How to Host an Outdoor Movie Night in Your Backyard

Here's how to turn your outdoor space into the personalized movie theater of your dreams.

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When the weather finally warms up, it’s tempting to do everything outdoors. Whether you’re lounging poolside or cooking out with family, your backyard is often the farthest you have to go. And when the sun goes down, the fun doesn’t have to stop; it’s an opportunity for a backyard movie night!

We’ll show you how to throw together an outdoor movie night that’s so easy, it’ll be up and running before your popcorn is done. Speaking of popcorn, here are some gourmet popcorn recipes you have to try:

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Decide who to host

A makeshift movie night is a fantastic way to fill your Friday evening with your immediate family. But if you’re planning to extend the invitation beyond your inner circle, there are simple ways to do so safely.

Make sure to keep your guest list tight; there should be no more than 10 attendees. If you wish to include more people, consider making movie night at your house a weekly event, hosting a different crew each time. That way, you’ll eventually get see all your neighbors, friends and extended family members.

Kindly request your guests bring their own blankets, chairs and concessions. (Hey, that way they get to pick their own candy!) Once everyone’s respective blankets are laid out the appropriate six feet apart, it will be apparent which areas are “off-limits” and “on-limits” for each group. Encourage guests to stick to their designated space.

Also, to limit exposure indoors, be sure to remind them to go to the bathroom before the gathering begins. And, if possible, lead them to the backyard via gate or outdoor walkway so they don’t need to trek through your home. Oh, don’t forget the hand sanitizer!

Choose a movie

Before the big night, you should decide what movie to put up on the big screen. Not only will this help with planning snacks and decorations, but it’ll also prevent any last-minute squabbles between siblings who want to watch something different.

For families with littler ones, choose a movie that is appropriate but appealing to all ages, regardless if they’re six or sixty. We suggest these:

  • Disney. One of the recent live-action movies, like Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book or Maleficent, will entertain kids and parents alike.
  • Star Wars. Introduce your kids to “a galaxy far, far away” while sitting under the stars! You might want to start off with The Force Awakens, as the 1977 effects of A New Hope might not hold the kiddos’ interest.
  • A classic. Bring back a favorite movie from your own childhood like The Wizard of Oz, The Goonies, E.T. or The Muppet Movie.

If you’re planning to invite others, pick one of these iconic summer movies or a food-inspired film, like one of these:

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Once you’ve picked out a movie, make sure you have a way to watch it. That might mean purchasing or renting a hard copy or streaming it on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu or another service.

Set up your theater

Bringing the movie theater-experience outdoors requires some equipment. Here are some things you’ll want to make sure you have on hand.

  • Projector. When it comes to outdoor movie nights, a projector is a must. We like this model from Wsky because its LED lens provides a bright, clear picture and can be controlled remotely. Plus, it’s compatible with laptops, Roku and Amazon Fire sticks, SD cards and gaming systems, so you can watch your movie no matter how it’s stored or streamed.
  • Screen. Depending on how your yard is organized, you can project the movie onto the side of your house or garage. If those structures are made of something too textured, like siding or brick, a portable screen might be a better bet. This free-standing screen from TaoTronics comes with its own tripod, has a 160° viewing angle and is height adjustable.
  • Speakers. Unless your projector has multiple built-in speakers, you’ll probably want to hook up an external speaker so all your guests can hear the movie. AOMAIS’ GO portable speaker is a great option as it can connect with devices via Bluetooth or an audio jack and is battery-operated, so you don’t have to worry about plugging it in.
  • Extension cords. If your speakers or projector aren’t battery operated, make sure you have a few extension cords handy to reach from your closest outlet to the devices. Digital Energy offers a 6-outlet, 50-foot long power strip that works well.

Make it comfortable

Ensure that you can kick back in comfort with these items:

  • Grab lots of pillows and blankets to create a picniclike environment on your lawn.
  • If you’re setting your movie night up on a driveway, blankets might not be plush enough to soften the ground. Instead, put out patio or folding camping chairs.
  • Keep mosquitos and other bugs from buzzing in your ear with citronella candles and bug spray. You can even set out a pot of bug-repelling plants like lavender, basil, rosemary and mint.
  • Set out walkway lights or inexpensive flashlights. This will help prevent anyone from accidentally stepping on a fellow guest or tripping over any equipment. Cover all your bases with these essential products for your outdoor movie night.

Serve movie theater classics

Taste of Home

The fact that you’re providing refreshments only for your immediate family makes things a whole lot easier. No need to worry about appeasing all your guests or whipping up multiple batches! Here’s what to serve:

  • Is it even a movie night if you don’t have popcorn? Pop snack-sized popcorn bags and provide mix-ins like clarified butter, salt, caramel sauce, powdered ranch, grated Parmesan cheese or cinnamon sugar.
  • Satisfy sweet-tooths with theater candies like Twizzlers, Sno Caps, Swedish Fish, Junior Mints and more.
  • If you’re looking to serve something more substantial than popcorn and candy, turn to one of these easy appetizers that are made with 5-ingredients or fewer.
  • Serve bottled water and soft drinks out of a cooler that’s at least 25% full of ice to be sure they stay cold even after the movie has ended. Serve beer and other adult beverages in a separate cooler.
  • Stick to disposable plates and napkins to make cleanup a breeze.

More fun ideas

Even though the movie is the main event, you can add to the fun of the night with some of these activities:

  • While your guests are still trickling in, play a game of movie-related trivia or charades to get the fun started.
  • Provide glow sticks to light up the night. Trust us—the kids will be mesmerized by them long after the movie ends. Here are more ways to take your outdoor movie night to the next level.
  • If you have a fire pit, roast s’mores for a late-night treat.

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Caroline Stanko
As an Associate Digital Editor, Caroline writes and edits all things food-related and helps produce videos for Taste of Home. When she’s not at her desk, you can probably find Caroline cooking up a feast, planning her next trip abroad or daydreaming about her golden retriever, Mac.
Annamarie Higley
Annamarie Higley is an Associate Print Editor for Taste of Home magazine, as well as the brand's special issue publications. A midwestern transplant originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she enjoys hiking, trivia-ing, and—you guessed it!—all things cooking and baking.