How to Set Up the Perfect Backyard Movie Night

published Sep 9, 2023
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Kids watching movie on outdoors projector screen
Credit: Fly View Productions / Getty Images

Movies have a way of bringing the whole family together. With a six-year age gap between my two daughters, it’s often one of the few things they can agree on, and my husband and I never get tired of sharing our love of movies with them. Because we also enjoy spending as much time as possible in our cozy little backyard, it was only a matter of time before we started hosting backyard movie screenings, and they are a huge hit for all of us!

There’s something so fun about watching a movie on the big screen in your own yard, whether it’s just the family or with a big group of friends. Setting up an outdoor movie night couldn’t be simpler once you have the right supplies. Here’s everything you need to know to create your own backyard movie screening experience.

1. Set the scene.

A great outdoor movie night, like so many things, comes down to location. Pick a spot in your yard that feels comfy and spacious enough for your crew. If yard space is an issue, consider moving to the driveway and projecting on your garage door. When it’s just the four of us, we like to cuddle up on our outdoor furniture, so we bring a portable screen over to our patio. When there’s a bigger group, I like to spread out blankets, pillows, and a few lawn chairs in the yard so everyone can get comfortable and easily see the screen. 

Pop-up tents and sleeping bags look cute and can help kiddos get cozy for the movie. Or, if you’ve got a group of small kids, setting up a pretend drive-in theater with Cozy Coupes and cardboard cars is about as adorable as it gets.

For yard viewing, I’ll include some trays (vintage TV dinner trays are a cute touch, but a sheet pan will also do nicely) so everyone has a sturdy spot for their drink and snack. (I love this snack board dinner idea, too.) We do have some mosquito pressure outside, so I make sure there’s always citronella lanterns and buzz patches for folks who want them.

2. Test for success.

The A/V component of an outdoor movie night is essential. There’s no bigger bummer than a film screening that you can’t properly see or hear. Make sure to test your equipment well in advance of hosting a screening so you have time to troubleshoot. Also, test your projector and screen around the same time of day when you plan to host. The first time I hosted a screening, it was mid-summer, and it was light outside until late in the evening (i.e., past kiddo bedtimes), which made it difficult to see the projections on the screen. Be aware of timing to make sure you’ve got the right lighting conditions.

3. Get the right gear.

There are plenty of projectors on the market, but we love the BenQ GS50, a portable projector that’s durable (splash-proof! Drop-proof!) with a stylish retro design. What I enjoy about it is that it’s easy to set up and operate, and it comes with a handy carrying case, which neatly stows all the cords and whatnot that go with it. There’s a remote control included, but should you lose it (these things happen!), you can set up the remote app on your smartphone. Use a small table or bench to set up the projector with a clear line of sight so that the picture will show up clearly on the screen.

The BenQ GS50 has great audio capabilities, whether you’re screening Transformers or streaming a live concert, but if you go with another projector and audio is an issue, you can add a portable speaker. The JBL Powerbox is a great option for an exceptional audio experience, but we’ve had plenty of success with a less expensive outdoor speaker, like the BeFree Sound Portable Party Speaker. If you have a good bluetooth speaker that you love, use that! You’ll need to connect your projector to whatever media you plan to watch. If it’s not already included with your projector, you can use a firestick or connect directly to a laptop.

When it comes to the screen, there’s a wide range of options. If you’re not terribly picky about the picture quality, a large white bedsheet or a dropcloth is a great choice. Just hang it up and go! A sheet will have some wrinkles, so if you’re looking for a perfectly smooth surface, a screen is the best choice. Pottery Barn makes a beautiful Outdoor Movie Screen that’s great for folks who host regular movie nights, but there are also less expensive screens that don’t include stands if you need something simple to hang up and project onto.

4. Make concessions.

Once you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to get creative! Throw in some decorations like string lights and popcorn buckets. You can match your decor to the theme of whatever movie you’re screening, or keep it cute and neutral to go with any vibe. I like to set up a little table nearby with individual servings of snacks and candy to mix and match, plus a little drink cooler so our snacks and sips are close at hand.

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