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Free Outdoor Movie Festivals in DC

July 2, 2010

The cost of living may be expensive, but the sheer number of free things to do in DC makes up for it ten-fold.  Summertime outdoor movie festivals continually crop up everywhere in DC, and for good reason—while DC is blazing hot during the day, at nighttime it cools off and it becomes so nice out that it’s a shame to stay indoors, even to see a movie.  Thus, the need for outdoor film festivals!  And the fact that they are not only free but showcase a great selection of films, both old and new, on almost any day of the week make them (in my opinion) one of DC’s biggest draws.

My top picks?  Screen on the Green (Mondays on the National Mall), On Tap Magazine Corona Nights (Wednesdays at DC bars, complete with a free Corona), and Rosslyn Outdoor Film Festival (Fridays in Arlington, with fun movie picks).

Bring a blanket or low lawn-chairs, pack some snacks, and enjoy a night out under the stars!

Tip: Arrive early, because every movie host’s definition of “dusk” and “sunset” vary.

Columbia Lakefront Festival

Every Monday and Friday night from now until mid-September you can see family-friendly movies (all are rated G, PG, or PG-13 unless otherwise noted) such as “Sherlock Holmes”, “”Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, “Avatar”, “Hairspray”, “Wall-E”, “Iron Man”, and “Toy Story” 1 & 2.  Movies begin around 8:30pm.  On Fridays, arrive early for free dance lessons that are held from 6:30-8pm under the People Tree at Town Center Lakefront.  And definitely arrive early if you’re trying to see Harry Potter, because we all know how that goes.  Just imagine how much more chaotic it would be if it was Twilight.


Columbia Town Center

10320 Little Patuxent Pkwy

Columbia, MD

Crystal Screen

It’s the summer of Star Trek at Crystal Screen.  Every Monday night at sundown come out to enjoy a night with lots of special giveaways, games, costume contests, and Star Trek-related activities with the Washington Shakespeare Company (WSC).  If you don’t want to bring your own food you can pick something up from various restaurants in Crystal City, or enjoy District Taco on-site.  The movies go on rain or shine.

Getting There:

Crystal City Metro


1851 S Bell St.

Arlington, VA

Screen on the Green

This is one of DC’s best summertime movie festivals because these movies are shown right on the lawn of the National Mall.  HBO and Comcast bring this amazing movie series, which includes classic films such as “Goldfinger”, “The Goodbye Girl”, “12 Angry Men”, and “Bonnie and Clyde.”  Movies show every Monday around 8pm, rain or shine.  No movie series boasts a setting quite like this.

Getting There:

Smithsonian Metro


The National Mall, located off of Constitution Ave., between 4th and 7th Streets

U Street Movie Series

Celebrate all things musical with this “Harrison Field Under the Stars” film series, which showcases “Buena Vista Social Club”, “The Soloist” (stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx), and “Soul Power & Duke Ellington’s Washington,” all of which tell stories of aspiring musicians and highlight U Street neighborhood’s musically and culturally diverse roots.  Playing the 2nd Tuesday of every month at Harrison Field, the gates open at 7pm, and movies begin at sundown around 8:30pm.  In case of rain, movies are moved to alternate dates.  Fun bonus: The first 100 people get free popcorn!


Harrison Field

V St., NW, between 13th and 14th Streets

Washington, DC

Films On The Vern

George Washington University (GWU) ties their summer series to their book club by showing movies adapted from fictional and non-fictional stories.  Movies include “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, “Invictus”, “The Golden Compass”, “The Blind Side” (by the way, DC residents–Sandra Bullock is an Arlington native!), “The Kite Runner”, and “Where The Wild Things Are.”  Movies are shown on Wednesdays at 8:30pm on the Mount Vernon Campus Quad.  Note: The last screening on August 18th will be held at the Outdoor Pool at Mount Vernon.  Rain site: Eckles Library Auditorium.

Getting There:

Foggy Bottom Metro, then free shuttle service connecting Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses.  Shuttle runs every 30 minutes from 8pm until midnight.


2100 Foxhall Rd., NW

Washington, DC

NoMa Summer Screen

NoMa (North of Massachusetts Avenue) Business Improvement District takes us to the future this summer with their “The Future Is Now” theme, showcasing movies including “Sleeper”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Groundhog Day”, and “Donnie Darko.”  You will be missing out if you don’t get there early for this Wednesday summer series—starting at 7pm there’s great local BBQ, popcorn, Italian ice, and music by local DJ Fatback.  Then spread out your blanket, sit back, and relax, and enjoy the movie that starts at 9, rain or shine!

