Some of my favorite movie nights haven’t happened in front of the TV. They’ve been outside, on the grass, with a makeshift screen in front of us and the moon overhead. There we are, friends and family huddling together. We’re waiting for that plot twist, that chase scene, that dramatic monologue, that romantic intrigue, that “a-ha” moment. We’re sharing the moment. And it’s the most fun we’ve had all week.

Sure, throwing together this kind of night takes a little bit of effort. And it can be hard to control the chaos (get a bunch of sugar-hyped kids and fireflies in the same place and attention spans can be as short as the opening credits). But it’s truly magical. And really memorable.

Feeling inspired? You don’t even need a projector to get started. Here’s everything you need to know.


What Movie Do I Pick?

Depends who’s in the audience. Got kids? You probably want to avoid, say, Die Hard. But you also don’t have to go with the typical “children’s” movie, either. Think engaging, good-message stories like Hidden Figures. Or old-school fantasy tales like The Neverending Story. My family can’t get enough of an all-ages modern classic, The Greatest Showman. Bottom line: Pick something EVERYONE will want to watch so you can celebrate being together. Start browsing Redbox On Demand, which has hundreds of titles. You can download the movie straight from the Redbox app.

Um, I Need a Projector

Don’t buy one. Make one. You can do it just by using your smartphone and a few other things you probably already have lying around the house. The total cost is a cool $15. Here’s what to do:

Gather together:

Your smartphone, phone case, ruler, magnifying glass, small box, cardboard, box cutter, glue

Follow these steps:

  1. Using a pencil, trace the outside of the magnifying glass on one of the small sides of the box.
  2. Cut the traced shape out with a box cutter.
  3. Remove the handle from your magnifying glass (you might need a small saw) and place the glass in the hole of the box.
  4. Cut a piece of cardboard that’s measured to be the same size as the width of the box and place it square in the middle (the bottom and sides of the cutout should be flush with the box).
  5. Glue your phone case horizontally to the cardboard piece so that it’s facing the magnifying glass.
  6. Stream a movie using Redbox On Demand.
  7. Place the phone in the case. You might have to fidget with the magnifying glass to get everything in focus.
  8. Check out the projection – just like the big screen. Enjoy the show!

Pro tip: Remember to enable the Bluetooth on your smartphone and synch it to speakers so your audience can hear the action.

And What About a Screen?

Yeah, it’s an investment. But worth it. You can get an outdoor screen on Amazon for around $60. But I’ve also seen a lot of DIY tutorials that involve some PVC piping, planters and a plain white sheet. If nothing else, hang a white sheet from a clothesline using clothes pins. (And hope for no wind!)

Will It All Be Comfy Enough?
Maybe. But who says you can’t bring a plush vibe outdoors? Get blankets, pillows and tables and create a mini living room on the grass. Tiki torches add ambience, and so do lanterns. Remember: It’s okay for you to ask your guests to bring their own chairs and blankets.

What Should We Munch On?
Popcorn. Obvi. But put a twist on it and do a custom popcorn bar. Offer plain, caramel and cheese popcorn, and have a variety of toppings at the ready (everything from flavored salts to M&Ms). If you want a healthier option, try a DIY granola bar and have granola, raisins, nuts and chocolate chips available in individual dishes. Buy some mason jars and fill them old-fashioned drinks, like root beer and lemonade. When the kids are done drinking, they can use the jars to catch fireflies.

Any Other Ways to Up the Fun?
Let everyone get their energy out BEFORE the movie starts. Challenge your crowd to a relay race (nothing beats the old-timey fun of potato sacks). Or stage a treasure hunt, with clues written on paper and hidden throughout your yard (they can lead players from place to place and ultimately reveal the name of the movie you’re all going to watch). Last, but not least: Don’t forget the glow sticks!


Got any backyard movie night tips to share? Let us know in the comments!