people with headphones recline in chairs to watch an outdoor movie
Courtesy Rooftop Cinema Club

Bogged down by the rise of at-home movie screenings and big mall theaters, the appeal of the drive-in has faded away into a faint memory, leaving us with a mythology of first dates, family barbecues, and community. Now more than ever, streaming has stolen our attention, and the once immensely popular outdoor movie venue with nearly 4,000 U.S. locations at its all-time high has waned down to a meager 305 theaters. 

With more people prone to staring at phones or computers, movie watching is suddenly a lonely, individual experience. With every movie at our fingertips, the final nail is hammered into the drive-in theater’s coffin. But why do we need to stay locked in the house for a movie night? Or a major premiere? 

Warm weather has thawed out Chicago, and more importantly, freed us from social hibernation—meaning it’s time to pry ourselves away from the screens that kept us warm through the winter. But that doesn’t mean you need to propel yourself into unwanted socializing immediately. And with the rippling effects of the pandemic, everyone is a little slow to the punch. Trying to adapt to a time without consistent social gatherings, the last two years sparked a renaissance of the open-air theaters, reviving the special memory of meeting to catch a movie together.

Chicago summer is spilling over with exciting events, so when trying to balance it all, there is no shame in feeling some exhaustion. On the days when it’s necessary to slow down, there is a clear solution to avoid throwing a beautiful day or evening away by holing up inside. Open-air theaters and outdoor movie showings happen nearly every single day of the summer, so there are plenty of options for every type of movie mood. 

From the comfort of your car or on a picnic with friends, Chicago’s outdoor movie screenings have resuscitated the alluring drive-in experience, so screentime can be spent with others all summer long.

Chicago Onscreen 

Despite lasting only a single week, it would be a mistake to miss the Chicago Onscreen Local Film Showcase. Whether you just love short films or want to support local artists, this showcase will feature Chicago-focused films that are guaranteed to contend with any major blockbuster. This year’s event will be held between August 29 and September 3 and will premiere films including Ray & the Agave, Room Rodeo, and Teacher in the Window

Night Out in the Parks

This summer, the Chicago Park District is exceeding expectations by hosting more than 100 outdoor movie screenings. The park district is holding family-friendly film showings at Oz Park, Humboldt Park, Wicker Park, Osterman Beach, and many more. Make sure to bring dinner picnic supplies any time through August 27 to enjoy beloved classics including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (June 23 at Holstein Park), The Devil Wears Prada (July 7 at Bartelme Park), or Soul (July 8 at Peterson Park). 

ChiTown Movies Drive-In

Pilsen’s ChiTown Movies is a charming hideaway designed to fulfill your drive-in dreams. This theater is tucked away at the end of Throop Street, making it the perfect date spot or family movie night choice. Every spot in the lot gets a remarkable view of the extra-large screen. Every week, the revived drive-in theater features blockbusters such as Friday the 13th, Shrek, and Encanto. To top it off, you can order snacks and drinks directly to your car. 

Millennium Park Summer Film

The Millenium Park Summer Film Series is Chicago’s most popular, awe-striking outdoor movie option. Beneath the skyline, movie lovers can snag a spot on the Great Lawn (as long as you arrive early) to watch some of their favorite movies. The film series runs from July 12 to August 30, playing movies including In the Heights (July 12) and Dirty Dancing (August 2). 

Movie Night at Gallagher Way 

Every Wednesday through September 21, Gallagher Way—the small sister park of Wrigley Field—hosts an outdoor movie screening fit for a family outing. Starting with Josie and the Pussycats and ending with Bohemian Rhapsody, there is a chance to gather and watch one of your favorite movies on the giant digital screen. 

Rooftop Cinema Club 

Located on the fifth-floor terrace at the Emily Hotel in West Town, the Rooftop Cinema Club delivers an opulent outdoor theater experience, complete with a cushioned chair, headphones for audio, and, to top it off, a full food and drink menu courtesy of the hotel. The outdoor theater will host screenings nearly every day this summer, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s (June 26). 

Water Flicks at Navy Pier Summer Film Series 

With the view of the lake and the Centennial Wheel, it is tough to beat the location of Navy Pier’s Summer Film Series. Hosted on Mondays from July 11 to August 29, the film series will show cherished movies like Minari (July 25) and cult classics such as Are We There Yet? (August 29). Typically strung together by a theme, this year’s Water Flicks feature movies about family—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Summer Theater & Arts Preview