Months of quarantine has bred a special sentimentality for the Before Times, reviving a mostly bygone artifact: the drive-in movie. Secluded car seats in marked parking spots turn catching a fresh-air flick into a responsibly social distanced activity—as well as an escape from yet another Netflix binge at home. Options for outdoor cinema are popping up around DC, bringing cars to open parking lots and projecting films al fresco on urban buildings. Different “theaters” have their own rules, so we recommend you read their guidelines carefully before purchasing a ticket.
1964 Independence Ave., SW
The Memorial Foundation is wrapping up the free summer film series, with sunset screenings by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The movies spotlight stories of inspiring individuals, honoring the powerful legacy of MLK. Unlike other outdoor movie options, the lawn is a car-free zone where outside food is permitted and picnic blankets are encouraged.
Upcoming films: Harriet (2019) on Thursday, August 20.
1201 Half St., SE
No need to hop on the Hogwarts Express to visit the wizarding world of Harry Potter—but you may have to ride the less magical Metro. Navy Yard’s outdoor venue is screening two films from the bewitching series, both kicking off at 8 PM. Tickets include popcorn and drink specials (an IPA is basically Hogsmeade butterbeer), and seating is picnic table-style with a maximum of six people per table.
Upcoming films: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) on Friday, August 14; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) on Sunday, August 16.
2400 East Capitol St., NE
RFK Stadium’s Campus Lot 5 is home to Park Up DC, a drive-in movie collaboration between Events DC and the Broccoli City Festival producers. Flicks play on the 45-foot-tall screen every Thursday through Sunday, with showings at 7 PM, 9 PM, and the occasional late-night feature. Tune the radio to 87.9 for surround sound at your preferred volume, and enjoy luxe reclining seats courtesy of your car. Each vehicle pays a single fee for the parking spot. Outside food is allowed, or viewers can order snacks and food truck fare online, delivered straight to the driver’s seat. Portable restrooms are available.
Upcoming films: Despicable Me 3 (2017) on Thursday, August 13 and Saturday, August 15; Get Out (2017) on Friday, August 14 and Sunday, August 16.
1309 5th St., NE
Watch movies projected onto the market’s wall from the comfort of your car each Friday at the pop-up theater. Caravans begin rolling in at 7:30 PM (films start at 8:40 PM), and the $20 ticket covers entry for all passengers. Perks of a big screen pop-up outside of a food hall? Plenty of concession options, courtesy of online pick up from Union Market vendors. Neighborhood restaurant St. Anselm is also offering its own movie night menu with caramel popcorn, cotton candy, and retro sodas. Restrooms are available.
Upcoming films: the Birdcage (1996) on Friday, August 14, Onward (2020) on Friday, August 20, Selma (2014) on Friday, August 27.
970 Wharf St., SW
If you need a break from cooped-up kids, an adults-only movie night may be the cure. Sunset films are screened on a floating stage in the Potomac River each Thursday at 8 PM. The $10 ticket covers popcorn, a can of beer, and a seat at the socially-distanced cabanas and tables. Ticket prices also go towards the $20 minimum spend required per person—the rest can be splurged on food from nearby restaurants with cheffy concessions like Lupo Marino pizza and Grazie Grazie sandwiches. Must be 21+ to attend.
Upcoming films: Jaws on Thursday, August 13 (1975); 42 (2013) on Thursday, August 20; Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) on Thursday, August 27.
3417 Eastern Blvd., Middle River
Maryland’s old-timey drive-in has been around since 1956, screening double features on the 52-foot-tall screen at 7 PM. Dial the radio to 105.3 FM or AM 830 for prime listening no matter where you park. Tickets are $10 per person, $5 for kids ages four to ten, and children under four enter for free. Stock up on snack-bar favorites like popcorn, nachos, and soft pretzels accessible on site or bring your own bites for an additional $15 per car. Restrooms are available.
Upcoming films: Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Spaceballs (1987) on Thursday, August 13; Mean Girls (2004) and Clueless (1995) on Friday, August 14 through Sunday, August 16, and Wednesday, August 19 to Thursday, August 20.
5001 Eisenhower Ave., Alexandria
The newest addition to the local drive-in roster is opening in an Alexandria parking lot on Saturday, August 29 with family-friendly films streaming weekly at 8:30 PM. Cinematic scores and dramatic dialogue are piped through the radio, with open captions to follow along. No need to wait until a lull in the action to re-up on snacks: Place online orders for food truck far, and noshes will be brought directly to the car (outside food is also allowed). The $30 ticket covers entry for the entire car starting at 7:15 PM, and proceeds go to community support group ACT for Alexandria, and Athena Rapid Response, an organization that crafts PPE in response to Covid-related shortages. Portable restrooms are available.
Upcoming films: Jurassic Park (1993) on Saturday, August 29; Back to the Future (1985) on Saturday, September 5; Trolls (2016) on Saturday, September 12.
4610 Fairfax Drive., Arlington
The parking lot at the Ballston Holiday Inn becomes an outdoor movie theater on Saturday nights. Tickets are $40 per car and include a sweet snack (past treats have included District Doughnuts). If you veer more savory, moviegoers are welcome to bring their own food. Films begin at 8:15 PM, once the sky darkens.
Upcoming films: The Sandlot (1993) on Saturday, August 22.
5890 Valley Pike, Stephens City
Double screens + double features = four times the films, with 7 PM showings Wednesday through Sunday. Tickets are $9 per person, $4 for kids ages three to 11, and children under three enter for free. Movie audio is transmitted through the radio, and Saturday screenings feature open captions. No need to fear crowded concession lines: Popcorn, funnel cakes, and corn dogs can be ordered through an app that sends a text when the food is ready for pick up. The open-sky setting means celebrities aren’t the only stars you’ll catch on movie night. Restrooms are available.
Upcoming films: Mamma Mia (2008) and Dirty Dancing (1987) on Wednesday, August 12 and Thursday, August 13, the Lego Batman Movie (2017) and Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse (2018) on Thursday, August 13.
9518 Workhouse Way, Lorton
The Lorton arts venue transforms its parking lot into a movie theater each Thursday through Saturday for 9 PM showings. In honor of National Women’s Suffrage Month in August, featured films on Thursdays will focus on strong female leads. Entry is $30 per car, and movie-goers can bring their own food or order sweet kettle corn up to 24 hours in advance. Shoutout messages can be purchased for an additional cost and projected on the big screen, for pandemic-era proposals and socially distanced birthday wishes. Restrooms are available.
Upcoming films: Moana (2016) on Thursday, August 13; Despicable Me (2010) on Friday, August 14.