Outdoor and drive-in cinemas near Chicago – Thrillist | Gmx Pharm

Drive-in theaters, which are simultaneously nostalgic and COVID-proof, have enjoyed a deserved resurgence in recent years, including across the Chicagoland area. For those who hate being awarded over popcorn or cramming into packed theaters (thanks, Tom Cruise), outdoor and drive-in movies offer the same cinematic wallop and community experience, minus the exorbitant prices or risk, the latest Omicron Variant to catch during Catch the latest Marvel hype.

In and around Chicago, outdoor movies offer a family-friendly alternative. Though drive-in theaters have dwindled since their Americana heyday, a few suburban outliers still have a strong presence — and worth the mini-road trip for affordable dual-functions and traditional concessions like cash-only candy and hot dogs. In the meantime, if you’d rather roll out a picnic blanket and BYO snacks, Chicago has plenty of outdoor cinema experiences happening throughout the city throughout the summer. Whether you’re looking for an all-American banger from the past or a casual trip to the neighborhood in a park, here are the best outdoor and drive-in cinemas near Chicago.

According to nostalgic tradition, drive-in theaters are described as delightful rickety relics tucked away in quiet suburbs, surrounded by some sort of forest and/or field, far from the hustle and bustle of modern city life. While that’s certainly true of most drive-in theaters, one company right in the heart of Chicago is moving against the zigzag. ChiTown Movies is a full-fledged drive-in theater in Pilsen, the mural-clad neighborhood on the near southwest side. The theater is surprisingly huge for a city lot, with plenty of room for 10 rows of cars, all facing a gigantic screen that displays features such as: Shrek, The sandbarand the Chicago movie of all time, Ferris turns blue. Customers can order groceries like pizza, tacos, and wings delivered right to their window.
drive from Chicago: None – it’s in Pilsen.


McHenry, Illinois
From the neon-clad jukebox and classic arcade games to the old-school radios available to rent and listen to the films, the McHenry Outdoor Theater feels authentically preserved in time. Not much has changed at this colossal drive-in complex north of town since the ’50s, including its affordable dual functions and comfort food, from hot pretzels and hot dogs to cheese-topped nachos as neon as the jukebox. Movies start at sunset and include back-to-back blockbusters like light year and Thor: Love and Thunder.
drive from Chicago: About an hour and a half.

Route 34 drive-in movie theater
Route 34 drive-in movie theater

Earlville, Illinois
Nestled in a vast meadow in the far western suburbs, there’s something particularly peaceful and pastoral about the Route 34 Drive-In Theater. Unlike many drive-in theaters, which are typically located on gravel or dirt, the grassy grounds make it more comfortable to sit outside on a lounge chair or let the kids frolic and frolic before the sun sets. The cash-only facility opens at 6:30pm on weekends, with back-to-back films beginning at dusk. Each week may contain features DC League of Superbeastsfollowed by a whiplash pivot to twister– a film known to show a scene in which a drive-in theater is blown up. The theater also has an indoor pool table, and no-frills discounts include burgers and popcorn (made with real butter, the website strongly asserts).
drive from Chicago: About an hour and a half.

Valparaíso, Indiana
Located just across the Indiana border, the 49er Drive-In is a seasonal summer tradition that pairs the merchandise with dirt-cheap dual features ($10 for adults, $5 for kids 5-11, free for kids under 4) and regular live music events supplies , and an emphasis on family-friendly films – think so Find Dory followed by Alice in Wonderlandor DC League of Superbeasts followed by the new one elvis biopic. The concession menu is surprisingly robust for a drive-in theater, with extensive options like chili cheese fries, mini corn dogs, fried green beans, funnel cakes, Polish sausage, and Italian beef. You can even get a cappuccino if you need an energy boost for the second show. It’s all cash only, but there is an ATM in the concession area.
drive from Chicago: About an hour.

Chicago Park District
Chicago Park District

Different places
A summertime rite of passage in Chicago, with street parties and rooftop drinks, Movies in the Parks is a fun and festive way to capitalize on the city’s glory days. Courtesy of the Chicago Park District, the seasonal series is projecting outdoor films on pop-up screens in parks across the city through the end of August. All of the films are even cheaper than a drive-in, are free to attend, and make the perfect setting for a picnic with family and friends (many films are family-friendly, but some like King Richard and The gay divorcee, slate mature). Check out the calendar for a comprehensive list of movies and parks, and there’s sure to be something that suits your needs. Movies start right after sunset, but arrive early if you want to find a prime spot.
drive from Chicago: None – they are all over the city.

Millennium Park
A popular spot for open-air concerts, festivals, and selfies by the Bean, Millennium Park is a particularly beautiful place to shoot an outdoor movie. With the breathtaking skyline as a sparkling backdrop, free outdoor films will be screened at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion Tuesday nights through September 6th. Like concerts in the pavilion, however, movies are particularly popular, and the sprawling lawn has been known to fill up fairly quickly, so keep that in mind when planning your picnic. Films begin at 6:30 p.m. and this year’s list includes dance-inspired films themed 2022 Year of Chicago Dance. These include Encanto, in the heights, Dirty dancingand Get the last dance.
drive from Chicago: None—it’s right in the middle of downtown’s main tourist attraction.

Navy Pier
Navy Pier

It makes sense that Navy Pier, an almost infamously family-friendly tourist attraction that juts out from Streeterville into Lake Michigan, would host an outdoor film series dedicated entirely to family-inspired films. Another free option is movies, which air on pop-up screens overlooking the water in the grassy Polk Bros Park. The Family Plan takes place every Monday evening through August 29th and includes what is required Encanto, Rent, Clifford the big red dog, Minariand Meet the parents. Attendees are welcome to bring their own supplies or grab a takeout from one of Navy Pier’s myriad of fast-casual restaurants, including I Dream of Falafel, America’s Dog & Burger, Big Bowl Chinese Express, Big City Chicken, and Frankie’s Pizza by the disc.
drive from Chicago: None – it’s right on the lake in downtown.

Gallagher Way Chicago
Gallagher Way Chicago

Another free alternative for all ages is the ongoing outdoor film series on Gallagher Way, the carefully landscaped parkland surrounded by boutique restaurants, shops and hotel rooms – oh, and Wrigley Field is across the street. It’s the perfect spot to spread out a blanket, bring some snacks, and catch a movie. The eclectic films, taking place every Wednesday night through September 21, involve the inevitable Encanto, Fat, Bohemian Rhapsodyand field of dreamswhich can be viewed perfectly in the shadow of Wrigley Field.
drive from Chicago: None – it is across from Wrigley Field.

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Matt Kirouac is a travel writer working on his memoir about the epic ups and downs of life as a gay couple traveling – and the lessons he’s learned along the way. Follow him on IG @mattkirouacofficial.

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