Nothing beats watching an outdoor movie in your backyard, especially if it’s on a warm and balmy Summer’s night. You have the projector, the screen, the movie, some snacks, and drinks all set up and now all you need is for your guests to turn up.
But if you want to make the event really successful, and for it to be the best backyard movie night possible then it shouldn’t be just about the basics. You can make it so much better, I promise you.
If you really want your backyard movie night to live on in the memory of your guests for years to come, then check out these tips I’ve put together below.
How to Organize the Best Ever Backyard Movie Party
Over the last decade, I believe I’ve managed to refine my outdoor movie nights to a tee. I’ve ironed out all of the little challenges here and there and picked up essential hacks that can make a massive difference to how successful the night is.
If you want to plan something truly spectacular then read on for 15 things you can do to throw a successful outdoor movie night – I would love to hear from you if you have anything to add!
1: Choosing the Right Movie
Obviously, this very much depends on your guests, but picking the right movie to show can still be very tricky. I prefer to watch the classics on an outdoor movie night, and I think most people do too.
The reason I do this is that familiar movies don’t require too much concentration and will work really well. Invariably guests will want to snack and talk, so anything that’s too in-depth or requiring masses of concentration doesn’t always work.
2: Getting Your Timings Right
How you time your backyard movie is critical. With most films being a couple of hours long your party could stretch to 3 or 4 hours once you add in all the time that guests spend socializing.
What I tend to do is tell people to arrive when it’s still light, and one hour before the movie starts. This gives people time to talk and start eating, and I play the movie once it’s completely dark. This gives you the best picture possible.
My experience is that most people come to a backyard movie night to socialize, so having this time before the main event works really well.
3: Use a Pre-Reel Before Dark
When your guests do turn up, they are going to be really excited about what’s to come. No more so than the kids, who will be running around like maniacs, and constantly asking when the show is going to start.
What I do is set up a pre-reel. You can do this in any manner of ways and it will provide something playing in the background whilst your guests talk and get comfortable.
If you have lots of kids at the backyard movie party then I tend to get some cartoons playing on a loop just to keep them entertained until it’s time for the main event.
If it’s adults at the party then my pre-roll choice is a little bit different. I use a really calm and relaxing DVD with fish swimming in an aquarium that I picked from Amazon. It doesn’t matter which one you buy, there are loads on there.
But how it works well is that as the twilight deepens the images get a lot crisper and vivid, which tends to draw people in until it gets completely dark. This is the key point at which I switch the main event movie on.
4: Kids Love Sitting on Blankets Near the Screen
I will lay out blankets at the front of the movie screen. Primarily I do this for the kids as it increases their sense of adventure. It’s a late-night, and an unusual experience for them, so they will want to be as close to the movie screen as possible.
Picnic blankets work well for this, but I have also used simple bedsheets or blankets from our bedroom to make for a cozy floor area.
To make it even more comfortable I will scatter cushions down. It does look better, and also gives the kids (or adults) something to prop themselves up on when watching the movie.
5: Set-Up Home Made Day Beds
One thing I have done more recently is day beds. If you don’t have the budget to buy any then don’t worry, they are easy enough to set up yourself.
All you do is get some mattresses laid on top of the blankets on the floor and then cover them again with plush pillows and cushions to make them more comfortable.
6: Don’t Forget to Have Chairs Set-Out
In my experience of running countless movie nights, guests tend to prefer sitting down in a chair for prolonged periods of time. Although having bedding and blankets on the floor can look idyllic, in practical terms not everybody will want to be at ground level.
Even if you are doing blankets or bedding on the ground, plan the seating arrangements to have chairs around the rear of the viewing area. I find that the adults will sit in the chairs, whilst the kids will love being on the floor.
7: Stop the Movie with an Intermission
Your backyard movie should be time for friends and family to catch up in an informal and relaxed atmosphere. With that in mind, I always plan for an intermission halfway through the movie.
It’s as simple as waiting for a good time to pause the film. Your guests can then get up, stretch their legs, stock up on refreshments, and take the time to talk with people.
My intermissions last no longer than 30 minutes and on some themed party nights I’ve even put on entertainment during this period. This can include things such as games, songs, or even having a friend’s band do a short performance.
8: Print Your Own Movie Tickets
In advance of the night, I will often create and print my own movie tickets for the guests as part of their invite. They can be designed as a flyer, or you could make them look like genuine movie tickets; the choice is yours.
There are plenty of websites that provide templates to do so, as well as design ideas. Pinterest has some stunning examples which should provide some great inspiration.
