NEW YORK CITY — When Shaun Leonardo flips the switch of a generator that inflates the state-of-the-art outdoor movie screen at one of the oldest outdoor theaters in the city, he can't help but remember the days when eight men were needed to set it up.
"I’ve been with this program for seven years and we literally used to hitch the screen to a Parks and Rec truck," said Leonardo, director of public programs at Socrates Sculpture Park, which hosts The Socrates Outdoor Cinema.
"It was really a D.I.Y. installation, but it was always a treat for the community."
In the old days, Leonardo and seven others would hook the four corners of a 14-foot screen across an aluminum frame — something like stretching a Queen-sized fitted bed sheet over a King-sized mattress — then crank up an old film projector. As many as 800 people would gather in the park for an offbeat outdoor cinema experience.
Now The Socrates Outdoor Cinema, which is in its 14th year, attracts up to 3,000 moviegoers every Wednesday in July and August with a screen spanning 40 feet, all against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline.
Summer means moviegoers citywide are grabbing their picnic baskets and heading to outdoor cinemas such as Socrates in Queens, the HBO Bryant Park Film Festival in Manhattan, Rooftop Films at Bronx Terminal Market, or to weekly pop-up theaters in parks across the five boroughs.
Socrates' season includes highly acclaimed films representing different cultures including Germany, Brazil, the Czech Republic and South Korea each Wednesday.
For other outdoor cinema spots in Queens, patrons can check out Movie Nights in Astoria Park, which plays family friendly films such as "Footloose" and "The Lion King" on Monday nights at 8:30 p.m., beginning Aug. 6.
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on Pier 86 at West 46th Street and 12th Avenue in Manhattan has resumed its free summer movie series this month. The season wraps up on Aug. 17 with "The Goonies" — a family flick the Intrepid has canceled in previous years due to poor weather, said Luke Sacks, a spokesman for the museum.
"We’ve tried to show it ["The Goonies"] the last three years,” he said.
This is the fourth summer the Intrepid is showing feature films. Patrons are invited to bring lawn chairs and picnic baskets when the doors open at 7:30 p.m. Films begin at sundown.
Other free Manhattan outdoor movie hot spots this season include classic films such as "Roman Holiday" and "All About Eve" at the 20th anniversary of the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival on Mondays in Midtown; Movies Under the Stars on Wednesdays at dusk on Pier 1 in Riverside Park at 70th Street at the Hudson River plan to feature films with a bicycle theme, including Italian favorite "Cinema Paradiso" on July 11; Hudson River Park's RiverFlicks for Grown-Ups on Wednesdays at the park's Pier 63 Lawn in Chelsea will show adult comdies such as Bridesmaids and Super 8 starting July 11; Hudson River Park's RiverFlicks for Kids on Fridays beginning July 13 has a lineup of family favorites like Hugo and Back to the Future; and The Central Park Conservancy Film Festival, Aug. 21– 25, will pay tribute to American cult classics such as "Animal House" and "The Big Lebowski."
"We have been doing the festival for 10 years now," said Terri Coppersmith, vice president of development and visitor experience at the Central Park Conservancy Film Festival.
"The park is such a wonderful place to see movies," she said. "It is a wonderful natural amphitheater and provides wonderful seating to see a film."
Coopersmith added that patrons are free to picnic and listen to music beginning at 6:30 p.m. on the north side of Sheep Meadow — a grassy area situated mid-park at 69th Street — where the festival will be held. Free popcorn will also be dished out before the films, which begin at 8 p.m.
Roosevelt Island will be throwing a free film bash each weekend at 8 p.m. through Aug. 19 on Firefighters Field. The Outdoor Movie Series will feature pictures such as "Grease," "Sherlock Holmes" and "The Help."
Now in its 13th season, Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Syfy Movies with a View has a line-up of free flicks showing at 6 p.m. every Thursday through the end of August.
For a variety of free features from "Alien" to the family friendly "How to Train Your Dragon," Redhook Flicks at Valentino Pier on the Brooklyn waterfront will open its "doors" from July 12 and run through to Sept. 13.
In Bay Ridge, Narrows Botanical Gardens on Shore Road between Bay Ridge Avenue and 72nd Street will hold its free movie nights on Fridays from July 9 through Sept. 7.
For animated movie fun, Rooftop Films at Bronx Terminal Market at 610 Exterior St. will play newer favorites such as "Rango" and "Kung Fu Panda" on select Tuesdays in July and August at 8:30 p.m. The outdoor theater will also show "Inocente" on Aug. 7, a documentary about a homeless teen.
Other films showing in the Bronx include those in a long line-up of Free Summer Movies across the city.
Another Staten Island site for outdoor films will not be returning this year, said Larry Anderson, director of performing arts and public programs at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, which has hosted "Movies Under the Stars" for several years.
"We didn’t get the funding this year we were hoping to get," he said, adding that the center plans to reassess its outdoor cinema plans to better accommodate moviegoers during inclement weather.
"We hope to do it again next year," he said.