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5 Tips for a Backyard Movie Night

This movie night series is sponsored by Skinny Cow.

This is the last in our summer movie night series. (Here are the other posts: Invitations, Food, and Decor.) Here are 5 tips for planning a movie night.

1. Choosing the Movie. Depending on the crowd, picking a movie can be tricky. In general I try to pick something classic that isn’t too intense. And I consider if kids will be there. Here is a list of movies that might work: Star Wars, Rad, Footloose, Dirty Dancing, Indiana Jones, Goonies, Mean Girls, Any Pixar Movie, Real Steel, Nacho Libre, Lord of the Rings, School of Rock, Napoleon Dynamite, Back to the Future, ET.

2. Timing is Everything. Most movies are two hours which if you are socializing before it starts can easily drag into a 3-4 hour event. I start the party 30 minutes before it gets dark to allow for talking and eating. Then I start the movie as soon as it gets dark to get the party going. You have to mindful of the schedule or it can easily tun into a marathon party.

3. Sit on It. In my experience people prefer sitting in chairs. So even if you are doing blankets on a lawn, its nice to have some chairs around.

4. Keep the Food a Coming. It can be awkward to get up during the movie so send someone around with a tray of goodies every so often so they can refill on popcorn!

5. Intermission. I went to a party once where they stopped the movie in the middle and had an intermission so people could talk. If you wanted to go all out it could be funny to do an live intermission show. Have someone play a song or kids perform a dance or something.

Have any of you thrown a movie night party lately? I would love to hear your tips.

5 Tips for a Backyard Movie Night | Oh Happy Day!

I loved this photo from Vogue by Jason Busch that I found on sfgirlbybay.

  1. Jenny

    July 11, 2012

    What do you do about bugs? I live in North Carolina and this would be my number 1 concern.

      • jordan
      • July 11, 2012

      Hi Jenny! I’ve never had that be an issue so I don’t have a good answer for you. Maybe someone else can help in the comments?

  2. Sarah

    July 11, 2012

    How fun! I think Goonies would be the funnest movie to watch with friends outdoors. You are so right though about the timing. Love all the tips =)

    – Sarah

  3. Nicole

    July 11, 2012

    Jenny- Maybe you can pass out bug repellent before the movie starts so people can later up and still have time to wash their hands to eat snacks during the movie and then perhaps hang those bug zappers around the area too.

  4. Michelle

    July 11, 2012

    We’ve done a few and they are always fun.

    For bugs, we generally spray (fog) a couple days in advance AND flip on the bug zapper.

    Another great one… Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!

  5. Victoria

    July 11, 2012

    Some good friends of mine have outdoor summer movie nights every year. Even though it’s summer it’s good to have some blankets when it gets chilly after dark. They’ll usually screen movies leading up to whatever sequel is coming out that year, so batman is a likely choice this year!

  6. Gina

    July 11, 2012

    Not too sure about the intermission – some people might get really into the movie. But this is seriously great summer idea…to have an outdoor movie party. 🙂

  7. Kelsey

    July 11, 2012

    This sounds delightful! Great tips, I especially love the intermission idea, I usually get restless especially if I’ve already seen the movie.

  8. how2home

    July 11, 2012

    These are such great tips! Thanks for providing this for us…i do find it hard to accommodate everyone’s movie choices, sometimes its not just to accommodate kids but to accommodate adult is the hardest i find…..

  9. Catherine

    July 11, 2012

    we held one this year on Australia day and we’re going to watch Aussie films (but we didn’t!). It rained though so we had to hold it under the car port. it was just as good! and cause it was on the cement we bought out the couches and it was super comfy. we cooked a whole lot of food and it was pretty fun!

  10. Kelsea

    July 11, 2012

    What a fun idea! I would have to worry about bugs too, though… they love me.

  11. Evani G

    July 11, 2012

    Great tips Jordan! I think you’ve inspired me to throw one this summer! And I like the intermission idea a lot! 🙂


  12. We have close neighbors who might complain- anyone have issues like that?

  13. kylee

    July 11, 2012

    i’m actually throwing one this weekend! it’s a fundraiser for my trip to india, but i have thrown backyard movies before. they always seem to turn out really well, but the movie watching rarely happens. it tends to turn into more of a social event with the movie as background noise. the biggest tip i can give, is to be sure to be well stocked on treats and have a variety. we usually pull out our fire pit for some s’mores as well! another fun tip: have someone (or yourself) take photos throughout the night!

