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Sit back, relax and enjoy outdoor movies this summer

Popcorn popped in a sales tent in back of Myrtle Beach’s Valor Memorial Garden as a 22-by-25-foot inflatable screen in front was warmed up to show “Mary Poppins.”

Steve and Laurie Inscore of Little River had a whole picnic blanket spread in a corner of the foreground as dusk was settling in on a calm, clear evening last month. Two more family members visiting from Jacksonville, N.C. – Jesusita Brown and her daughter, Lauryn Lane, 8 – also had chairs set up to recline and watch a cast led by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke bring this 1964 Disney movie larger than life in a park packed with patrons.

The Market Common’s “Movies Under the Stars” program, every Wednesday, is one of three area summer outdoor movies series, all in their second year. Conway Parks, Recreation & Tourism plays “Movies in the Park” on the second and fourth Fridays of the month along the Waccamaw River, and North Myrtle Beach and Horry County Parks and Recreation have “Movies at McLean” on the second Friday monthly in that city’s McLean Park.

The Inscores said they make the trip south weekly for the screenings in Myrtle Beach.

“It’s good family fun,” Laurie Inscore said, “and we get to shop in between.”

Scanning the few hundred other folks who also set up camp with any combination of comfort, munchies and beverages, she said, “It’s fun to bring a picnic.”

Snacking on a pot-luck meal, including cookies for dessert, Steve Inscore said they “found it all in one place” for such outings.

“That’s why we got here three hours early,” he said.

Sitting in her chair and hugging her girl, Brown, whose Marine Corps husband’s deployment continues in Afghanistan, said they have seen drive-in movies, but were ready for their first time seeing cinema in a park.

“I love movies,” Brown said. “This is really exciting for me.”

Tripling the agenda

Hatton Gravely, marketing manager at The Market Common, said officials tried the weekly movies for a month last summer. With turnout “much more successful than we anticipated,” the series expanded to three months for 2012, starting with “Superman” and “Mamma Mia!”

She said patrons shared feedback for future movie suggestions.

“We chose movies that would appeal to a wide group of ages,” Gravely said, “and classic movies that have been popular for years.”

“Mamma Mia!” a story told with an array of songs by ABBA and stars including Pierce Brosnan, marked one of the newest selections shown at The Market Common, Gravely said.

“We chose ‘Mamma Mia!’ because ‘Grease’ was so popular last year,” she said, “and we wanted to add another musical.”

Gravely said the crowds cover a mix of couples on “date nights” and groups of family and friends, with a balance of local residents and vacationers. The restaurants nearby also play a part in the evening for many people “who come out, go to dinner, then do a little shopping, and take in the movie at the end of the night.”

Outdoor moviegoers also have gotten into some themes, as officials saw with “Ghostbusters,” shown last summer.

“We had some people in costumes show up,” Gravely said.

Family fare

Keeping families in mind also fits in the script for the series in the two other cities that take the silver screen under starlight.

Callie Jean Wise, program director for the city of North Myrtle Beach, said all its movies also carry G or PG ratings and roll 15 minutes after sunset. Its next three dates reflect some really recent box office hits: “Dolphin Tale” on July 13, “The Muppets” Aug. 10, and “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” Sept. 14.

Foster Hughes, director of parks and recreation for Conway, said with the technology of “a nice projection and sound system” on a 15-by-25-foot screen, city officials “have a lot of fun” organizing the movies.

Hughes said the mix of titles, alternating between nostalgia of “Jaws” from the 1970s and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” from the ‘80s, and new fare such as “The Muppets” and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” lets the city “do something nice for the kids and adults as well.”

“There’s nothing better than when a movie’s credits roll and everybody starts clapping,” Hughes said.

Two screenings this year also make up for rained-out dates in Conway last summer: “Toy Story 3,” which played June 8, and “Jaws,” ready to resurface July 13.