Forget cicadas and the zombie apocalypse. The Washington area is in the throes of a different kind of invasion: free outdoor movies. They’re everywhere, every night and seem to cover every genre.
On Wednesdays, locals can flock to NoMa for movies about outlaw heroes, while on Fridays they can get high school flashbacks in Rosslyn. There are animated adventures in Ashburn, Jane Austen romances at Dumbarton Oaks and a make-shift drive-in with $3 draft beers at Family Meal in Frederick. Film fans could nearly fill their summer nights with gratis flicks, provided they don’t mind watching “The Goonies” more than once.
In most cases, the formula is the same: Moviegoers pack a picnic and a blanket or camping chair (preferably a very low one) and prepare to be entertained. But a few film series, both old and new, offer something more.
The DC Drive-In
Where: Union Market, 1309 Fifth St. NE (Metro: NoMa-Gallaudet).
When: Fridays, through Aug. 2.
What to see: “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (July 12), “The Distinguished Gentleman” (July 19), “The American President” (July 26), “No Way Out” (Aug. 2).
Why go: For its first year in the summer movie series business, Union Market is getting attention for its drive-in theme, complete with car hops on rollerskates. You don’t need a car to enjoy the movies, however. There also will be lawn seating where walkers and cyclists can enjoy the films, which will be projected on the facade of the market. As a bonus, there will be adult beverages for sale at Suburbia, the Airstream trailer-turned-bar.
Logistics: Things kick off at 7 p.m. with music and games before the gates open for cars at 8. While some parking spots have been reserved in advance, additional spaces will be available on a first-come basis. Simply line up southbound on Sixth Street and wait for the gates to open. The movie begins at 9 p.m., and there will be speakers for those sitting on the lawn. Viewers in cars can tune their radios to 88.1 FM.
More information: www.unionmarket dc.com/events/dc-drive-in.
Screen on the Green
Where: On the Mall between Seventh and 12th streets (Metro: Smithsonian).
When: Mondays, July 22-Aug. 12.
Why go: In its 15th year, Screen on the Green is one of the longest-running outdoor movie festivals in the area, and certainly the most well-attended. The series, which is presented in collaboration with HBO and Comcast, is sort of a rite of passage, and it’s easy to see why. How often can you watch E.T. and Elliott take flight while sitting in the shadow of the Capitol dome? Many Washingtonians head to the Mall for the event at least once, although the epic crowds could forestall repeat visits.
Logistics: Movies start about 8 p.m., although attendees with blankets start covering the patchy grass on the Mall closer to 6. Alcoholic beverages and tall chairs are prohibited.
More information: www.hbo.com/screenonthegreen.
U Street Movie Series
Where: Harrison Recreation Center field, V Street between 13th and 14th Streets NW (Metro: U Street).
When: The third Wednesday of July, August and September.
Why go: This series could be considered the antithesis to Screen on the Green. The low-key vibe and local hosts, the Friends of Harrison Recreation Center, give the movie nights a neighborhood feel that’s far from grand spectacle. And films about Marion Barry and Cool “Disco” Dan cater more to D.C.-area natives than the city’s many transient residents.
Logistics: Gates open at 7 p.m. and a DJ plays until the movies start at sundown. The location of this series is one of the best for picking up pre-movie food, whether it’s a chivito at Fast Gourmet or a Ben’s Chili Bowl half-smoke.
More information: www.facebook.com/ustreetmovieseries.
Mosaic Films in the Park
Where: Strawberry Park at Strawberry Lane between District Avenue and Yates Way, Fairfax (Metro: Dunn Loring).
When: Fridays, through Aug. 30.
What to see: “Moneyball” (July 12), “For Love of the Game” (July 19), “A League of Their Own” (July 26), “Meet Joe Black” (Aug. 2), “Rain Man” (Aug. 9), “Dead Poets Society” (Aug. 16), “A Beautiful Mind” (Aug. 23), “Good Will Hunting” (Aug. 30).
Why go: The Mosaic District has transformed an outmoded corner of Merrifield into a destination for diners and shoppers. The appearance of this first-time movie series (not to mention free outdoor yoga classes, mommy meet-ups and storytelling sessions) means the enclave aims to be more than a typical strip mall. The fact that there’s easy and free parking should appeal to suburban dwellers, while the three nearby frozen treat spots — Dolcezza, Cold Stone Creamery and Sweetgreen — will appeal to everyone.
Logistics: Drivers can find plenty of parking in garages on District Avenue and Yates Way. There also are bike racks next to the park. Movies start at 7 p.m.
More information: www.mosaic
Comcast Outdoor Film Festival
Where: MCPS Board of Education, 850 Hungerford Dr., Rockville.
When: Aug. 16-18.
Why go: The festival, now in its 17th year, takes pride in its massive inflatable screen, which, at three stories high and 52 feet across, is one of the largest in the region. This is the first time the festival is going the drive-in route, taking over the space of the former Rockville Drive-In, which closed in 1981.
Logistics: Cars can line up as early as 4:30 p.m. to snag one of the 180 spots once gates open at 6:30. At 5:30, there will be entertainment for the kids, including inflatables, plus food trucks and music to fill the time until the movie starts at 8:30. An overflow lot provides an alternative for later arrivals, and moviegoers can bring blankets and chairs to watch from the lawn in front of the parking section. Outside food and beverages are not allowed.
More information: www.filmfestnih. org.