How to Plan an Outdoor Movie Night?

While a movie night in can be just as fun, there’s something about having the outdoors as your backdrop. The trouble is, planning an outdoor movie night can be a lot of work if you don’t have the tip from someone who’s done it before. To help out you eager movie stallers we put together this article with some tips and tricks for planning an outdoor movie night.

If you’re lucky enough to have a deck or porch, check to make sure it’s safe for people to walk on – preferably cordoned off with roped or otherwise defined boundaries so guests know not to wander too far off-set from their group.

In addition, make sure the area is well lit and has adequate seating. There’s nothing worse than a movie being drowned out by a neighbor’s TV or stereo at midnight.

If you want to watch your favorite movie outdoors, make sure that it isn’t too cold.

It’s starting to get cooler outside, which means that outdoor movie night is just around the corner. If you’ve never hosted an outdoor movie night before, the process can be a little overwhelming. What movies should you watch? Where do you find a projector for cheap? Will people come even if it’s cold outside?

This article will go through everything that needs to happen in order to organize and host an outdoor movie night. We’ll cover how to plan the perfect night, from deciding what movies to watch (feel free to be outside the box with your choices) and finding a projector for cheap, all the way down to figuring out how many people are going to come if its chilly outside.

11 Steps to Plan a Perfect Outdoor Movie Night

1. Decide on a theme

Decide on a theme

Deciding what you’re going to watch is one of the hardest decisions. There are a few options: you can choose an award-winning movie that your friends will love or a cult classic like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Honestly, either choice is completely valid. However, these films can sometimes be harder to find in the public domain and it’s probably wisest to avoid anything too popular (like Star Wars), even if your friends would appreciate it. You don’t want your friends to say “I’ve already seen this movie three times before!” and leave early (or at all).

You can also choose a movie that no one you know has seen before. This is a good way to get your friends to come and see something they would never normally see in a million years, without it feeling like you’re forcing them.

You may have heard some people recommend Twilight: Eclipse since it’s sort of an unknown quantity and will be the perfect choice for any romance fan.

This is also a great movie to choose from if you want to pick up chicks (by the end of the night, I guarantee most of your girlfriends will be talking about how they’ve never seen Twilight before).

2. Find the best time & Date of year to use this setup

 Find the best time & Date of year to use this setup

Use this setup when there is more natural light outside or in an area that doesn’t get much sun during the day. This means late summer through winter is optimal (mid-September to March). Also, if you have people staying over and want to watch a movie after they have gone to bed; this will work well for that.

I would avoid using this setup in early spring, as it gets too cold in the evening for comfort and is difficult to maintain all night long with more than one person involved.

Deciding the date is pretty simple. You can get started at the beginning of October, but don’t wait too long, since it will get too cold for everyone to stay outside.

Ideally, you should be able to start in mid to late September, but try not to go past October 15th. Make sure that you get all of your friends on board with the date that you choose!

3. Find a projector

Outdoor Movie Night

If you want the full experience of an outdoor movie night, you’ll need a projector. Either you can buy one good projector for outdoor movies or you can just simply rent one.

My personal choice is to rent a projector rather than buy it because I don’t want to deal with anything other than the bare necessities while I’m setting up for the night. You can buy a projector on the cheap for less than $50, but if you buy the cheapest one, it will have all sorts of defects.

I recommend getting a used projector from someone else or looking around your local area for a used model for sale. You’ll have to be a little more assertive about getting the one you want.

On Craigslist, you can find a lot of cheap used models for sale. These are obviously cheaper than buying new, but make sure to check the reviews! Search “projector” and “used” on Craigslist and see what comes up. If you have no luck there, Google will also get you lots of hits using the same keywords.

Projectors can be bought used online as well, but they are often more expensive and more fragile. Projectors are not very expensive, but they are fairly delicate pieces of equipment that take up a lot of room.

Also, it’s not like you can just move them around from place to place and use them wherever you want! Because of this, I recommend renting a projector rather than buying one.

4. Find a projector screen

Find a projector

You can use any projector screen to make your outdoor movie night. Some examples include backlit screens, white sheets, white bedsheets (the cheap ones found at Walmart and other department stores), ceiling tiles (these are very expensive), and windows. After you have used these techniques, search YouTube for more ideas.

Get an outdoor screen

You can search for backlit screens on Craigslist or search the Internet for cheap deals like “projector screen” to find exactly what you need. If you have a computer background, check for deals on Netflix or other movie rental services. That’s how I got the screen I use.

5. Get speakers

Get projectors and speakers

If you’re able to get an outdoor screen that will work for your movie, you’ll need a speaker system. For this, you should go with the cheapest number for each item. If you are planning on renting, the best-case scenario for each item is less than $50 and the worst-case scenario is $150 or more.

You can get away with having only one speaker as long as you have a good one. If you have a home theater receiver or quality home theater components and speakers, it can substitute for a speaker system.

However, if you don’t have any of these things, then your price will quickly go up to $200-$300 for a cheap set of speakers. Once again, check Craigslist and see what is available where you live.

