Last year’s COVID-19 closures precipitated an explosion of outdoor moviegoing opportunities in New England. The limited tickets to many drive-in events sold out as quickly as I could list them in a similar guide last summer. Now that exhibitors have figured out the tech behind inflatable screens or formed allegiances with established drive-ins, many are keeping al fresco movies in their mix. This guide pulls together the region’s outdoor moviegoing highlights for the summer of 2021.
The big upshot, of course, is that indoor moviegoing is back in that mix too. So while the Coolidge has two nights in June set aside for drive-in screenings of “Shutter Island” on the Medfield State Hospital grounds, it also has its air-conditioned, and now super-air-filtered theaters back in gear. Arlington’s Capitol Theatre opened May 28, the Brattle on July 2 and the Somerville Theatre mid-summer, once its renovations are completed. (Kendall Square and other chain theaters have been open since COVID restrictions loosened.)
Please note, sell-outs are common so reserve tickets in advance. Check individual venues for added screenings and site-specific guidelines.
Where: Fairgrounds in Topsfield, Marshfield and West Springfield, Massachusetts
When: Currently Friday-Sunday
Highlights: Operated on each town’s respective fairgrounds under the umbrella of Fiesta Shows, the Topsfield, Marshfield and West Springfield Drive-ins feature new releases like “Cruella” or “A Quiet Place II,” and have streaming live musical performances coming soon. Weekend screenings will expand and turn into nightly screenings once summer heats up, around late June.
Need to Know: According to the FAQ, leave hoverboards at home.
Where: Tewksbury, Massachusetts
When: Friday-Saturday nights
Highlights: Mini-golf, laser tag, arcade games and drive-in movies can be found in one spot on Main Street in Tewksbury. The movie picks skew to the younger set (“Frozen,” “Sing,” “The Secret Life of Pets”) and combo tickets can discount some of the other fun in one package.
Need to Know: The mini-golf, more like “adventure” golf, features geysers and a life-size gorilla.
Where: YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard parking lot
When: June 4-5 and more dates forthcoming
Highlights: This collaboration between The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival and the YMCA in Oak Bluffs caught on like wildfire last year. (How could it not with guests like Spike Lee, Amy Schumer and Bill Murray?) With “The Incredibles” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” on the docket, the films are sure to provide laughs for the entire family.
Need to Know: All tickets must be purchased in advance. No tickets are sold on-site. Bring a portable radio to hear audio outside your vehicle (or to listen to NPR while the people you’re with watch the movie — just kidding).
Where: Mary Heaton Vorse House, Provincetown, Massachusetts
When: Friday evenings through Aug. 13
Highlights: Pull up a blanket and lawn chair to watch classic musicals like “Funny Girl,” “Cabaret” or “The Wizard of Oz” in the garden of the recently restored former epicenter of P-town cultural life. Wine, snacks and other refreshments will be available on site.
Need to Know: Organizers ask that all participants are vaccinated.
Where: Saugus, Massachusetts
When: Check the restaurant calendar
Highlights: The periodic movie nights are free and can be watched from your car or from one of Kowloon’s outdoor tables. Thursday’s Bingo Beach block parties and weekend live music round off the calendar.
Need to Know: No Scorpion Bowls, or alcohol of any kind, can be consumed in cars. Outdoor table seating available by reservation.
Where: Dreamland Drive-In, Nantucket, Massachusetts
When: June 17-28
Highlights: In addition to indie doc darling “Summer of Soul,” screening outdoors twice, this festival will close with “Coda,” the coming-of-age story about a fishing family from Gloucester. Kelsey Grammer grows out his hair for “The Space Between” and marine life takes center stage in “Playing With Sharks” and “The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52.”
Need to Know: Lots of celebs show up for this festival. Check out the Garden Series of open-air conversations with Grammer, author Elin Hilderbrand, Amy Sherman-Palladino (creator of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) and many others.
