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How to turn your backyard into an outdoor movie theater

Movie theaters may not be an option for quite a while, but with the weather warming up, you can create an outdoor movie theater right in your backyard—complete with movie-theater quality snacks! It’s like going to a drive-in movie without the costly ticket prices or cramped seating. 

DIY backyard movie theaters are easier to put together than you think. You can probably get the whole thing set up in under an hour, provided you have the equipment you need. We’ll show you everything you need to know to set up your own backyard movie theater, from equipment to DIY hacks, to movie theme ideas and easy-to-make snacks. Get the popcorn popping, and let’s get ready for showtime! 

Set up: what you need for a backyard movie theater

A portable screen: No need to get an actual movie screen; a white flat sheet will be perfect—although we’ve seen projections on sides of a garage, the back wall of a house, and other innovative places. Note: If using a flat sheet, be sure to pull it very taut when securing for optimal movie watching pleasure. 

Projector: Amazon is filled with projector options, in every price range, from under $100 to over $2,000. Do your research and buy the one that best suits your needs. If movie night is going to be just an occasional treat, go for a well-rated lower-priced model; if you want to maximize your frequency and quality of outdoor movie viewing, there are plenty of high-end options to consider. 

When it’s time to watch the movie, connect the projector to a fire stick, an Alexa remote, and a media streamer, or hook directly to your Apple TV.

Sound system: Your portable Bluetooth audio should be just fine. Ensure your speakers have enough power to compete with outdoor noises, like wind, traffic, etc. Note: Always test your sound system before showtime starts!

Location, location, location: If you purchase a portable screen, most come with a built-in stand. For a DIY sheet screen, you can hang it on an exterior wall in the front or backyard, on the side of the garage, or even strung up between two trees. Just make sure that your screen placement gives you a good spot for seating. 

Add style with piles of outdoor cushions and beach blankets if you’re planning to watch the movie on the grass, or arrange lawn chairs in small clusters for easy snack sharing. Citronella candles add flickering ambiance (and some natural bug repellent). 

Backyard movie theater theme night ideas

Kid-theme movie night

One of the great things about kids is that they don’t mind watching the same movie over and over and over again (we’re talking to you, moms who have watched Frozen with their kids 672 times). Rather than taking a chance on a new movie that may, or may not, be a hit with the kids, stick with what they already love. Pick a tried and true blockbuster, and make the movie the star. 

Ask the kids to come in costume or wear something bearing a photo of one of the characters from the movie. 

If the kids arrive before it’s dark enough to start the movie, let them do a craft—a crown decorating craft could work well with a Frozen theme. 

Start the movie and have plenty of snacks and beverages ready. Along with the mandatory popcorn, pizza, and drinks, do a special spin on classic cupcakes:

  • Using any boxed cake mix, prepare batter according to directions.
  • Instead of lining the cupcake tin with paper liners, place a flat-bottom ice cream cone into each cupcake well. 
  • Pour batter into cones, filling the cone about halfway with batter. 
  • Bake at 350° for about 25 minutes, or until cupcake tops are spongey and golden brown. 
  • Once cupcakes cool, ice with your favorite frosting and decorate with colorful sprinkles. 

Kids love biting into ice cream cone cupcakes—you will, too!

Girls’ night at the movies

Chick-flicks and rosé wine are the perfect recipe for fun with the girls. Choose a light, romantic comedy (nothing heavy this night), and illuminate the snack tables and yard with a scattering of hurricane candles.

Feeling crafty? Homemade tissue paper bouquets add color without attracting insects. 

Have plenty of pretty throws and soft blankets to keep everyone cozy if the temperature dips. 

When it comes to snacks, keep it simple: 

  • Dress up ordinary popcorn with a sprinkling of truffle salt for a very grown-up take on a movie theater classic. 
  • Chill bottles of water and pale pink rosé wine in galvanized steel ice tubs. 
  • Do make-ahead charcuterie skewers with flavorful dried meats, olives, and cheeses.
  • Pick up frosted brownies from your local bakery or supermarket and cut them into small bite-size pieces—less work, more time for movies and wine. 

We’ve given you two different movie theme ideas, but there’s really no limit to what you can do with a projector, a movie screen, and a gathering of family and friends. It’s a great way to bond with neighbors and squeeze every minute of joy from those fleeting summer nights. 

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