yonge & dundas by Evan Goldenberg is licensed under CC BY 2.0​

There’s something about the empty darkness of a basement, or the cramped confines of a bedroom that can make the experience of film spectatorship a dreary one. It makes you feel like maybe, just maybe, you should be spending your time outside, or at least in a movie theatre with your companions in tow.

But since time immemorial, the ideal viewing conditions of the fabled filmehaüs have been just as cavernous as those of a finished basement or a musky, closed-curtained bedroom. In fact, had it (probably) not been for someone’s creative reading of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the arguable prototype of the modern movie theatre (cup-holders and gum-stained floors excluded) would have remained but a mere thought experiment couched in the tomes of ancient philosophy, as opposed to the founding principles of, say, Famous Players.

But just as the fettered man broke free from the cave (probably in search of popcorn, or perhaps a cleaner bathroom), so too has man broken free from the confines of the multiplex. Movies have taken to the parks and people have, accordingly, taken to the streets to access said parks — overjoyed at the boundless optimism inherent in enjoying a flick in the open air. This summer, Toronto will be teeming with free/pay-what-you-can outdoor movie events, but how good are their film selections? Let’s take a look at a few of the many open-air film events the 6ix has to offer.

Christie Pits Film Festival (PWYC)

July 19 – The Birds

July 26 – Edwin Boyd: Citizen Gangster

August 2 – Mean Girls

August 9 – What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

August 16 – There Will Be Blood 

Organized around the theme of ‘Great Villains’, the Christie Pits Film Festival is, with the exception of Edwin Boyd: Citizen Gangster, absolutely chock-full of classics. Any festival that has Mean Girls (and black-hearted blondes) automatically has a competitive edge, but the sheer variation here – fearsome fowl in The Birds, an odious oilman in There Will Be Blood, and a horrible hag in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane – makes for one glorious event you’d be remiss to, well, miss. You’d be remiss to miss it. Say that ten times fast.

Free Flicks at Harbourfront (Free, naturally)

July 15 – Win Win

July 22 – Young Frankenstein

July 29 – Stories We Tell

August 5 – Boy

August 12 – The Descendants

August 19 – The Darjeeling Limited

August 26 – True Grit

September 2 – Audience Choice

This year, Free Flicks at Harbourfront has been curated around the theme of family. While the slate leans a tad into “dramedy” territory with Win Win, The Descendants, and Boy, what’s truly commendable about this line-up are the various curveballs peppered within it, whether they be a gunslingin’ Western (True Grit), a goofy parody (Young Frankenstein), or an earnest, highly personal documentary (Stories We Tell). But of course, Harbourfront’s Free Flicks have an obvious leg up on its cinematic competitors by having not one but two Coen flicks, with the event boasting their 2010 remake of True Grit. The Coens are popping up a lot in the outdoor movie circuit this summer, and let’s just say, “Daniel likey.”

Sail-In Cinema (Free)

Okay, Sail-In Cinema gets a million points for elevating the retro-chic drive-in phenomenon to new, nautical heights. While no films have been officially announced yet (Sail-In Cinema will show three movies over three nights, from August 20 to the 22nd), the public can vote until July 16th for what movies they wish to see. The theme of the event is “Flashback to the 80s,” and the voting options are simply glorious — all of them classics in their own right: Batman, Beetlejuice, E.T., Field of Dreams, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Goonies, The Karate Kid, The Little Mermaid, The Never Ending Story, and Uncle Buck. As of right now, E.T. is in the lead with some 560 votes, while Ghostbusters and The Little Mermaid trail behind ever so closely with 478 and 456 votes, respectively.

City Cinema (Free)

July 28 – Dreamgirls

August 4 – Viva Las Vegas & Elvis: That’s the Way it Is!

August 11 – Dick Tracy

August 18 – The Wiz & This Is It

August 25 – Inside Llewyn Davis

September 1 – Dancer in the Dark & Bjork: Biophilia Live

This summer, the Yonge & Dundas Square-based City Cinema series is seeking to resolve the age-old inquiry: “But Can They Act?” Devoting ten weeks to music icons in film, City Cinema will feature all sorts of answers to that question, ranging from “I suppose so? Ask me tomorrow” (Beyoncé in Dreamgirls) to “Definitely not” (Diana Ross in The Wiz). The bill is loaded with fun flicks, most of them musicals. The selection is eclectic without being alienating, the musicians varied and compelling, and there’s even a Coen Brothers movie in here (Inside Llewyn Davis). I’m not a religious man, but I’m starting to think this all may be the product of divine intervention.

TIFF in the Park (Free)

July 15 – Whale Rider

July 22 – Annie Hall

July 29 – Watermark

August 5 – The King’s Speech

August 12 – Dial M for Murder

August 19 – The Artist

August 26 – The Triplets of Belleville

September 2 – Pride and Prejudice

There seems to be very little uniting this selection of films – not that that’s a bad thing, but the de-emphasis on cohesion is kind of jarring, what with the thematic threads laced through the previous four events. There are certainly some great selections here – Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, which pretty much defined the “kooky rom-com” genre; The Triplets of Belleville, which to this day fills me with utter glee; Dial M for Murder, which, aside from its odd plot still inspires the same amount of thrills and chills and nail-repair bills it did over 60 years ago when it was initially released – but the overall arrangement seems all over the place. There’s family drama (Whale Rider), there’s stuffy English period pieces (The King’s Speech, Pride and Prejudice), and there’s drab documentary (Watermark) — content that would drag down rather than enliven a fun summer’s day in Toronto.

Like our content? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

* indicates required