The endless sequels and lazy blockbusters parading through local movie theaters often don’t seem worth premium admission when you know you can catch them on Netflix in a few months, especially when you have to deal with crowds, overpriced snacks and mysteriously sticky armrests.
But all that hassle may well be behind you — not only does our fair city host its fair share of special screenings, it’s easier than ever to see movies for free in a range of unique locales.
There’s nothing quite like rocking up to the old Mission Drive-In on a muggy summer evening with a crowd of like-minded movie buffs, spreading out a picnic blanket on the scrubby grass and sitting back with a cold beverage to enjoy a ’90s cult classic (in my case, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Slab Cinema founders Angela and Rick Martinez want to share that feeling as far and wide as possible, and they’ve succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.
With a schedule that often features screenings in multiple locations on the same night, attendees are truly spoiled for choice. Films range from ’80s blockbusters to current hits, with a bunch of kid-friendly content mixed in. Those with more refined taste can stick to Oscar-winners like Moonlight, while the rest of us plebeians can catch the latest Marvel and Pixar flicks. If you prefer your movies to be aged to perfection, they still have you covered — on this year’s schedule are classics including Grease, Mary Poppins, and Pretty In Pink.
The best part? The movies are shown in amazing outdoor locations across the city. In addition to the Mission Marquee Plaza, Slab Cinema has also made appearances at the Alamo, Travis Park, Confluence Park and the San Antonio Museum of Art, among other venues. Free, times and locations vary, (210) 212-9373, slabcinema.com.
Texas Public Radio’s Cinema Tuesdays
Starting the Tuesday after Memorial Day, our local TPR station, KSTX (89.1 FM), hosts a weekly film series that runs for 12 weeks each summer. San Antonians flock to the Santikos Bijou to beat the heat and enjoy independent, foreign and classic films hand-selected by the film series’ founder, Nathan Cone. Each summer’s film selections feature a bit of something for everyone: past screenings have ranged from the restored version of German expressionist epic Metropolis to Mel Brooks’ Wild West laugh-fest Blazing Saddles.
In addition to the summer schedule, every spring Cinema Tuesdays hosts a special screening of the year’s Oscar-nominated short films and animated shorts prior to the Academy Awards. $15 suggested donation, 7:30pm Tuesdays from late May through early August, Santikos Bijou, 4522 Fredericksburg Rd., (210) 614-8977, tpr.org.
The McNay Art Museum’s Get REEL film series features critically acclaimed movies of all genres, selected in sets of four by guest curators in conjunction with featured exhibitions. Curated by Manuel Solis to accompany the exhibition “American Dreams: Classic Cars and Postwar Paintings,” this spring’s films are all vehicular-dramas: Taxi Driver, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Thelma & Louise and La Mission.
If you’re feeling particularly artsy, H-E-B sponsors free museum admission on Thursdays beginning at 4 p.m., so you can meander the McNay’s expansive collection for a few hours before sitting down in the Chiego Lecture Hall to enjoy the movie, and, as the temperatures rise, keep an eye out for an LGBT-centric summer film series that will complement the exhibition “Transamerica/n.” Free, 7pm last Thursday of the month, McNay Art Museum, 6000 N. New Braunfels Ave., (210) 824-5368, mcnayart.org.
H-E-B Cinema on the Plaza
Texan grocery behemoth H-E-B and the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts teamed up to fund a special outdoor film series at the city’s premiere performance space. The Tobin’s outdoor plaza features a 32-foot video wall, on which they project a monthly family-friendly movie with free admission. Past offerings have included everything from Emma Stone-fronted Oscar-winner La La Land to the Robin Williams classic Jumanji. Visitors can enjoy thematically appropriate concessions for each movie as well as a full bar, and are encouraged to “BYOC” (bring your own chairs) for their comfort. Free, 8pm second Friday of the month, Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, Will Naylor Smith River Walk Plaza, 100 Auditorium Circle, (210) 223-8624, tobincenter.org.
Since its advent in Austin in the late ’90s, the Alamo Drafthouse has redefined theater-going for the general public. With its expansive food and drink menu, strictly enforced anti-noise and texting rules, and its trademark pre-shows filled with thematically appropriate odds and oddities, the Drafthouse is a theater mecca for many.
In addition to a full inventory of the latest blockbusters, San Antonio’s three Drafthouse locations host special screenings on the regular, covering everything from musical sing-alongs to horror splatter-fests. The Drafthouse goes all out for their Movie Parties series, providing themed props and entertainment to go with the flicks. $8.50-$15.25, times and locations vary, drafthouse.com/san-antonio.
Planet X Cinema
Brothers Blair and Drew Hicks grew up watching films that fall into a genre they like to call “righteous trash” — oft-overlooked low-budget films, schlocky horror, TV movies and other oddities that time forgot. Every final Friday, self-styled “trashies” gather at Künstler Brewing in Southtown to drink craft beer and enjoy the Hicks’ selection for the month. Movies range from cult classics like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian to deep cuts like the 1991 body-horror manga-adapatation The Guyver. Free, 8pm last Friday of the month, Künstler Brewing, 302 E. Lachapelle, (210) 688-4519, planetxcinema.com.
Video Dungeon Theatre
Video Dungeon Theatre screens a range of cult classics and forgotten oddities that embrace the tape-trading aesthetic of ’90s VHS culture. Last fall, they even scored the Texas premiere of Gutboy: A Badtime Story, a Troma-produced horror comedy musical puppet show (yep — you read that right!). For 2019, VDT celebrates #ThrowbackThursdays with free monthly screenings at Oak Hills Tavern. Films on deck include cult hits from the ’80s and ’90s like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, David Lynch’s Wild at Heart and the Sylvester Stallone-fronted Cobra. Free, 9pm third Thursday of the month, Oak Hills Tavern, 7920 Fredericksburg Rd., (210) 614-8855, facebook.com/thevideodungeon.
Summer Film Fests
If you’re looking to go all out, you can catch two film festivals back-to-back this summer. The country’s longest-running Latino film festival, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center’s Cinefestival returns this July. Past festivals have included visiting luminaries Guillermo Del Toro, Edward James Olmos and Gina Rodriguez alongside the fresh faces of the fest’s featured filmmakers, with master class panels scheduled in addition to the slate of films. Prices vary, July 11-14, Guadalupe Theater, 1301 Guadalupe St., (210) 271-3151, cinefestival.org.
Two weeks later, the San Antonio Film Festival (SAFILM) kicks off its 25th anniversary festivities at the Tobin Center. While the event accepts submissions internationally, each year a growing contingent of local filmmakers has been showcased. Maybe 2019 is when you’ll get to see the first success of San Anto’s next big director. Prices vary, July 30-August 4, Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, 100 Auditorium Circle, safilm.com.