If you would rather just buy a stub of authentic movie tickets, then Amazon sells them. They will add a great level of authenticity to your outdoor movie party.
9: Keep the Food & Snacks Coming Around
Obvious I know, but the food and snack situation can make or break how successful your backyard movie is. The trick is to keep the food coming on trays, whilst moving around your guests as they watch the movie.
By keeping a constant stream of snacks being offered, it means your guests won’t have to stand up during the event and try to hunt down some food in the dark: awkward!
If you are stuck for ideas on what to offer your guests then read my food and snacks guide for outdoor movies. It even has options for vegan diets in there.
10: Install Your Own Popcorn Bar
Popcorn will always be associated with the movies, so why should your party be any different?
You can be boring and just buy microwaveable popcorn from your local store, or you could really pull out all the stops with a real popcorn maker machine and bar.
Not sure what I mean? Take a look at these popcorn makers on Amazon. All you will need to do is set yours up on the table at the rear or side of the party. Your guests will keep on coming back for more!
11: Play Movie Night Bingo (or Other Games)
This works ideally during the intermission period I spoke about in tip 7. I can’t take credit for the idea as it was something I saw on the Peppermint Creative website. It’s easy enough to play though, and kids and adults can all play it.
If you want to know more and download printable movie night bingo cards, then visit the Peppermint Creative website – they are free to download and offer a great intermission activity game.
There are other game ideas you could also employ during intermission. When we have a lot of kids at the party we will often to classic kid games such as pass the parcel and musical chairs – after all, you should have some chairs already there so make good use of them!
12: Use Subtle Outdoor Lighting
I will also set up some subtle lighting arrangements in the backyard, as it means your guests can walk around freely without having to navigate in the dark. The key is to not use anything too bright, as light sources can negatively affect the projected screen image.
I find that string lights (view on Amazon) or lanterns work very well, and don’t interfere with my picture at all, but the trick is to test it out the night before with a trial run. This brings me on nicely to tip number 13.
But before that, guess who loves light sources? Bugs. Insects love backyard movie nights too as they simply can’t resist the big screen, so be fully armed with bug spray just in case you get any unwanted guests.
13: Do a Trial Run with Your Equipment
If this is the first time you have ever hosted a backyard movie night then I thoroughly recommend that you trial run all of your kits the night before. There’s nothing worse than having a hotly anticipated movie night, only for something to go wrong when you hit the play button.
It’s a fact there are bound to be things that don’t always go to plan, some of which might be outside of your control. But please make sure that the basics are set up and running correctly, plus learn how to use your new gear properly.
The main things you need to test will be the connections to the projector and media player you decide to use, plus how well it projects onto the screen after dark.
Test out a short few minutes of audio and visuals, and the party should go off without a hitch. In fact, anything else that goes wrong doesn’t really matter as you can cover for it on the night.
If the movie doesn’t play and your guests can’t watch it then the party’s over – or you might all have to move indoors to watch it – boring!
14: Make Sure Your Speakers Are Powerful Enough
A lot of the time the sound offered by the built-in speakers in your projector or media player can be just fine. But if you’ve got a lot of guests coming, and especially kids, it might not cut the mustard so you should consider hooking up speakers.
No matter what set-up you choose, test that the volume is going to be loud enough for everyone to be able to hear the movie. I’ve been to party nights where it was impossible to hear the film being played due to the chatter from the guests.
If your guests can’t hear the film, then the night will soon descend into chaos where everyone gives up on watching and simply start talking and moving around.
15: Warn Your Neighbors (and Invite Them)
Be a good neighbor.
Well in advance of the movie night go and talk to them and tell them about your plans. This is especially relevant if they overlook your backyard, as they might not want a loud film and a bright screen playing at night.
The last thing you want is an upset neighbor ruining your night, or worse still, them calling the local law enforcement.
Hopefully, you have a good relationship with them anyway, but regardless, the best way to get them onside with your plans is to simply invite them.
Even if they don’t come, it’s a great psychological tactic to reduce the chances of them actually complaining, believe me, it works 99% of the time in my experience.
I wish you all the best with your plans and hope this has provided you with some awesome tips on how to throw the best-ever (or at the very least a successful) backyard and an outdoor movie.
I would love to hear from you if you have any more suggestions, as this guide will be updated regularly with more tips. I’ve been doing this for two decades but every party I throw tends to generate even more ideas for the next time.
Have a great night!
Want to Know What Set-Up I Recommend?
If this is your first time and you don’t know what gear and equipment you need then go take a look at my recommended set-ups. This will give you a guide to everything you will need to get with options for all budgets.