These are a few of their favorite films

Programming for open-air festivals is like programming for neighborhood theaters: You've got to know your audience. The Little Italy Outdoor Film Festival almost started a mini-riot one year when organizers decided not to open with "Moonstruck." Never making that mistake again, they keep their surprises to the middle of the schedule. (They always close with "Cinema Paradiso.")

Here's what draws fans to some of Baltimore's other open-air series:


Eclectic AVAM crowds flip for everything from 'E.T' to 'Avalon'

According to the American Visionary Art Museum's Pete Hilsee, the Flicks from the Hill audience has responded to everything from musical comedy to sci-fi fantasy and broad comedy. "'E.T'. was huge," he said. "It hit the sweet spot among all of the demographic factors: Kids (now adults) who grew up with the movie, their parents' generation, and today's kids. Plus, the weather was perfect." Also rated highly: "The Sound of Music," which benefited from a sing-along on Federal Hill; Barry Levinson's "Avalon," presented as a July 4th attraction; Mel Brooks' high-and-low comic masterpiece, "Young Frankenstein;" and Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" — "the flapping of those wings was especially frightful being outdoors."


Cross Keys crowds love Hepburn and 'Avalon,' too

Julie Gilbert says that with a younger festival like Cross Keys' MovieFest, it's hard to cite popular favorites, because numbers grow week to week and year to year. But she notes that during the 2010 season, which carried the theme "Romantic Classics," "Charade," the oldest of the movies (1963), had a huge turnout, as did "The Princess Bride" (a cult favorite), and "Chocolat" (a sweet, feel-good romantic film). And in the 2009 season (theme: "Baltimore Favorites"), "Hairspray" and "Avalon" were especially popular.

Hopkins moviegoers show up and cry for Pixar

Megan Isennock of Johns Hopkins' Outdoor Film Series says, "Last year the biggest turnout we had was for 'Up,' and the year before that is was for 'WALL-E.' I'm the oldest of seven kids — I'm 25 — and my youngest brother is 7. At 'Up,' he and I both had tears in our eyes. These movies have the same effect on people of different ages."