Stars Under the Stars: 2019’s Best Outdoor Movie Series

Photo courtesy of the Hollywood Bowl

Angelenos are blessed with warm weather and take full advantage with outdoor fun, but we’re also a city that loves to watch movies—an activity usually reserved for a couch or the cool, dark retreat of the multiplex. What’s a torn outdoors-person and cinephile to do? Take the movies outside, of course. From rooftops to beaches to, yes, cemeteries, Los Angeles gives you the best of both worlds by transforming some of our best outdoor spaces into impromptu cinematic settings for the summer. Here are some of the tops this year.

Photo courtesy of Hollywood Forever Cemetery/Facebook

Quintessential L.A.: heavily attended and annually beloved outdoor film screenings in the final resting place of many a celebrity. Get in line early to stake out a good spot on the lawn, spread out for a picnic (BYO whatever), and have someone hold down the fort while you take turns posing in the photo booth, elaborately decorated for each screening as if it were a scene in the film. With a lineup including Hollywood golden age classics, modern action blockbusters, and cult favorites, Cinespia has something for everyone (this year’s schedule begins with Beetlejuice, The Matrix, Legally Blonde, and Rear Window). Runs May through September, mostly Saturdays, with some Sundays. Warning: Parking is impossible. Get tickets in advance and show up early; screenings sell out fast. Begins May 11; Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard

Photo courtesy of LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/Facebook

Docs@LA Plaza
This year’s lineup of documentaries shown at the historic LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes highlights Latinx social and cultural issues, including the WWII-era Bracero Program, the creation of Cal State Northridge’s Chicana/o Studies Department, and the state of DACA today (the films themselves are all from after 2000). Most showings will also have a Q&A with the filmmaker or an expert in the subject. All films are free except Agave: The Spirit of a Nation, on May 23, which includes a mezcal tasting. Various Thursdays through October; LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, 501 North Main Street

Photo courtesy of Eat|See|Hear/Facebook

Eat|See|Hear elevates the alfresco nosh and tunes to top billing right along with the movie. Taking place at various gobsmackingly pretty outdoor spots, Eat|See|Hear livens up the precurtain proceedings with a rotating lineup of gourmet food trucks and a concert-worthy performance from a buzzy local band. If food trucks aren’t your style, you can bring in your own picnic—just be aware that alcohol is prohibited at any venue on park or school grounds. This year’s films include a smattering of recent crowd-pleasers (Get Out, Crazy Rich Asians, The Greatest Showman) and a slew of proven classics. Saturdays, May 4–September 14; various locations

Hollywood Bowl Film Screenings
Short of bringing real dinosaurs or wizards into the audience, film screenings at the Hollywood Bowl are as close as you’re going to get to making the magic of blockbuster movies come alive. That’s because this summer’s screenings of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Jurassic Park, and An American in Paris will all feature live orchestral accompaniment from the acclaimed Los Angeles Philharmonic. Other film events include a sing-along to The Sound of Music (sans orchestra) and the Phil’s ever-popular performances of the music of John Williams, complete with film clips. June through September; Hollywood Bowl, 2301 North Highland Avenue

LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes Summer Film Series
Celebrate Los Angeles’s rich Chicano culture through music, food, film, and more at this annual outdoor series at the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes. Held mere steps from where Los Angeles was founded as the Pueblo de Los Ángeles more than 200 years ago—and conveniently just across the street from Union Station—this free series aims to spread appreciation of Chicano culture with a lineup of related movies, local Latin musicians, Mexican food, and guest speakers connected to the flicks shown. This year’s roster is heavy on the great Edward James Olmos, who stars in three of the four flicks. You won’t find us complaining. Monthly, June through September; LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, 501 North Main Street

Movie Theater Holiday
Photo courtesy of Melrose Rooftop Theatre/Facebook

Melrose Rooftop Theatre
In a city full of alfresco cinema options, Melrose Rooftop Theatre stands out with a lineup heavy on recent fare, giving you plenty of chances to catch up on the past year’s blockbusters and Oscar bait (don’t worry, there are still classics, too). This go-round includes hits like Bohemian Rhapsody, Aquaman, A Star Is Born, and more, and that’s only with part of the screenings announced. Opt for the VIP experience to get a three-course meal at E.P. before the show, or drop in at the adjoining L.P. rooftop bar afterward if you’re not ready to call it a night. Ages 21 and up only. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday throughout the summer; E.P. and L.P., 603 North La Cienega Boulevard, West Hollywood

Photo by N. Charles

Movies on the Green
Perceptions of space and time stretch out a bit when you venture out of Los Angeles proper, and that’s certainly the case for the sprawling lawn at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills. Stake out your spot in the generous open-air space and aim yourself at the Lou Bredlow Pavilion for one of this series’s family-friendly screenings, which cover the four main food groups of kids’ films: musical (Mary Poppins Returns, Bohemian Rhapsody), animated (Ralph Breaks the Internet), superhero (Aquaman), and animated superhero (Incredibles 2). Concessions will be on hand to satisfy all your movie-must cravings. Saturdays, July 20 through August 17; Lou Bredlow Pavilion, 5800 Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Woodland Hills

Poolside Cinema
For an outdoor movie experience that serves up some serious bites to go with cinematic delights, head to the lush Mr. C Beverly Hills Hotel on a summer Tuesday for Poolside Cinema. A $35 or $45 ticket gets you admission to the sleek pool deck, a spot on a luxurious lounger as you enjoy films both recent (A Star Is Born, Avengers: Infinity War) and classic (Space Jam, Thelma and Louise), and a prix fixe menu featuring drinks, traditional movie snacks, and Mr. C’s fresh Italian dishes. Spots are reserved online only, so prebook your showing at this slice of Italy under the stars. Tuesdays, June 11 through August 27; Mr. C Beverly Hills Hotel, 1224 Beverwil Drive

Photo courtesy of Rooftop Cinema Club/Facebook

Rooftop Cinema Club
Enjoying amazing films with iconic views of Hollywood in the background is a glamorous (and meta) way to be entertained all summer long. From The Big Lebowski to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Rooftop Cinema Club is all about making your movie-going experience as enjoyable and comfortable as possible. This means you’re kicking back with lounge chairs or love seats, unlimited popcorn, and wireless headphones so you don’t miss a line. You can even enjoy a cocktail as you snuggle up for the show with your favorite movie buddy. Year-round; various locations

Photo courtesy of the Montalbán

Rooftop Movies at the Montalbán
The Montalbán’s rooftop movie series just may have the most well-rounded selection of films in town. There are the requisite recent hits (Black Panther, Venom) and classics (The Breakfast Club, Pulp Fiction), sure, but beyond that, the lineup isn’t afraid to get more specific with black and white favorites (Some Like It Hot, Sunset Boulevard), prestige dramas (The Departed, Saving Private Ryan), Latinx films (Selena, Instructions Not Included), and other niches that most outdoor series don’t explore. Combine that with a gorgeous setting, good food and drink, and free blankets and headphones, and you’ve got one of the best movie experiences of the summer. Through October 31; the Montalbán, 1615 Vine Street