You don’t have to think all that hard to realize how fun an outdoor movie night can be. It can be an impromptu experience when everyone in the family is bored indoors, or it can be a scheduled event for your part of the neighborhood for various families to come together.
Kids think it’s a fantastic idea especially for sleepovers, but even adults like to take a break from watching movies in the living room.
A gathering for outdoor movie watching makes for a great time for parties. It doesn’t even have to be a real event like a birthday. Sometimes you all just feel like watching in the backyard, you know?
Make Sure You Have the Right Audio-Visual Equipment
In the old days, people made do by just getting the TV out to the backyard and that’s that. But nowadays, people expect larger screens and great audio for a fun backyard outdoor movie night.
You need to set up your own backyard movie theater. It doesn’t have to be a big production. You simply need an outdoor projector matched to an outdoor movie screen. Then of course you have to have good speakers for the projector.
The home theater screen size depends on how many people are going to watch and your budget allowance. The bigger your outdoor projector screen, the more you may have to spend. But there are ways around this buy making your own DIY backyard movie screen.
You don’t have to create your own screen either. You can just buy them, and there are plenty of options that are lots more convenient. Pop up projection screens are quite popular as they’re always ready for an impromptu outdoor movie night.
You can also just buy an inflatable movie screen so afterwards storage isn't a problem. You only need a powered air pump or an air compressor to quickly set up your inflatable projector screen. Afterwards, you can let the air out of the blow up movie screen and store it easily.
The audio is also crucial. While on the whole not everyone really cares about the dialogue (especially when people are also talking and moving around), but the sound should be loud and clear enough to tell people what’s going on.
Sometimes the dialogue does matter in a few cases, and there are times when people like to hear inspiring movie speeches like the Braveheart or Avatar battle speeches. And lots of people have memorized the Star wars dialogues, particularly the scenes with Darth Vader.
You may want to go with wireless connections, but often you can’t really avoid using wires to connect your gadgets. Try to keep them out of the way especially if you have kids running around.
If you’re planning to have an outdoor movie sometime in the future, you should reserve some time during the weekend to test out your arrangements. Where do you put the projector, screen, seats, and food? How does the lighting work in affecting the screen? Are the wires out of the way?
Just make sure that you don’t leave your outdoor movie projector outdoors, after everything’s over. It might get stolen, or it might get damaged by rain.
Projector Screen Size and Placement
The key to projector screen size and placement is simple: everyone should be able to see the screen. The people farthest away should still be able to see what’s going on, while the folks nearest to the screen should be uncomfortable close to the screen.
One simple rule of thumb for projector screen heights is that the height should be at least ⅓ the distance of the optimal seat. So if you have a screen that’s 5 feet high, then the seats would be about 15 feet away from the screen.
The height of the screen from the floor should be about 2 or 3 feet up for only a couple of row of seats (if you have a level floor).
For more people around, you may want to raise the screen at least 4 feet off the ground.
Again, you should test this out. These are all generic rules and guidelines, and you should pick screen sizes and seating distances that suit everyone and not just most people.
You have several basic options as to where people will sit while watching a movie.
One basic option is to just have a bunch of chairs on the sides. A person can just pick one and then place it wherever. It’s casual and easy.
You can also just lay out various picnic blankets all over the lawn, with a few throw pillows here and there. This is great when you have kids around.
For greater comfort, you may want to try having inflatable beds. They make for great cuddling for parents and families.
You should have a few blankets available, just in case. Even during the summer, the nights can be pretty cool and a few people may want to get some blankets for comfort. Maybe you can have a large basket with quilts and blankets so anyone can just get one if they need it.
In many families and communities, lots of people like to spend time doing arts and crafts, or carpentry. When you have regular outdoor movie nights, people may begin to create relaxing lounge seats and comfy pillows and quilts for such events.
Movie Themed Party Ideas
While it’s also great to just have an impromptu movie party whenever you want, in some cases you may want to hold birthday or seasonal parties at your backyard with an outdoor cinema playing in the background.
Also, sometimes the outdoor movie night is an event in itself, as a way for families in the neighborhood to get together with the kids.
Pick the right evening for the party. If there’s any chance of rain, then the party might get ruined if it does shower during the viewing. In case of emergencies, you may have some tarp covers to put up or you can just move the party indoors.
Start at the right time. This will depend on the season, though it should be dark enough that the screen doesn’t get washed out by the lingering sunlight.
Do you have lots of bugs where you live? If bugs may be a potential problem, you may want to debug the area first with insect repellant. Use more natural options and later you should have bug spray available for guests.
It’s easy enough to send out movie night invites through email or through your smartphone texts. Or you can be more creative by sending printed out “movie tickets” to your friends through snail mail.
If it’s a themed party, then maybe you can have a costume party—lots of folks like to dress up for Lord of the Rings movies and Star Wars films!
You can set up home movie party decorations, and they don’t have to be major productions. Maybe you can have hand-drawn signs pointing the way, though some people like having cordons and a red carpet at the entrance of the backyard. You can also spruce up the backyard with string lights all around the property.
The most common outdoor movie night ideas involving costumes tend to focus on either fantasy or sci-fi movies.
With kids around, sometimes it’s fun if you have lots of glow sticks available. You can have glow bracelets and necklaces too.
Encourage people to bring their own seats, pillows, and blankets if you’re holding a community party. Lots of people are more comfortable with their own stuff, and it also saves you from a ton of laundry!