Getting There:

New York Avenue Metro


L Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets, NE

Washington, DC

On Tap Magazine Corona Movie Nights

This may be my favorite movie festival in DC.  Why?  For so many reasons.  They’re showing some of my favorite recent comedies, including “Anchorman”, “Knocked Up”, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, and “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” and each movie plays at a different bar in the DC area.  To make this movie series even sweeter, every movie night there are not only Corona specials, but your first Corona is FREE.  Yes, free.  Nice, right?  Movies play outside on the bar patios every Wednesday at 8pm, and of course the fun continues afterward.  Note: “Knocked Up” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” play on Thursdays, and not Wednesdays.


Varies each week (that’s part of the fun!)

Rockville Town Square Movies on the Square

Rockville’s movie series includes many of this year’s most popular movie theater draws, including “Julie & Julia”, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”, “Sherlock Holmes”, “Valentine’s Day”, “The Blind Side”, and “New Moon.”  Movies play on Wednesdays at dusk (around 8:45pm).  Stop by at one of Rockville Town Square’s restaurants, many of which offer dinner specials and boxed meals specifically for this movie series.  In the event of rain, the fun is unfortunately canceled.

Getting There:

Rockville Metro


West of Rockville Pike

Rockville, Maryland

Capitol Riverfront Front Row

Every Thursday at sundown Capitol Riverfront hosts movies that follow the theme “Ultimate Underdogs”—think “Rudy”, “Seabiscuit”, “Happy Gilmore”, and “Rocky.”  Get there early for hoop jams, trivia, and Wii, and check the website by 4pm on the day-of to check for rain cancellations.

Getting There:

Navy Yard Metro


200 M Street, SE

Washington, DC

On Tap Magazine Corona Movie Nights

(This movie series typically falls on Wednesdays, but they do have TWO Thursday showings for “Knocked Up” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”  See above listing under WEDNESDAYS for details.)

Columbia Lakefront Festival

(This movie series falls on both Mondays and Fridays.  See above listing under MONDAYS for details.)

Rosslyn Outdoor Film Festival

Rosslyn continues its hugely successful Friday film festival with an “I ♥ the 90s” theme, playing movies including “Home Alone”, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”, “Empire Records”, “The Wedding Singer”, and tons more sentimental hits for those who grew up in the 90s.  Movies play every Friday night at 8pm at Gateway Park, rain or shine.  You’ll only see a cancellation if there are true thunderstorms.  Show up early to enjoy 90s themed games and prizes!

Getting There:

Rosslyn Metro


Gateway Park

1300 Lee Hwy.

Arlington, VA

Starlight Cinema Drive-In Movies

This is another stand-out movie series, as indicated by its name!  With this movie series you can enjoy movies the old-fashioned way with a movie drive-in.  Drive up on Saturday nights to enjoy family-friendly movies such as “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian”, and “Aliens in the Attic.”  I wish there was a more “Adults-only” version of this with movies that are at least PG-13, but oh well.  Come at 6pm to enjoy food and kid-friendly games, and wait for the movie that begins at sunset.  Note: Only compact cars get the front spots, so if you’re driving an SUV or van, be prepared for back-row seating.


5860 Trinity Pkwy

Centreville, VA

Bethesda Outdoor Movies

Hit up Bethesda for 5 consecutive nights of movie fun with “Stars of the Avenue.”  The featured movies include “When Harry Met Sally”, “The Maltese Falcon”, “Sherlock Holmes”‘, “The Blind Side”, and “Chicago.”  Stop by one of the neighborhood’s restaurants beforehand and head to the corner of Norfolk and Auburn Avenues to catch the 9pm movie.

Getting There:

Bethesda Metro


Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle

Bethesda, MD

While it is not free, we want to remind you to go see the hit Israeli comedy “A Matter of Size”, which opens THIS EVENING at the historic Avalon Theatre in DC.  We were lucky enough to be invited to screen this movie and can promise you it is a true gem and is nothing like your typical summer blockbuster movies.  Read our review HERE and see why we loved this film!

Have a great 4th of July and a wonderful weekend!  We’ll see you Tuesday morning (we want to enjoy the long weekend, too, after all!)

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