuster. Overlooking all of downtown Manhattan, Lady Liberty’s shining torch and the twinkling bridges over the East River, attendees spend as long ogling and Instagramming the view as they do catching up on movie gold like Clueless and Ghostbusters. This year’s line up covers the cultish (Dazed and Confused) and the kitsch (Sharknado 2: The Second One), but is sure to attract the usual mega crowds (around 7,000 per screening), so go early and plan on a takeaway dinner of pizza from nearby Grimaldi’s, burgers from Shake Shack or lobster rolls from Luke’s Lobster.

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Hollywood Forever Cemetery, LA

Equal parts community celebration, nocturnal sightseeing and film festival, the Cinespia Hollywood Forever Cemetery Movie Screenings is a summer ritual for the thousands of Angelenos who sit blanket to blanket on Fairbanks Lawn throughout July and August. Back for its 13th season this summer, this year’s line up includes the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, plus Apocalypse Now and the Virgin Suicides, as well as Sundance pick Cop Car. The $15 tickets sell out each night without fail, so book in advance and arrive early for the DJ sets, food vendors and photo booth. It’s a byoblanket situation, but there’s a small shop for tarp-bottomed versions, as well as goblets for wine and beer (no spirits at this cemetery please).

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Luna Cinemas at Kensington Palace, London

The UK’s leading outdoor movie experts, Luna Cinemas sets up shop in Wills and Kate’s backyard for three nights in August (catch Grand Budapest Hotel, Lost Boys or West Side Story), but can be found in epic UK settings throughout the summer. We’re talking Pretty Woman in Holland Park, Top Gun at Chiswick House, Ghostbusters at Hampton Court Palace and Casablanca at Kew Gardens. Outside the capital, Monty Pyhton & the Holy Grail plays at beautiful Cardiff Castle, while junior jetsetters can join in on a Frozen singalong at Lincoln Castle in early September. As you’d expect from weather-ready Brits, films play rain or shine, and most venues have food and bev vendors, though picnic and drink set ups are very welcome.

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Festival du Cinéma en Plein Air, Paris

A summer staple for movie-loving Parisians, Festival du Cinéma en Plein Air takes over Parc de la Villette in the 19th (take line 7 to Porte de la Villette on the metro) from July 22 to August 23 for screenings of old classics and new favorites, this year around the theme of “home cinema.” On the line up so far: feature films from Polanski, Hitchcock, Godard, Kubrick and more. French-language films don’t have subtitles (the perfect time to brush up on your vocab), but English films are shown with French text. The screen goes up as the sun comes down, but arrive early for a prime blanket spot or deck chair rental, and don’t forget to pack a classic Parisian picnic of bread, cheese and cheap red wine.

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Pluk de Nacht, Amsterdam

Now in its 12th year, the Netherland’s most popular outdoor film festival kicks off on Stenen Hoofd pier from August 6 - 16. Pluk de Nacht (“seize the night”) celebrates new cinema from shorts and animation to documentary and directorial debuts, and this year’s line up includes features like Stop the Beating Heart and, from Brit director Iain Forsyth, 20,000 Days On Earth. Gates, food trucks and bars open at 3 p.m., but the short films don’t start up until it gets dark around 9 p.m., with feature films following after the sun sets. Small picnics are permitted in lieu of an entrance fee, but attendees are encouraged to make an evening of it at the food and drink vendors, as well as at the post-flick dance party at the festival’s Klup de Nacht.

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Photo by Andrew Maccoll

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St. George Open Air Cinema, Sydney

In a bucket-list setting overlooking Sydney Opera House and the harbor, Sydney’s largest outdoor cinema kicks off in early January, the height of the Australian summer. Drawing a crowd of nearly 70,000 each summer season, the theatre's giant screen rises from water level to a three-storey height during screenings, making for an unparalleled movie-watching experience. The 2016 line-up is still under wraps, but this past season included previews of mega hits like Birdman and Whiplash, as well as the Ozzie classic, Priscilla Queen of the Desert. A handful of tickets are available at the door for each showing, but most of the 2,000+ nightly movie goers buy tickets in advance or splurge on VIP packages that let you reserve grandstand seating and tables for dinner.

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Sala Montjuïc, Barcelona

In the Fossat de Santa Eulàlia moat at Montjuïc Castle, Sala Montjuïc is Barcelona’s best-known and loved outdoor movie experience, now in its 13th season. The 2015 run includes 16 films that range from indie hits to award-winning shorts, with the odd blockbuster like Moulin Rouge and Reservoir Dogs. Tickets are purchased online and sell out fast, though a handful are reserved for evening-of sales at the door. The season closes with a mystery film (teased throughout the summer on social media) and a live music performance from Caribbean/Spanish band, Los Tunantes. Picnics are very welcome, though the organic burgers from the local favorite Seco Snack bar are a tasty alternative, and there’s also a full bar for sundowners before the films start.

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Films on the Rocks, Colorado

Around 15 miles west of Denver in Red Rocks Park, Film on the Rocks takes over the park’s spectacular natural ampitheater for a summer of movies under the stars. A storied music venue for over 100 years, it’s played played host to music legends like the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, but the film fest has sell-out power too, and attracted more than 65,000 film lovers during the 2014 season. Now in its 16th year, doors open at 6.30 p.m. and it’s worth arriving early for prime seating and the chance to see the live music and comedian warm up sets. This year’s film list is full of cult classics and new favorites, including Pretty Woman, The Breakfast Club, Guardians of the Galaxy and, closing the festival on September 2, Magic Mike.

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Blue Starlite, Austin TX

Dubbed a “mini urban drive-in,” Austin’s Blue Starlite theater opened with space for just 6 cards in 2009, but can now accommodate 50 cars and as many picnic blankets and chairs as comfortably fit. Cars use the retro window speakers, but anyone with an FM radio can tune into the throwback movie selection of films made during the drive-in theater heyday from the 1940s - 1980s. Coming soon are double features of The Sandlot and Now and Then, and Indiana Jones’ adventures. Admission is just $5 - $15 and picnics and booze are welcome, though you can also buy hot dogs, popcorn and all the fixings for smores that are prepared over an open fire pit.

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