Union Market Drive-In kicks off outdoor movies series this weekend

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Union Market Drive-In (Part 1)

For a decade now, it’s served as the only drive-in movie theater in the nation’s capital.

The Union Market Drive-In returns to D.C. this Friday for six months of movie classics.

“It’s our 10th season, we’re really excited,” Founder Jon Gann told WTOP. “We have some new films we haven’t shown before, we have some classics we showed throughout the years that people seem to really love. Everything is for the family, it’s all open-captioned … the sound is transmitted through your FM radio in your car. … It’s just a great evening.”



The movies are projected onto the wall like a scene out of “Cinema Paradiso” (1988).

“Union Market is blessed with this fanatic, three-story, white brick wall, so we’ve been projecting movies against the white wall,” Gann said. “We use a fantastic state-of-the-art laser projector, we have  great speakers out front for those who don’t have cars, the sound is great, the picture is fantastic, we try to bring the best movie experience we can.”

The lineup kicks off with the original “Space Jam” (1996) this Friday, May 13.

“‘Space Jam’ is a classic,” Gann said. “It’s a great family movie, kids love it, adults love it, it’s funny, it’s timeless and it shows really well at the market.”

The second screening brings the musical “In the Heights” (2021) on Friday, June 10.

“‘In the Heights’ is a great movie to watch on a big screen,” Gann said. “There’s so much going on in the background, the dancing is fantastic and I think it will look great there at the market. Of course with loud music, it’ll be a great place to dance, too. I’m expecting a lot of people to show up and dance and sing along. … Lin-Manuel Miranda, of course.”

The third screening brings “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) on Friday, July 8.

“We showed that our first year,” Gann said. “We’ve shown it a few times at the market over the years, but it always does well, people love it, it’s a classic movie. Some people come with really classic cars, we’ve had a few people come with Porsche convertibles in the past, it’s just a great movie, lots of people know the lines and start yelling them.”

The fourth screening brings “Dirty Dancing” (1987) on Friday, Aug. 12.

“‘Dirty Dancing’ is a classic,” Gann said. “It’s a romantic movie. There’s lots of people who have great summer movies about seeing ‘Dirty Dancing’ at either a drive-in or movie theater. There’s a lot of nostalgia. Of course people try [the lift]. … Dancing, singing, yelling out lines is all part of the experience and what makes it a fun, communal time.”

The fifth screening brings Disney’s “Encanto” (2021) on Friday, Sept. 9.

“We always try to show something new,” Gann said. “‘Encanto’ will have just been released for drive-ins this summer, so we’re looking forward to showing it. I think everyone has seen it on a small screen, so to see it on a big screen will bring a completely different dimension to the film. … The music of ‘Encanto’ is fantastic, it’s easy to sing along.”

It all closes out with Marvel’s blockbuster “Black Panther” (2018) on Friday, Oct. 14.

“‘Black Panther’ always does well at the market,” Gann said. “I think it’s the third time we’ve shown it. We always sell out right away for it. People just love it. It’s a fun movie to watch, it’s fun to watch on a big screen, the middle of October is going to be kind of cool. … One of the reasons it works so well is that it relates to so many people.”

While you watch, you can much and sip on local, regional and international foods, including Great Britain’s classics by AboveGround, Japanese comfort food and Ramen from UZU, creative cocktails from Suburbia and more Union Market favorites.

Alcohol purchased from Union Market vendors is permitted on Neal Place. Alcohol is not allowed in the parking lot. For those on foot, set up your chairs and blankets in front of Union Market for picnic entertainment. Tickets are not required to watch on Neal Place.

“We will have a full parking lot of 175 cars, which is great,” Gann said. “The market will be open at least through the beginning of each show, so there’s plenty of time to get dinner, snacks and ice cream. …Lots to nibble on while you’re watching your movie. It’s a fun experience. It’s something that’s truly become a summer institution here in D.C.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Union Market Drive-In (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

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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