Union Market Drive-In presents ‘Lion King,’ ‘Cool Runnings,’ ‘Hocus Pocus’

UPDATE: The “Lion King” show scheduled for Sept. 7 has been canceled due to severe weather.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Union Market Drive-In (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — Get ready to sing “Hakuna Matata” under the stars in the nation’s capital.

The fifth annual Union Market Drive-In continues Friday night with “The Lion King” (1994).

“It’s not just going to a movie, but seeing it under the stars in a really interesting venue,” founder Jon Gann told WTOP.

“This Friday, we have ‘The Lion King,’ which is a fantastic favorite. Everyone loves that one. Because it’s open captioned, it’s a singalong too, so come in and sing your heart out! … It’s great music, Elton John’s first musical … and, of course, the movie blew up into the amazing Broadway show, which is still playing umpteen years later,” Gann said.

It remains the only drive-in theater in D.C. and one of just three in the region, joining Bengies Drive-In Theatre near Baltimore and The Family Drive-In Theatre in Stephen’s City, Virginia.

“We never had one before,” Gann said. “Even when I was growing up in Montgomery County, there were drive-ins out in Gaithersburg and in Howard County, but there was nothing in D.C. itself. So when [Union] Market became available and opened up, the first time I went there to tour and saw this massive white wall, I said, ‘That is a movie screen!'”

Located on 5th Street in Northeast, the movies are projected onto the side of the building.

“The first year was supported in part by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities,” Gann said. “It was a way to integrate a new space in a neighborhood that really had no arts programming in it. … The fact that it’s lasted this long and we still get sold-out crowds on Friday nights is really amazing. It’s grown into something that’s a great community benefit.”

The parking lot opens at 6 p.m. and closes at 7:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. screening.

“We broadcast the sound over the radio, so we tell you what radio station to tune in to that night,” Gann said. “There’s also speakers at the very front for people that are picnicking, and because it’s right next to Gallaudet [University], all of the movies are open captioned.”

Parking costs $10 per car. Advanced purchase is highly recommended. Walk-ups get in free.

“We sell out most shows,” Gann said. “That’s 175 parking spaces, that’s two or three people per car, and then, there’s an entire picnic area that’s entirely free to attend and sit in that’s usually another 200 people. So, there’s a good 500 people per night.”

Expect the full drive-in experience with plenty of nostalgic touches.

“The D.C. Rollergirls — our local roller derby [team] — are there every week,” Gann said. “They are there to sell snacks and food from the market, going car to car on their roller skates. … We also do preshow slides, all from the 1950s or 1940s, so it’s kind of a throwback.”

The monthly series continues Oct. 5 with the Jamaican bobsled sports flick “Cool Runnings” (1993) and wraps the weekend on Nov. 2 with the Halloween favorite “Hocus Pocus” (1993).

Earlier this summer, the drive-in series screened “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), “Clueless” (1995), “Like Water for Chocolate” (1992) and this year’s blockbuster “Black Panther” (2018).

“The Market selects the films themselves,” Gann said. “I usually give them themes and ideas, then they go to town and choose things. … The selections have been really good this year.”

Find more details on the event website. Hear our full chat with organizer Jon Gann below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Jon Gann (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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