Since before we moved into our home, it has been Ryan’s dream to start hosting outdoor movie nights in our backyard. He loves films and going to the movies, and has created a couple of little movie monsters out of our kids, too. A few years back, his dream came true and we’ve been hosting a series of summer movies in our backyard ever since. It took a few rounds to get all of the details ironed out, but it has become a season that I treasure (no exaggeration). It’s filled with kids and grownups who are so into the nostalgia of watching a movie outside, in the warm summer air. Kids run around and plop down on blankets with bags of popcorn and bare feet. Grownups shoot the breeze with a glass of wine. I look forward to it every year, so I wanted to share our resources for hosting outdoor movie night at your house, too.
Outdoor Movie Night at Our House
Movie nights in our backyard have become a pretty fun annual tradition. We invite all of our neighbors and friends — it’s really a “more the merrier” thing. We usually plan outdoor movie nights for late in the summer or very early in the fall, when the days are getting shorter but it’s still warm enough outside so that people don’t freeze to death. In California, that usually means September or October. Our movie nights look a little something like this.
We invite people over an hour before sunset, and invite them to bring their own blankets and/or chairs. We provide a few extras in case people forget or they don’t have their own. People usually come early and set up their place on the lawn, then mingle and visit and have dinner. We provide a main dish and drinks, and everyone else brings something to share, potluck style. We usually start the movie about 5 minutes after sunset. The older kids tend to sit and watch the movies along with some of the adults. The littler kids usually watch for a few minutes, then end up running around or going inside and finding some toys to play with. We always make sure everyone knows that they can come and go as they need, and they definitely don’t have to watch the whole movie. If you’re planning on hosting an outdoor movie night, I think that’s a crucial point. Don’t be hurt if people don’t watch the whole thing! Sometimes a full film is tough for a family to get through, especially if they have little kids.
Throughout the movie we have fresh popcorn popping, and we stock up on movie candy from the dollar store that people grab and share. Everything is made to be easy and low-key, so all drinks are in bottles or cans in a cooler and guests help themselves. Any food that we serve is “set it and forget it,” like a crock pot full of meatballs or a bunch of pizzas. We use paper for dishes and recycle everything at the end of the night. Easy and fast cleanup is key for movie night!
Projectors and Equipment for Outdoor Movie Night
If you’re going to be hosting outdoor movie night, your number one necessities are a projector and a screen. Ryan was so intent on making this whole thing happen that he actually designed the remodel of our house so that it would create a large, blank white wall that serves as our screen. So we just fire up our projector and aim it at that wall. If you have a similar blank wall, it works perfectly. If not, there are all kinds of variations on outdoor movie screens.
For a test run, start by just tossing up a white sheet and tying the ends securely to a fence or something similar. If you want to take it to the next level, there are an insane amount of pop-up screens you can use for outdoor movie night. This one is pretty cool because you can hang it or stand it, and the cost is pretty reasonable.
This projector is Ryan’s pride and joy. He saved for a year to get it, and I have to say… it’s worth it. The picture is crisp and crystal clear, even when we project it onto a 20-foot wide wall. The setup is easy and it’s super reliable. We use an Apple TV (we just take the one from our regular TV) and stream from whatever streaming service has the movie we’re watching. We set the projector on a rolling cart like this one for easy transport on movie night.
For sound, Ryan hooks up an audio amplifier to the projector via an HDMI cable; the amplifier has two outdoor speakers hooked up to it. The Apple TV is then plugged into the amplifier to receive the streaming signal. For our size yard, the two outdoor speakers is plenty of sound. But it’s Ryan’s dream (of course) to install surround sound when we update the backyard.
Fun Extras to Have for Movie Night
The true hit of every movie night, I have to say, is the popcorn machine. This popcorn machine has been perfect; it’s a free-standing machine, with wheels on one side so you can wheel it around. It has a little shelf on one side to hold popcorn bags, and some extra hidden storage around the back. And my favorite part is that it has a front display case with lights inside where you can display and serve candy. We usually go to the dollar store and stock up on some classic movie candy to fill it up.
We use popcorn packets to make our popcorn so we don’t have to worry about measuring out ingredients. And it tastes exactly like movie theatre popcorn (I mean, I guess it IS movie popcorn?!). We have a little scoop and these bags, and people just grab a bag and help themselves once it’s popped.
The Best Movies for Outdoor Movie Night
As far as movies go, we have a whole science with how we select our films! I’m planning to dedicate a whole post to that, so tune in next week to see how we make our choices. But I’d love to know — do you have any movie night must watch films? I’d love to see if they’re similar to ours, or if there are any reader favorites that we should add to the list. Leave a comment if you have a fave! xoxo