Where: Rockport, Maine
When: June 3-Oct. 23
Highlights: Perhaps the most robustly diverse array of films will show as part of the Points North outdoor series, launched during the COVID-19 pandemic and resuming for 2021. Documentaries like “The Truffle Hunters” open in early June with the swirling adolescent fiction “Moonrise Kingdom” playing later in the month. “Summer of Soul (Or… When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” — arguably the best movie to see outdoors in 2021 — about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, screens July 3.
Need to Know: The all-documentary Camden International Film Festival, Sept. 16-26, will include nightly movies at the Shotwell.
Where: Jamaica Plain
When: June 13, June 17, June 19; more dates added regularly
Highlights: Talk about homegrown. When Matt Shuman started this DIY, open-air movie night about five years back, he’d toss a 200-foot cable out his condo window down to his garage. Come-one-come-all crowds of about a dozen or so gather there for his impromptu broadcasts of presidential debates, TV shows, and movie screenings. In addition to showing “Best Summer Ever,” a teen romance flick with New England ties, or the opioid epidemic documentary, “The Crime of the Century” (along with an expert speaker), this summer Shuman has plans for a concert series that will take over the entire street. Don’t worry, the city gave the OK.
Need to Know: Movie night space is limited to first-come. Bring a lawn chair and food or drink to share. To find out about events, Shuman suggests following @WenhamStreetCinema on Instagram or joining the Wenham Street Cinema Google group or Facebook page.
Where: Wellfleet, Massachusetts
When: June 16-18 at the drive-In; the festival runs through June 25
Highlights: PIFF continues its partnership with the Wellfleet Drive-In with a special screening of “Give or Take,” shot on the Cape and including scenes shot at the Wellfleet Drive-In. The film festival’s opening night celebration of “In the Heights” is set to screen on June 17 and a 25th-anniversary screening of “Fargo” will show June 18. (Not often you get to eat a snow cone while watching snow blow across Minnesota on a giant outdoor screen on a warm summer night.)
Need to Know: This festival is chock full of LGBTQ+ friendly storylines, special guests, fishing movies, local angles and more.
Where: Newport, Rhode Island
When: June 17
Highlights: This all nonfiction outdoor series has a decidedly environmental flair. The June title, “Playing With Sharks,” is one part “My Octopus Teacher” and one part under-the-sea “Wonder Woman.” It tells the story of shark cinematographer and advocate Valerie Taylor, whose work inspired “Jaws.”
Need to Know: More titles TBA.
Where: Former Medfield State Hospital grounds
When: June 18 and 19
Highlights: Watch the spine-chilling Scorsese thriller on the grounds where the movie was filmed. Hosted for the second year in a row by the Coolidge Corner Theatre, maybe this will become an annual event, or better, a cult classic where people throw popcorn (or something animal friendly and biodegradable) from their cars and yell, “Pull yourself together, Teddy!”
Need to Know: Arrive early if you want to walk the grounds before the sun sets.
Where: Jamaica Plain
When: June 18, July 30, Aug. 27, Sept. 17
Highlights: This blanket and lawn-chair friendly garden series has movies that tell a range of stories from a tender mother-daughter drama (“Miss Juneteenth” to help celebrate Juneteenth), and a musical reboot (“Hairspray,” 2007), among others.
Need to Know: All movies will feature English subtitles for the benefit of those with deafness or those who are hard of hearing.
Where: Museum of Fine Arts Boston
When: June 19
Highlights: What could be better than celebrating the rediscovery of footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival — buried for 50 years until this film was made — on the eve that marks the emancipation of people who had been enslaved in Texas. One part historical record, one part concert film, and endless parts emotionally resonant — this part bears repeating: “Summer of Soul” is the movie to see outdoors this summer.
Need to Know: Tickets will go fast. The Roxbury International Film Festival, or RoxFilm, runs as a hybrid festival from June 17-26 and includes another outdoor screening at the MFA on June 26, the Christmas story “Jingle Jangle,” starring Forest Whitaker.