  14. Jackie

    July 11, 2012

    I love this series, because I am planning to do a movie party later this summer for my son’s 5th birthday. We are watching How to Train Your Dragon…I think the adults will love it to. I love the intermission idea, especially with squirmy kids! Thanks!

  15. JenC

    July 11, 2012

    While cooking for our event, I made some extra bags of home-made cracker jack for our neighbors. Left it on their doorstep with a note telling them we wouldn’t be up too late.

  16. Kelly

    July 11, 2012

    I know this is a silly question but where do you get the machine to play a movie outside. Projectors are kinda expensive. Can anyone fill me in on what they use to play the movie on. would love to do this with my family this summer. Any help or advice is much appreciated.


      • jordan
      • July 12, 2012

      I would ask around! I have a few different friends that have them through work or school. (Most businesses use them for presentations.) If you wanted to invest in one I think you can get a high quality one for around $400. (Just a few years ago they were $700+ so prices seem to be dropping.)


    July 11, 2012

    My problem is the same as Kelly’s–where do I get a projector? How much should I expect to pay if I have to rent one?

  18. Liz

    July 11, 2012

    I do this once a month at my house during nice (not steaming) weather.

    We have a projector borrowed from my work and set up a king sized white sheet along a string in the yard. Kids (ranging from 7-15) come and bring their own chairs. I provide lemonade, popcorn (we have a small tabletop popcorn maker and make movie-style popcorn) along with fruit, hot dogs, and s’mores.

    Tiki torches and lavender oil help keep the bugs away.

    To be honest, it’s a blast. We watch only older movies (I feel compelled to indoctrinate kids with the awesomeness of 80s movies), and the parents are generally comfortable with that as they’ve already viewed the movie.

    It’s a fun, fun time.

  19. Christine

    July 11, 2012

    I try to do movie nights a few times a year and my husband and I will set it up just for ourselves and play a movie on the side of the garage. The first couple times, we borrowed projectors from work, but we ended up “gifting” ourselves with one for Christmas. Projector rentals usually run $75 – $100 from an online source that will ship the projector to you. (, If you are in a metropolitan area, you should be able to get one cheaper (~$50) but you will need to go pick it up and return it. An online search should turn up several options. You might also ask around – I know a lot of people who have borrowed items from work, school or church. And who knows, someone might have one.

    The most popular seat is usually the hammock, but I definitely agree about providing chairs – in my experience, the only ones who use the blankets are the kids (if the sit down at all!) I like to have 2 levels, so I use regular lawn chairs and the beach chairs that sit low to the ground.

    My favorite set up for treats is a big jar of popcorn and several smaller jars of typical movie treats like licorice and Jr. Mints. Everyone gets a popcorn box and can load up with anything they want.

    Houston has tons of buggies, so we usually use the backyard bug spray a few hours before the party begins, spread bug repellant lanterns and citronella candles around and provide a basket of bug spray for guest to use.

  20. Deanna (Silly Goose Farm)

    July 11, 2012

    I do a movie night at my farm each summer. So fun! We usually have a lot of kids around, so we go for family-friendly flicks (though we’ve done “The Big Lebowski” and “The Royal Tenenbaums”). “The Sandlot” and “A League of Their Own” were big hits. As for other tips, I think everyone here has it covered! I always make homemade ice cream sandwiches, too. And I make sure to have lots of cushions/pillows and blankets available for chilly Upstate NY evenings or for little ones that can’t stay awake until the end of the movie :).

    As to projectors, we get one from work. Speakers were also a problem, but we were able to hook-up an old guitar amp for sound.

  21. solace76

    July 11, 2012

    We’ve done quite a few outdoor movies (5-6/year) and hope to show some of the Olympics outside this summer. Movies: This year it’s Ironman, Karate Kid, Big, Superman (original), Scooby-Doo, and Die Hard. Other years it’s been Grease, Goonies, Wall-e, Cars, National Treasure, Vacation, First Blood, Back to the Future, The Incredibles and Twister. The toughest thing is how late it get dark (right now it’s ~9:45pm) for the little ones so we show more kid friendly as the summer goes on.

