5 Tips for Throwing an Outdoor Movie Party

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

This week I’ve been sharing the latest Gatherings from The Kitchn event — a cozy outdoor movie party I hosted with my friend Beth in her small but charming backyard — and by now you might be daydreaming about hosting your own movie party before summer ends. I say go for it! And here are my top five tips for making sure it is a success.

Tip #1: Recruit help to figure out your tech set-up.

I borrowed both the screen and the projector from a friend, and with the growing popularity of home projectors in place of televisions, chances are you know someone who has a projector you can borrow, too. (If not, eBay or Craigslist will have used projectors perfect for outdoor movies.) A flat white wall will work as a cheap screen, as will a white sheet.

I was lucky enough to host the party with the help of a DJ, who set up one speaker in front of the screen and one speaker in the back, so we didn’t have to blast the volume of the front speaker. You could use your indoor speakers or a few smaller portable speakers for the same effect. (Again, this is a great time to ask around and borrow equipment from friends.)

Here are a ton of tips and specific product recommendations from Apartment Therapy on setting up sound and video for an outdoor party:

Whatever your set-up, make sure to test it before the party, giving yourself enough time to fix any issues that arise.

Tip #2: Have guests bring their own blankets and pillows.

Beth and I provided chairs and blankets for the ground, but we told guests to bring their own pillows to lie on and blankets to keep warm. To make it even easier on yourself, you can ask people to bring their own chairs, rugs or other seating, like they would to a public outdoor movie night.

Depending on the nighttime weather in your area, you may also need to remind people to bring bug spray or layers of clothing to keep away the evening chill. I reminded all of my guests to bring an extra sweater — it gets surprisingly cold at night where I live, even in the summer.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Tip #3: Make a lot of popcorn.

If you want to go really simple with the party, just make sure there is a lot of popcorn for people to snack on and a few drinks, and everyone will be happy. If you want to dress it up a bit, you could set up a popcorn bar with different salts, spices and grated cheese for guests to season their own servings.

After too many years spent working in offices and smelling the fake-butter odor of microwave popcorn, I have a hatred of the stuff, but in order to save time I ended up using a good quality plain, unseasoned microwave popcorn to make homemade Cracker Jack. (I used my usual stovetop method for the rest of the popcorn at the party.) I grudgingly admit it saved a lot of time and effort. Bottom line: microwave popcorn can be your friend when prepping for a movie party.

Tip #4: Be respectful of your neighbors.

If noise from your yard travels easily, your neighbors will probably appreciate a warning before the party and a start time soon after the sun sets, so the party doesn’t run too late. I’d also recommend staying away from horror movies with a lot of screaming or action movies with incessant explosions.

Tip #5: Pick a crowd-pleasing movie.

Speaking of choosing a movie, it’s a good idea to go with something that will make most of your friends happy. Obviously, you know your crowd better than I do, but just to give you a few more ideas, here are the movies that were also in the running for our party:
  • The Muppets Take Manhattan
  • Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
  • The Princess Bride
  • Coming to America
  • Labyrinth
We ended up going with
E.T., but I think any of the above would have been great for a crowd of nostalgia-hungry people born in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Do you have any tips for throwing an outdoor movie party? What are your picks for crowd-pleasing movies?

(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)