Outdoor Movie Party in 5 Simple Steps

This post is brought to you by The New Santa Fe from Hyundai.

Eating, napping, making out — everything is better outside. That’s why we invented picnics, and hammocks, and drive-in movie theaters. Now drive-ins are about as common as rotary phones, but that doesn’t lessen my urge to watch movies with a cricket soundtrack.

I mentioned that we threw a movie night in my sister’s barn for Hank’s birthday, and here’s what I learned about organizing a backyard movie party.

We used a laptop to the play the movie. In keeping with the farm theme, we trained a chicken to press play. I believe in going the extra mile.

Choose a location with low light, so the projection is visible. You need four things to screen a movie outside:

  • Screen or large white wall
  • DVD player or laptop
  • Projector
  • Speakers

Save some cash by borrowing a projector.

You can go cheap or elaborate here, but you can borrow, rent, or buy any of these components. Offices or schools tend to have projectors for presentations and portable screens — so ask around. Renting a projector will run you $75 to $100, less in urban areas where you can pick it up yourself, or you can rent online and have it shipped (atsrentals.com). Wired has a good step-by-step for how to put it all together.

You can also often borrow a collapsable movie screen, but there are lots of DIY options.

If you’re feeling DIY, you can make or improvise a reusable screen. Here’s a tutorial for making a screen out of two queen-sized sheets, a more solid portable outdoor movie screen, and a few more DIY screen options like a simple painted wall, screen paint, background paper, or blackout cloth.

That’ll do, pig.

Movie parties tend to run long. You need a little time for everyone to socialize, grab some food and get seated, so be mindful of timing when you choose your feature presentation. If there will be lots of kids, consider screening a couple of TV shows or some classic cartoons so you can better control duration and be mindful of bedtime meltdowns. No matter what, you’ll want something with wide appeal. We screened Babe because we wanted to keep with the farm theme, but here are a few of my favorites:

  • Rushmore
  • Sound of Music
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • Goonies
  • Star Wars
  • Toy Story
  • ET
  • Breakfast Club
  • Clueless
  • The Big Lebowski
  • Grease

There’s a more comprehensive list of family friendly movies here.

You can set up a theme around your movie, have everyone dress for a ’50s drive in if you’re showing Grease, have toy light-sabers for the kids if you’re showing Star Wars, or do a movie series of Best-Picture Oscars. It all depends on your stamina, be mindful of timing before you get too elaborate.

In your invitation, consider asking guests to bring lawn chairs, blankets or sleeping bags, and flashlights so they can get to and from their seats in the dark. A few invitation options:

Admit One Paper Invitations from Unique Invites
Printable Movie Night Invitations from Oh Happy Day
Electronic Invitations from Paperless Post

We sat on bales of hay, but in retrospect I’d do lawn chairs or organize the bales so there was a place to lean back. See how hunchy we are?

Nothing kills a party faster than physical discomfort. Make sure there are blankets if your area gets cold at night, bug spray and citronella candles if you have pest issues, and especially comfortable places to sit. I used bales of hay for the barn screening, but I think folks are more comfortable in chairs with backs. Again, encourage guests to bring their own if you don’t have enough to go around. You can also try picnic blankets, sleeping bags, or yoga mats, but you’ll also want pillows in that case so people can lie down and prop their heads to see the screen.

Renting a for-realsy popcorn machine was so worth it. Going to get free popcorn felt so illicit.

We went simple with popcorn and sodas, but Oh Happy Day has some crazy-adorable options if you want to get into styling your movie snacks. We rented a popcorn machine, which felt so fancy and runs from $50 to $75. You can purchase a smaller popcorn machine for about that price. Alternately, you can set out a big bowl of popcorn or pass around popcorn in paper bags.

It was not lost on our vegetarian guest that we were eating pork just before watching Babe. I am not going to heaven. Which is too bad, because it seems like they’d have bacon there.

It’s a nice treat to have traditional movie candies on hand (Junior Mints, Rasinettes, Twizzlers), and perhaps hot dogs if you want to provide a meal. We roasted ours over a fire before the show. You can offer lemonade or soda, beer or sangria for the grownups. Because we screened during colder weather, we set out a crock pot with cider and had rum on hand for those who wanted to spike.

And there you go. So much fun.

Of course, if you’re exhausted just reading that, consider pushing the couch out back, popping a bowl of popcorn, and setting your laptop on a table with some portable speakers. I’ll pick up some Cokes, Junior Mints, and a Heathers DVD. Meet you out back in an hour.

If you’d like to see how our movie night in a my sister’s barn came off, here’s a little day-in-the-life movie Hyundai made about us… watching a movie. Meta.


2 thoughts on “Outdoor Movie Party in 5 Simple Steps

  1. An outdoor movie party sounds like so much fun, and a great way to entertain a crowd!

    One thing: though Grease has fantastic music, it’s not the most female-friendly fare. The ‘happy ending’ is actually one of Sandy completely compromising her own identity to adopt a physical/sexual ideal that suits Danny’s desires. Do we really want to teach girls that social conformity and pleasing men (so that they don’t have to do the hard work of adapting) is the way to achieve happiness? Grease is worth watching, but with a critical eye.


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