Pick the Right Movie
Ask anyone who’s been to a movie theater, and of course the movie itself is one of the most important aspects. A lousy movie can make the whole experience boring, or even contentious.
It’s not always easy to find a movie that everyone loves. So the first step is to avoid movies that someone may find offensive. That can be challenging in today’s politically-correct cultural landscape. It’s also important especially when there are kids watching.
So you need to avoid movies with that contain the following:
Sexual scenes and situations
Excessive violence and gore
Obscene and profane language
Anything that touches on political, racial, and religious issues
If you want people to have a great time, here are some other tips:
The movie shouldn’t be boring. You need a movie that has a great exciting start, and preferably one that doesn’t have too many stretches when nothing really happens.
You don’t want a “talk-y” movie. This isn’t really the same as watching a movie in a theater. It’s more like having the movie on while people don’t have to really pay attention to the dialogue.
It’s better if you have lots of bright scenes instead of dark settings. If it’s all dark, lots of people may not see the action clearly.
So what does that leave you with? Well, you do have the following options:
Animated features from Walt Disney and Pixar
Star Wars films
Harry Potter movies
Movies from the superhero franchises
Action adventure movies like the Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park films.
80’s kids flicks like E.T. or The Goonies for kids.
For teens, maybe you can introduce classics like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or even Dirty Dancing. Other options include Karate Kid and Tom Hank’s Big.
Even adults today also appreciate gems like the first Back to the Future movie.
Suspense movies, such as Jaws or even The Blair Witch Project.
Stand By Me is also a very popular choice for your outside movie theater.
There’s also the original Matrix movie.
If you have really young kids, there’s a “sing along” version of the Frozen film.
Or you can always have a survey or a discussion as to which movies to watch. After all, you’re among friends and family, and it’s not as if you’re discussing politics!
Food & Drinks
It’s not really a movie experience if you’re not munching on something mindlessly while you watch the movie. Here are some of the more popular options:
First you need a table where all the food and drinks are. Make sure you have lights over the table so people know what they’re choosing.
Drinks are the usual stuff, with soda and water available. You may want to branch out with coffee and warm drinks, though you need coffee machines and lots of plastic cups for this to work.
Have a smaller table for the coffee and other warm drinks. Here you can have your cream and sugar, and maybe even some whipped cream for the hot chocolate.
For the drinks that need to be kept cool, invest in a great cooler. Some of these large coolers can hold more than a hundred cans of soda!
What about alcoholic drinks? That depends. If you’re all adults and everyone can hold their liquor, then a few bottles of wine and beer can be okay. But it can be a problem when some people grow belligerent when they’ve drunk too much. If there are kids around, alcohol may not be such a great idea either.
You can have imaginative drinks with directions propped up at the table telling people how to prepare a particular drink. For example, you can set up Italian cream soda for your guests. People can then fill up their cup with ice, add several squirts of syrup, then some club soda, a small bit of cream, and then top it all off with whipped cream.
You can also try out “mocktails”, which are basically non-alcoholic cocktails. Who says non-alcoholic drinks have to be boring? You do need to stock up on the bar essentials, even if you have to hide the liquor.
Popcorn is of course mandatory. Seriously, without popcorn it just doesn’t feel right. You can have a large tub of popcorn, with popcorn toppings on the side for people to choose from. You can have paper cones or small plastic cups so people can just scoop popcorn before they put in their salt or butter toppings.
Junk food and snacks like potato chips are also great. Yes, they’re not exactly healthy, but then these evenings are about fun.
Other food items you can try out can include salted stout caramel, maple nut, or perhaps even maple chili.
Candy is of course a staple at these kinds of events. Have some snack boxes handy so people (especially kids) have something to put their candies in.
If you have a nice grill and someone who likes to grill, then you greatly expand your food options. This is a great way to have dinner, especially with options like burgers and hotdogs for the kids. The adults can always enjoy steak sandwiches too.
Pizza is also great. While it’s convenient to just order out, no one’s stopping you from making your own pizzas to enjoy!
Doughnuts are great too, especially when you have coffee to go with it. This time you may have to have it delivered though.
Have plenty of plastic cups, plastic utensils, paper plates, and other disposable stuff. When you have crowds watching movies in your backyard, you really don’t want to use actual glassware as the risk of breaking these things are too high. In addition, you don’t want to get stick with the dishwashing chores!
There are times when you want to have a nice outdoor movie night just with the family. This can be a tricky thing, especially when you have easily offended neighbors who invite themselves to your family gathering.
If this is your family’s preference, you have to take care to shield the family gathering from view so that people can’t easily see inside your property.
Maybe you have a high fence or wall around your property, or perhaps you have shrubs covering where your family likes to watch the movies.
Don’t play the movie too loud. It’s one thing for the family to enjoy the movie sound effects, but it’s another thing if it bothers the neighbors. That’s especially true if they’re not invited!
Holding an outdoor movie night may seem like a rather complicated affair at first. But it’s really not. After a while, you may get used to your routines.
You can perfect setting up the AV equipment, and the family and friends know where to get the seats, blankets, food, and drinks.
Having an outdoor movie experience also looks like a friendly invite for neighbors to come over. They can come in and shoot the breeze, while they also bring their own equipment and food.
It’s a great way for families and communities to get together. Some communities hold these things almost nightly during the summer months, with a different backyard host each time. When people don’t have to budget to go on a European vacation during the summer, such a gathering is a terrific yet affordable option for people to have fun “at home”.