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Summer in Melbourne: Top Outdoor Cinemas

Author: John Ryan



Summer and the movies used to be great together. Escaping a dry, hot and windy day in the air-conditioned relief of a cinema was one of life’s simple pleasures. Me and my mate Simon would buy a ticket to an 11am session, then spend the whole day sneaking from cinema to cinema (via the snack bar) watching movies all day. Out in time for dinner, a sugar-crash, and home. Good times.


And while it’s still possible to sneak into sessions through the day at Melbourne‘s big chain cinemas (not that I’m recommending it, of course), daytime is so much busier these days, what with work and babies and stuff, making such decadent spontaneity difficult to arrange in advance. So that leaves balmy summer evenings as the only warm-weather time to see movies. And until the advent of outdoor cinema in Melbourne, that meant staying inside at the best time of the day. No longer.


As they like to do, kids out in the North do things a little differently. The Shadow Electric is the hipster’s version of outdoor cinema. Housed in the historic Abbotsford Convent, The Shadow Electric is a mix of beer, ping pong, food, music and cult cinema. These guys have grown out of beanbags and have a mix of op shop furniture and directors chairs to sit on while enjoying movies such as Trainspotting, The Man with the Iron Fists and Dirty Harry. Get down early for happy hour at the bar between 3pm – 6pm. What use to be dirty carni food served out of a dodgy van is now well and truly in vogue with plenty of ‘food trucks’ smattered around the convent serving tasty movie treats. So grow a moustache, wear your grandfather’s hat and get yourself down to The Shadow Electric.


Moonlight Cinema was the trailblazer, setting up a screen in Melbourne’s lush Botanical Gardens and playing first-run, classic and cult movies under the stars. It took off and is now a real Melbourne experience, featuring catering, bean beds for hire and sell-out sessions most nights. Firstly this cinema reeks of romance; you really can’t top the atmosphere of the Royal Botanical Gardens. More importantly preparation is the key for this one, do it properly and you can’t fail. Firstly it’s very popular so make sure to buy your tickets well in advance. Once that is secured, get down to your local market or deli and go to town on gourmet cheese, meats and dips. Almost think you are going camping, you’ll need a little chopping board, knives and napkins. Food sorted, now go grab your wine and plastic cups. May already seem more trouble than it’s worth but it’s not. Find a big bag and stuff it with pillows, blankets, rugs and anything that’s comfy and will fit into your bag. Now then, the movie will probably start at around 9:30pm and will be jammed packed by 7:30pm. Get yourself down there nice and early while the sun is still shining and grab a spot to the right side of the screen. All your preparation should pay off now as you settle back in glorious surroundings in comfort with your cheese platter, vino and pillow fortress.


Competing for this chicken-and-white-wine market is the newer OpenAir cinema at Birrarung Mar, a fabulous park by the river in the city. An enormous screen, grandstand seating and movieplex titles draw huge book-ahead crowds and even bigger sponsorship deals.


But that leaves the hipsters with nowhere to go. Or it did until last year, when the gritty Rooftop Cinema showed The Breakfast Club, Easy Rider, My Own Private Idaho or Dogs in Space. cranked up in the heart of the city and started showing a diverse range of indy and cult movies. Anything on a rooftop in Melbourne is now cool. These guys have been doing it for longer than anyone else and could almost claim to be pioneers of the rooftop scene. Situated way above the skyline of Melbourne’s CBD, Rooftop Cinema would have to be one of the coolest places to watch a flick. Screening cult classics such as Beverly Hills Cop, Muriel’s Wedding and Hail they have something for just about everyone. The bar will be open well before the movie at 9:30pm and will stay open well past the credits, you really can settle in for a lovely afternoon on a roof surrounded by Melbourne’s stunning city skyline. No need to bring your blanket or chair as they have all this covered. Make the night extra special and head to Cookie for dinner first and you have yourself a date to impress the pants off anyone (no pun intended).


There’s also an open-air cinema down on the foreshore in St Kilda, on the rooftop of the St Kilda Sea Baths. I’m a bit scared of St Kilda (sea air does strange things to people, dontcha think?), so I can’t report first-hand on it. In 2010, it runs 13 January to 26 February most every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The schedule includes Avatar, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, 500 Days of Summer and many more. Check out their website — stkildaopenair.com.au — for schedule details and prices.


 John Ryan is a native of Melbourne, Australia. John knows a thing or two about good bars, good music and good food in Melbourne and across Australia. John is also the author of the travel book Micronations.

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