There’s something a little different about this year’s Millennium Park Summer Film Series. And it’s making movie buffs far and wide very happy. 

Chicago’s film festival season runs year-round, beginning with Stranger Than Fiction's focus on documentary film in January, all the way to the much anticipated Chicago International Film Festival in October — and beyond. 

And with such an illustrious film history, from Charlie Chaplin at the Essanay Studios in 1915 to the 2017 critically acclaimed indie classic, The Big Sick, it’s hardly surprising that the FREE Millennium Park Summer Film Series is such a big draw, hosted as it is under the floating steel canopy of Jay Pritkzer Pavilion, with movies projected onto a state-of-the-art, 40-foot LED screen.

This year, it’s even more so. The 2018 movie schedule will highlight one Chicago film festival each film date, creating a season-long sampling of themes, ethnicities and genres that reflect the city’s rich passion for cinema in all its forms. 

Here are a few 2018 Film Series movie highlights, as well as a little about the groundbreaking film festivals that have selected them.


Chicago Underground Film Festival 

Nothing says “underground film” quite like John Waters. And if there’s a John Waters people pleaser, it’s definitely Hairspray (1988, rated PG, 92 minutes). It’s Divine at her finest, not to mention a brilliant Ricki Lake as teenager Tracy Turnblad, pursuing stardom and rallying against racial segregation as she does so. Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono and Jerry Stiller also star.

The Chicago Underground Film Festival (June 6-10) is the longest running "underground" film festival in the world, and is committed to showcasing defiantly independent filmmakers. This year, the festival celebrates its 25thanniversary with the opening night screening of INDUSTRIAL ACCIDENT: The Story of Wax Trax! Records on June 6. All screenings take place at the Logan Theatre, with after parties throughout Logan Square and at the Empty Bottle in West Town.

Screening: Tuesday, June 5, 6:30pm; free admission


Chicago Filmmakers' Reeling LGBTQ International Film Festival

Reeling (September 20-27) is devoted to counteracting the misrepresentation and stereotyping of LGBTQ+ people in mainstream media, and is. in fact, the second longest running film festival of its kind in the world. 

The festival embraces its mission at the Millennium Park Summer Film Series with the screening of Kinky Boots (2005, PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, 107 minutes), the story of straight-laced Charles Price (Joel Edgerton), who teams up with flamboyant cabaret singer Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to produce custom footwear for drag queens, all in a bid to save his family’s faltering shoe business. 

Screening: Tuesday, June 19, 6:30pm; free admission


Chicago Comedy Film Festival & Second City

The Chicago Comedy Film Festival (November 9-11) is unwavering in its mission to bring independent comedy to the screen, supporting comedy filmmaking as a vital and influential art form. For this year’s Film Series, the festival has teamed with Chicago comedy star-maker Second City (Alan Alda, Dan Akroyd, Gilda Radner, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey … and too many others to name) for the screening of a cult comedy classic with strong Chicago ties. 

Groundhog Day (1993, rated PG for some thematic elements, 101 minutes) stars Second City and SNL alum (and Evanston, Illinois native) Bill Murray as cynical and downright mean news reporter Phil Connors, who relives the same day over and over until he learns the most important of life lessons. Along the way, Murray creates some of the most memorable comedy moments in comedy history.

Screening: Tuesday, June 26, 6:30pm; free admission


Midwest Independent Film Festival 

The Midwest Independent Film Festival (first Tuesday of the month) has selected another movie with strong ties to Chicago. High Fidelity (2000, rated R for language and some sexuality, 113 minutes) was not only shot throughout Chicago, but also stars Evanston, Illinois born and raised John Cusack as Rob Gordon, a former club DJ and current owner of record store Championship Vinyl. The movie follows Gordon as he revisits his life’s top five worst break-ups in an attempt to understand why he’s been dumped by his latest girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle).

The Chicago focus is fitting, given the fact that the Midwest Independent Film Festival is the nation's only film festival solely dedicated to the Midwest filmmaker, introducing audiences with regionally produced independent cinema. This year-round film festival sits proudly at the center of the independent film scene in Chicago and the Midwest.

Screening: Tuesday, July 3, 6:30pm; free admission


Black Harvest Film Festival

If you haven’t seen Get Out (2017, rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references, 104 minutes), then it's about time you did. A mix of horror and social commentary, the movie garnered an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for writer/director Jordan Peele. Programmed in collaboration with the Black Harvest Film Festival (August 4-30)Get Out tells the harrowing tale of young African American Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), who visits the white family of his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). As the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing incidences and discoveries reveal a truth that none of us could ever have imagined. 

The Black Harvest Film Festival itself is committed to showcasing the new work of the African diaspora, telling stories, raising questions and touching on issues that relate to the African American, Black African and African disaporic experience. Which makes Get Out the perfect Film Series choice.

Screening: Tuesday, July 24, 6:30pm; free admission


Chicago International Film Festival

The Millennium Park Summer Film Series closes with a Chicago International Film Festival (October 10-21) selection, multi-Academy-Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire (2008, rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language, 121 minutes). This 2009 Best Picture winner follows the trials and tribulations of 18 year-old Jamal (Dev Patel), who finds himself just one question away from winning 20 million rupees on India's Kaun Banega Crorepati? (Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?), only to be accused of cheating.

Now in its 52nd year, the Chicago International Film Festival is North America’s longest running competitive film festival. In addition to showcasing 150 films from over 50 countries, filmmaker Q&As, red carpet galas, tributes and panels, the Festival also presents “Industry Days,” a 4-day conference for film industry professionals. 

Screening: Tuesday, August 21, 6:30pm; free admission

Check out the complete schedule of Millennium Park Summer Film Series screenings.