    We bought a projector (we like to do a Hallowindow too!), a screen from here ( and bought the metal for the frame locally. The screen is 16’X9′ and sets up in <10 minutes. We had an older surround sound system we now use for outside. We provide hotdogs, hot drinks and popcorn. I bought a "concession stand" like popcorn machine on Amazon and picked up some hotdog rollers that use the BBQ rotisserie for $20 end of season at Walmart.

    We usually end up with 20-30 people/night. Everyone pitches in for the candy bin so we always have lots of choice. Each person is responsible for their own chairs and blankets which cuts down on my work. These movie nights have become quite the event! Everybody looks forward to them and has a great time.

  22. Pink Ronnie

    July 11, 2012

    Never thought of doing something like this in our own backyard. Definitely one for the ideas file for our upcoming summer…
    Ronnie xo

  23. This girl loves to talk

    July 12, 2012

    we are planning one soon – its winter here! cant wait. we also went to a friends and they played an a christmas special of dr who – so episodes of tv shows can be the perfect length too – this one was one hour

    We also had a church campout and my husband was in charge of the outdoor movie – the kids absolutely loved it. Was a hit!

  24. Erica Tanner

    July 12, 2012

    we use lawn chairs. Those are the best to sit on! AND the plastic popcorn boxes with the red and white stripes are really great..not able to break or be smashed!

  25. Steph T

    July 12, 2012

    I love outdoor movies! We play them often and I think the best ones are the old classics that kids haven’t seen and adults remember from their childhood – my two favorites: Herbie the Love Bug (original version) and E.T. We’ve also played some cartoon shorts like Wallace and Gromit and they are the perfect length for short intermission breaks in between.

  26. Rosie

    July 12, 2012

    IF ONLY we had the weather here! Ha, an English outdoor film night would soon turn into a swimming party, with the weather we’ve been experiencing lately. But your advice and ideas convert perfectly to an indoor event, which I am hoping to plan soon, so thank you! A cosy alternative (plus, we can always open teh windows for fresh air, minus the drizzle!)

  27. jeanette

    July 12, 2012

    I’ve never held a movie party but now I want to. To do it outside, this Phoenix girl will have to wait until about October – it’s now on the list!

  28. Danni

    July 12, 2012

    I really want to do this to surprise my boyfriend with something different… but how do you actually set up the movie? a sheet and a projector…? I don’t know what to use to make it happen. suggestions?

  29. Ashlea Walter

    July 13, 2012

    Check your local library’s AV area for projector rentals too!

  30. Tamara {Delish General Store}

    July 13, 2012

    Hi Jenny, thought I’d weigh in here about the bugs. You may have seen images of Daisy Jar Lids floating around the internet/Pinterest/blogs lately? I have them for sale in my shop and at local markets they have been selling like mad. It is a very bad mosquito season up here in B.C., and these are perfect for citronella candles outside. The lid means a breeze or wind won’t blow the candle out and the holes mean the active scent is still dispersed. Works well for us!

  31. Tom Lynch

    July 17, 2012

    LOVE movie night!!!!
    We did it just before Halloween and it was great.
    Movie shorts worked great for the kids. I did a mix of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons and episodes of The Munsters from a boxed set. Spooky fun for the kids and adults.

    I BBQed two packs of hotdogs. When they were cooked, I put them on the bun and then placed all of them on the grill again with the buns for a quick light toasting; stacked them all on a big tray and passed it around. Then a round of s’mores… assembly line style, on one big tray.

    Popped three Jiffy Pops on the grill… the kids LOVED watching it pop!

    Planning a screening of JAWS poolside one night soon! Perfect for my teenage son who has never seen it!

    Happy summer everyone!


  32. Steph

    July 18, 2012

    Great tips! I’ve been wanting to have an outside movie night…these will be really helpful when I do!

  33. Popcorn Boxes

    July 25, 2012

    What a great idea! Sounds so lovely to do this in the summer months with some fizzy drinks and snacks! I always have movie nights in the lounge however never think to move it outside, even if the weather is nice. We make sure to stock up on Popcorn, and Popcorn Party Boxes which are pefect for events like this, saves the rustling of bags! 🙂

    I will have to arrange an outdoor movie event, thank you for the idea!

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