Use Code BALT69 for a $69 Ticket to One Day University on July 9

For Baltimore-area outdoor movie series, the sky's the limit

Free outdoor movie series are a rite of summer in Baltimore. Check out this year's lineup.

Matt Porterfield remembers sitting on the side of Federal Hill on a warm summer evening a few years back, watching with a few score of his new best pals as Stanley Kramer's “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner” was projected onto the side of the American Visionary Art Museum.

It was, he says, an experience no movie theater could match.

“I'd say that I love sitting on the hill with friends and strangers and a bottle of wine, warm evening breeze,” the Baltimore-born film director (“Hamilton,” “I Used to be Darker”) says. “I feel like people can be more playful and reactive when they're watching a movie outside, which makes for a free and fun atmosphere.”

Count Maryland Film Festival founder Jed Dietz among the many local film professionals who relish the idea of seeing movies with the night sky as their backdrop. “It's the ultimate movie experience,” says Dietz, who has frequently shown movies outdoors (including the Beatles' “Yellow Submarine”) during the annual festival. “It's sort of a great summer night activity. But it's also so Baltimore — there's something so informal about it.”

Plenty of folks seem to agree with him. As it has for years, the Baltimore area will be playing host to more than a half-dozen outdoor film festivals this summer, from the streets of Little Italy to the lakefront in Columbia. Clearly, people love the idea of bringing a lawn chair or spreading out a beach blanket to watch movies outdoors for free in good weather.

Many of the series have been around for years; this marks the 18th go-round for Little Italy's Cinema al Fresco series. And none seem to have trouble attracting crowds.

D. Vogel, operator of Middle River's 60-year-old Bengies Drive-In, has devoted his life to showing movies outdoors. (Though the Bengies operates like a regular theater rather than a free festival, charging for admission and playing films that are currently showing in theaters.) He says the feeling of community engendered by showing films in the open air helps keep the crowds coming.

“When you're outside, you can get a much better feel for the crowd reaction and for their interest,” he says. “It becomes a real communal experience.”

Plus, he notes, playing in an outdoor venue can enhance the film itself — say, when a rainstorm on screen is accompanied by a real downpour (Vogel's been known to thank Mother Nature for enhancing a film's special effects). During movies with scenes set in space, such as “Superman Returns” or the “Star Wars” films, he notes, the Bengies screen seems to merge with the sky itself, making for a profoundly immersive experience.

“The element of being outdoors can really add to the movie,” Vogel says.

Still, while the artistic element helps, the appeal of watching a movie under the stars is far simpler than that.

“If it's a beautiful night, the movie's going to be beautiful,” says local writer-director Kim Moir. “Trust me — you're going to enjoy it.”

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad

Baltimore-area outdoor film series for summer

2016 Flicks From the Hill

Where: East side of Federal Hill, across from the American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Highway

When: Thursdays during July and August; screenings start at 9 p.m.

Schedule: "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (July 7), "Best in Show" (July 14), "To Kill a Mockingbird" (July 21), "The Karate Kid" (July 28), "Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens" (Aug. 4), "Life Is Beautiful" (Aug. 11), "Dreamgirls" (Aug. 18), "American Graffiti" (Aug. 25)


Summer Moonlight Movie Series

Where: Lower level exterior lot at The Shops at Kenilworth, 800 Kenilworth Drive in Towson

When: June 24, July 8 and 22, Aug. 5 and 19; movies begin at sunset

Schedule: "Star Wars; Episode VII: The Force Awakens" (June 24), "Minions" (July 8), Jurassic World" (July 22), "Zootopia" (Aug. 5), "Inside Out" (Aug. 19)


Little Italy Open Air Film Fest

Where: Corner of High and Stiles streets

When: Fridays in July and August; movies begin around 9 p.m. (live music starts around 7 p.m.)

Schedule: "Moonstruck" (July 1), "Diner" (July 8), "The Sound of Music" (July 15), "More Than a Miracle" (July 22), "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" (July 29), "Star Wars" (Aug. 5), "Goldfinger" (Aug. 12), "The Great Escape" (Aug. 19), "Cinema Paradiso" (Aug. 26)


Summer Movie Nights in Bel Air

Where: Shamrock Park, Lee Way and McCormick Street in Bel Air

When: June 24, July 8 and 22, Aug. 19 and 26; movies start at sunset

Schedule: "Minions" (June 24), "Pan" (July 8), "The Good Dinosaur" (July 22), "Zootopia" (Aug. 19), "Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens" (Aug. 26)


Summer Movies at The Wine Bin

Where: The Wine Bin, 8390 Main St. in Ellicott City

When: Saturdays through Sept. 17, plus Oct. 29; movies start at 9 p.m. through August, 8 p.m. thereafter

Schedule: "Sideways" (Saturday), "The Wedding Singer" (June 25), "Top Gun" (July 2), "Chef" (July 9), "Pitch Perfect" (July 16), "Raising Arizona" (July 23), "Adventures of Robin Hood" (July 30), "Sixteen Candles" (Aug. 6), "To Catch a Thief" (Aug. 13), "The Manchurian Candidate" (Aug. 20), "Star Wars" (Aug. 27), "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (Sept. 3), "Cinema Paradiso" (Sept. 10), "Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens" (Sept. 17), "The Wizard of Oz" (Oct. 29)


Lakefront Summer Festival

Where: Downtown Columbia Lakefront, 10221 Wincopin Circle

When: Monday and Friday nights through Aug. 15 (except July 4), Friday and Saturday nights Aug. 19-Sept. 9; movies begin at dusk (about 8:30 p.m.)

Schedule: "Teddy Bear Night with Paddington" (Monday), "Cinderella" (June 24), "Shaun the Sheep" (June 27), "Spectre" (July 1), "Goosebumps" (July 8), "Kung Fu Panda 3" (July 11), "Finding Nemo" (July 15), "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (July 18), "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2" (July 22), "The Good Dinosaur" (July 25), "Inside Out" (July 29), "Up" (Aug. 1), "Jurassic World" (Aug. 5), "Wreck-It Ralph" (Aug. 8), "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" (Aug. 12), "Aladdin" (Aug. 15), "The Incredibles" (Aug. 19), "Furious 7" (Aug. 20), "Ant-Man" (Aug. 26), "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (Aug. 27), "The Martian" (Sept. 2), "Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens" (Sept. 3), "Zootopia" (Sept. 9)


Note: The schedule for Films From the Pier in Fells Point was not available as of publication.