Where: Featherstone Center for the Arts, Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts
When: Wednesday nights, July 7-Aug. 28
Highlights: Spread your blanket and picnic fixings under the Vineyard stars at this walk-in (not drive-in) gathering. But get your tickets ASAP. Last year, every single screening sold out. Series programmer Richard Paradise was still nailing down this season’s titles with hopes for new releases like “Summer of Soul.”
Need to Know: While the Vineyard’s two historic movie theaters, the Capawock and Strand, sadly announced closures in December, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center is now open for in-person screenings and continues its virtual offerings as well.
Where: Skowhegan Drive-In, Skowhegan, Maine
When: July 9-18
Highlights: For its 24th year, this Maine festival will combine in-person theatrical and drive-in events with titles to stream. Mike Perreault, executive director of the Maine Film Center and the festival’s programmer, told the Morning Sentinel that more films will screen this year than last (with COVID restrictions and all) but will probably not exceed its usual 100. That’s still quite a menu!
Need to Know: The full program will be announced later in June.
Where: Portland, Maine
When: July 29-Aug. 8
Highlights: Conceived in 2012 as a showcase for Maine’s creatives who had filmed their outdoorsy adventures (“outdoor films shown outdoors”), for years this fest toured the state each summer and finally, in 2020, came to rest as a multiday event grounded in Portland.
Need to Know: The 2021 line-up will be announced June 24. Proceeds benefit the Maine nonprofit, Teens to Trails.
Where: Nantucket, Massachusetts
Highlights: Dreamland’s Drive-In has a something-for-everyone approach, including kids. Among “Trolls World Tour” and “Caddyshack,” you’ll find titles like the drama “Grey Lady” from 2017, showing on July 9. Nantucket resident and actor John Shea wrote the screenplay about the Boston police officer investigating a murder on Nantucket.
Need to Know: Dreamland has all the entertainment bases covered with comedy, live theater, live music, children’s theater, movies and other special events.
Where: Derry, New Hampshire
When: Summer, Thursdays-Sundays
Highlights: This outdoor venue exclusively features live music as “drive-in experiences.” Upcoming highlights include Waltham native Michael Troy’s band Captain Fantastic, Rolling Stones cover nights and Dueling Pianos, where audience members pick set lists.
Need to Know: Live shows are also streamed; a “booze buggy” can serve alcohol to people sitting outside their vehicles.
More New England Drive-Ins
- Mansfield Drive-In | Mansfield Center, Connecticut
- Pleasant Valley Drive-In | Barkhamsted, Connecticut
- Mendon Twin Drive-In | Mendon, Massachusetts
- Wellfleet Drive-In | Wellfleet, Massachusetts
- Bangor Drive-In | Hermon, Maine
- Bridgton Twin Drive-In | Bridgton, Maine
- Narrow Gauge Drive-In | Farmington, Maine
- Prides Corner Drive-In | Westbrook, Maine
- Saco Drive-In | Saco, Maine
- Skowhegan Drive-In | Skowhegan, Maine
- Milford Drive-In | Milford, New Hampshire
- Northfield Drive-In | Hinsdale, New Hampshire
- Weirs Drive-In Theater | North Weirs Beach, New Hampshire
- Misquamicut Drive-In Theater | Westerly, Rhode Island
- Rustic Tri View Drive-In | North Smithfield, Rhode Island
- Bethel Drive-In | Bethel, Vermont
- Sunset Drive-In | Colchester, Vermont
Same Game, Different Name
Last summer’s Drive-In Live, at the Cheshire Fairground in Swanzey, New Hampshire is now known as Northlands, exclusively a drive-in concert series.
Several pop-ups appeared last summer that may or may not reappear in 2021. If you have any tips on outdoor movie events not listed here, please email email@example.com.