You can check my article on how to connect speakers to projectors here.

6. Choose the perfect location

Choose the perfect location

Once you’ve chosen a date and found a projector to rent or purchase, the only step left is finding a location for your movie night!

If your friends want to go somewhere near where you live (good motivator!), go with them. Otherwise, you may want to go somewhere that at least has a parking lot.

If you are living with your friends and can’t tell them where to park their cars, don’t worry! You can still host an outdoor movie night by using A-frame tents (or any other ones you can find). This means that your friends will have to help set up the tent each time.

If they need help, there are always others who will be more than willing to help, no matter what time of year it is. In addition to keeping the cars off the road, this will prevent your family and your neighbors from getting angry!

7. Pick a movie

 the perfect location a movie

Once you’ve chosen a projector, the most important thing left to do is pick the movie you’re going to show. If you have seen it and know there is something in there that might be a problem, don’t watch it!

However, if you haven’t seen it yet and want to make sure nothing inappropriate pops up (and by “inappropriate,” I mean “not PG-rated”), pick something that is rated PG-13 or higher.

My favorite movies for outdoor movie nights include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride, The Blind Side (which should be shown in all its glory), Fargo (a contemporary classic), and Spy.

Another popular choice with friends is Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. You know, because everyone loves Star Wars and you don’t want your friends to leave early.

Certain people may also recommend The Hangover; everyone loves a good drinking movie. Some other movies you may hear are Breaking Away or Field of Dreams. Both are good choices because they have huge fan bases, but not many people have seen them.

You can also find a movie that basically no one has ever seen before – This is the exact same strategy as with Twilight and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. If you choose a movie like this, just make sure to get the full version of it on DVD so your friends aren’t left out!

8. Decide on a food theme (optional)

Decide on a food theme (optional)

Depending on your audience, you may want to choose foods that not everyone likes. When I did this, we decided to go with the theme of Rice Krispie Treats (rice Krispie treats are very common and everyone likes them). Some other possibilities include movie theatre food like popcorn, candy bars, nachos, and soda.

9. Decide on an interesting activity

Create an interesting activity based on the movies you watch. For example, I wrote this post about how to host a zombie movie night with a light-up zombie face (not my photo).

Decide on an interesting activity

When we did this, we had fun baking Pretzel Peanut Butter Cookies (a lot of people liked them). Just be sure not to be too silly; unless your friends like that kind of thing. Don’t forget about simple core activities you can do based on movies and bring some snacks for them to enjoy after the movie.

10. Include some theme decorations

Create a few decorations to help ensure your entertainment room matches the theme. Those can consist of a few posters for each movie or a small banner across the wall with the movie title and year.

Include some theme decorations

You can also create a few props (such as ghosts or skeletons) themed to each movie. If you had an older entertainment center, you could paint it to match your theme as I did with our hardwood floors. After all, it will be hard for most people to see beyond your decorations so be sure they match your theme or style.

11. Add a few additional pieces to your décor.

Last but not least, add some lighting, mirrors, or a rug to make space feel bigger and homier. I love using candle holders for this; they are affordable and you can fill them with many different sizes of candles for an eclectic look. Mirrors work well also because they reflect light giving the room an instant lift!

 Add a few additional pieces to your décor.

Finally, if you want to create an intimate atmosphere for your movie night, try lighting the outdoor scene with candles or lanterns and adorning it with twinkling lights. It’s a great way to add a special touch without cluttering up your entire backyard.

A few tips on eating before and during the movie:

Before you start the movie, have everyone gather in the kitchen for food; some may like snack foods but others may need to eat something before they get hungry while watching the movie.

Before you start the movie, have everyone gather in the kitchen for food; some may like snack foods but others may need to eat something before they get hungry while watching the movie. Have a wide variety of finger foods and beverages on hand.

Everyone likes something different; some like to have lots of finger foods on the table but others need to have a hot meal or a full-course meal before getting up and walking around. Make sure someone is available to cook so that people can keep snacking and eating throughout the movie.

A few tips on eating before and during the movie

Everyone likes something different; some like to have lots of finger foods on the table but others need to have a hot meal or a full-course meal before getting up and walking around. Make sure someone is available to cook so that people can keep snacking and eating throughout the movie. Make some popcorn.

Popcorn is a perfect snack for movie night; it’s cheap, easy to prepare (and make without too much mess) and guests can eat it while watching the movie.

Using large bowls will help with portion control, as well as preventing spillage if there are large quantities of food on the table at once.

Have a large supply of toppings such as cheese, olives, sour cream, salsa, and other condiments on hand for guests to add their own personal touches to their popcorn.

Bottom Line

although most movies have special lines about this (or shouldn’t!), at an outdoor movie night it’s a lot easier for someone to drop something into the salad-dressing-filled moat around the garden or walk out into the highway because they were too hungry.

Make sure everyone has a little snack before the movie starts so they can enjoy a healthy dinner before getting up and walking away from their seat. To organize a perfect outdoor movie night, you can follow all of our steps.


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