"METEOR" opens the National Air and Space Museum's "Comet Tales" film series Friday evening at 7:30 in the museum's 486-seat Samuel Langley Theater. Presented out of deference to Halley's Comet, the series will offer free screenings of movies such as Day of the Triffids, Rocketship X-M and Flight to Mars, among others, on most Friday evenings through January 31. There will be no screenings on December 27 and January 24. (An added attraction that doesn't fit into the comet mold but is still worthy of note: The Empire Strikes Back can be seen on February 7 and 8.)

"Meteor," made in 1979, features such heavyweights as the first and third James Bond, Sean Connery, along with Natalie Wood, Karl Malden, Brian Keith, Trevor Howard and Henry Fonda. But it was far from a box-office smash. It does, however, deserve credit for its destruction of Manhattan scene. The 103- minute flick will be preceded by two silent short comedies, The Comet (1910), and The Comet's Comeback (1916). Call 357-2700.

Tinsel and Tinseltown hook up in D.C. on December 20 as Kings Road Productions arrives to finish shooting a comedy called Homefront.

The film features Jon Cryer -- who will star in Paramount's soon-to-be-released Pretty and Pink -- as the teenage son of a U.S. senator vying for his parents' affections during a reelection campaign. The father is played by Nicholas Pryor, an actor originally from Baltimore who played the father in "Risky Business." Lynn Redgrave is the mother.

Kings Road is an independent filmmaker responsible for "All of Me," starring Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin; the box-office bomb "Creator" with Peter O'Toole; and several coming movies such as Enemy Mine with Lou Gossett and Dennis Quaid, Touch and Go with Michael Keaton and The Best of Times, starring Kurt Russell and Robin Williams.

Production on Homefront began in Charlottesville in early October. The Washington filming will include facade shots of American Security Bank at 15th & Pennsylvania Avenue, shots at the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol and other monuments, plus street and driving scenes. Shooting is expected to be completed just after Christmas.

The benefit season is in full bloom all around town. The National Political Congress of Black Women and the Ms. Foundation for Education and Communication will co-sponsor a benefit with the Washington premiere of The Color Purple, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning book. The benefit, scheduled for Wednesday at 7 at the Circle Tenley Theater, will be hosted by former Texas Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and Gloria Steinem, founder and editor of Ms. magazine. Also expected are actors Akosua Busia, Rae Dawn Chong, Oprah Winfrey, Willard Pugh and the picture's star, Whoopie Goldberg, who's making her movie debut. Tickets for the screening only are $15; screening and reception, $50; and patron's admission is $500. Call 429-8716. The movie opens nationwide on December 20.

Then on Thursday, the Variety Club of Greater Washington will sponsor the premiere of Richard Attenborough's A Chorus Line at 7 p.m. at the Circle MacArthur. Tickets to the film only (popcorn and sodas included) are $15. Tickets to the film and a post-screening reception with host Keene Curtis, co-star of "La Cage Aux Folles" now at the National Theater, are $35. The screening benefits the Myoelectric Limb Bank and Children's Center at the Juvenile Amputee Clinic. For ticket information, call 737-2927.

Tickets are still available for the Out of Africa premiere, which also screens on Thursday evening, at 7 at the Uptown. The showing benefits Very Special Arts, an educational affiliate of the Kennedy Center that sponsors art programs for youths and adults with mental and physical disabilities. Tickets to the film only are $25; tickets to the film, a Danish Christmas supper with the Danish Ambassador and Mrs. Eigil Jorgensen at their home, and a chance to win a trip for two to Denmark are $150; and an additional $50 will put your name in the evening's program. Call 332- 6960.

With VCR sales stronger than ever and video clubs popping up faster than springtime dandelions, sometimes you have to wonder why investors would consider putting money into a neighborhood movie theater. But they are, at a rather remarkable rate.

On Friday, United Artists Communications, which operates 1,000 screens at 400 locations nationwide, will open The Movies at Harbor Park, a nine-screen moviehouse with an estimated capacity of 2,100, across the street from Harborplace at the intersection of Lombard Street and Market Place in Baltimore. The theaters share the bottom vel with Chi- Chi's restaurant and will offer moviegoers of legal age a new twist -- a daiquiri bar, on the second level. Drinks will not be permitted in the theaters.

Above, there will be six levels of parking, discounted for movie patrons. The movie company, which is leasing the building from the city, has spent $3 million on putting up the nine theaters. They have 35mm automated projectors, and screens are at least 30 feet. One theater has Dolby stereo. Movies will cost the standard $4.50 for adults; $2.50 for childrens, with senior and bargain matinee rates.

Closer to home, Laurel Lakes Cinema 8 in Laurel opened the weekend before Thanksgiving with seating for more than 1,600. Owned and operated by the Rockville-based Glenmar Cinestate Corporation, the complex has two 400-seat theaters, two 250-seat theaters and a pair of smaller theaters with seating for 170 each. One theater offers Dolby sound, while the others have Kintech stereo, with more than a dozen speakers in the larger auditoriums.

At Beltway Plaza in Greenbelt, where American Multi Cinema operates the Academy 6, construction is under way in the mall's center corridor to complete eight more theaters by mid-March.

"We had a situation where we were selling out shows quite often and probably irritating more people than we were accommodating," says Charley Mazzi, who manages the six theaters.

The chain is spending roughly $4 million on the new theaters, which will showcase the company's new approach to theaters.

"There's a trend to getting away from narrower screens and longer theaters, these days," says Mazzi. "The new screens will be close to double the size of the present ones and the theaters won't be as long."

The American Film Institute will begin a six-day holiday film festival on Friday which runs through Wednesday. Among the shows are Holiday Inn, A Christmas Carol, Christmas in Connecticut and White Christmas. For a complete schedule and howtimes, see Page 3.

KIDDIES' CHRISTMAS FLICKS -- Children are invited to a free screening of the 86- minute, 1951 version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim as Scrooge on Saturday at 1 in the Library of Congress' Mary Pickford Theater. Kids must be accompanied by an adult. The screening is free but the theater holds only 64 so reservations are recommended. Call 287-5677.

SHORT SUBJECTS -- The National Archives' free film on Friday at noon is The Fleet's In (1942) with William Holden and Dorothy Lamour . . . The Library of Congress will conclude its four-part series of Charles Dickens' Hard Times on Friday. Parts 3 and 4 begin at 7:30 in the Mary Pickford Theater. Still in the Dickens vein, on Tuesday, the Pickford will screen The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and on Thursday at 7:30, A Tale of Two Cities. It's free, but call 287-5677 for reservations.

The Washington Professional Women's Cooperative will sponsor Spacebridge, a film in which Soviets and Americans join together to prevent nuclear war. It features musician Paul Winter, jazz singer Etta James and folk singer Jeanne Bichevskaya on Sunday at 3 and 5 at 2030 P Street NW. A $10 contribution to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War is requested. Call 296-4545 or 424-3778.