Summer Movie Night Essentials: How to Host a Backyard Movie Night
Warm August (and September) nights are perfect for taking the projector out back and having an intimate summer movie night with the family. Whether you’re looking to get in that last bit of fun before the kids go back to school, or take advantage of the good weather on Saturday nights, we’ve got a list of all the essentials you’ll need to make your backyard movie night a fun experience for the whole family.
To host your backyard movie night, you’ll need:
A Screen Surface & Projector Surface
A Video Source
A Sound System (Optional)
A Power Source
Snacks (Optional if You Want Cranky People)
Chances are, if you’re planning on hosting a backyard movie night this summer, you’ve already got a projector, or at least have a projector in mind. If not, here are a few projectors we’ve reviewed that would be great for outdoor viewing at night, all under $1,000:
AAXA M6 ($599 List Price) – The AAXA M6 is a 1,200 lumen DLP pocket projector with an LED light engine. It has full HD resolution (1080p) and can even run on battery power for approximately 90 minutes (500 lumens when on battery power). It has good color and built in 2-watt stereo speakers that will be loud enough for an intimate summer movie night. It also has respectable input lag for gaming, in case you want to do an outdoor gaming night!
Acer K138ST ($599 List Price) – The Acer K138ST is, first and foremost, a portable gaming machine. It has the lowest input lag of any projector we’ve reviewed recently, at just over 16ms. That’s about as fast as they come! It has WXGA resolution (1280x800), making it comparable to 720p. It claims 800 lumens, which is plenty bright for nighttime viewing. It has decent color and two 3-watt speakers built in.
Epson Home Cinema 2100 ($849 List Price) – The Epson Home Cinema 2100 is one of my favorite home entertainment projectors for under $1,000. This 1080p, 2,500 lumen 3LCD projector is currently $699 on Epson’s website! What a deal! I reviewed the HC2150 and am happy to say this projector has excellent color, sharpness, and is bright enough to use during the day in a room with moderate ambient light.
The only real difference between the two is that the HC2150 has wireless and a slightly higher contrast ratio (currently $799 on Epson’s website). Both have a powerful 10-watt speaker, plenty loud for a larger outdoor movie night or one in a louder neighborhood. They both have lens shift as well, so you don’t have to perfectly position the projector to fit your screen – you can shift the image yourself!
If you've got the budget, I highly recommend getting either the Epson Home Cinema 2100 or HC2150 – it's well worth the price!
The Screen Surface & Projector Table
There’s no wrong way to project the film for your outdoor movie night. I’ve seen people project on the walls of their homes, or drape white sheets over fences, hang them from trees, or even rig up their own pole-system to tie the sheet to. The latter could easily be done with a few PVC pipes.
Alternatively, some movie fanatics like to buy outdoor screens. There are inflatable screens like this 14’ screen for $160, or this $200 144” screen from Amazon. If you don’t want an inflatable, there are other portable screens you can purchase like this 100” portable screen for $90, or, if you’ve got a smaller outdoor space, this 80” portable screen for $60. When buying your screen, make sure to read the reviews to make sure it’s right for you!
You’ll want to get a table or other surface to mount your projector. In some cases, like in the case of hanging a sheet from trees or draping over a fence, you’ll want to position the projector first so you can line the sheet up with the projected image. For purchased (or built) screens, find a table, crate, or even cinderblocks to place the projector on. You’ll have to futz around with it a bit, but you’ll likely be able to find a surface that works from items you already own.
Disclaimer: The links in this section are affiliate links from Amazon. If you buy from these links, we will receive a small percentage that will be used to keep providing valuable content to you.
Your Video Source
This is an easy one. If your computer has HDMI, you can use a laptop to project your movie. Just make sure you change the display settings so that the screensaver doesn’t interrupt the film. You can also use a DVD or Blu-ray player, or a gaming console such as a PlayStation or Xbox. If you’ve got a steaming stick that works with your projector (the Epsons mentioned above have MHL ports for streaming), you can use that, too.
The NVIDIA Shield (affiliate link) is also an option if you want to stream your movie from Netflix and have a super portable video source. I have a Shield that I’ve been using for some time, but haven’t gotten around to writing the review for it yet. I can tell you that I absolutely love the NVIDIA Shield as a portable streaming player and have taken it traveling many times. It’s smaller than a DVD case and as light as one, too.
A Sound System
Most projectors that are suitable for an outdoor movie night will have their own speakers built in. But, as with all built-in speakers, the sound just lacks that deep resonance you find with a proper speaker. Some options for external sound systems are:
A Portable Speaker
A Guitar Amplifier that accepts a 1/8” input jack (or a 1/4” to 1/8” adapter)
Most projectors under $1,000 do not have Bluetooth capabilities (though some do) so if you’ve got one that you want to use, make sure it has an 1/8” input for an AUX cable, or you won’t be able to use it.
A Power Source
This is an easy one. If you’re hosting your movie night in your backyard, you can use an extension cord to run power from inside the house or one of your outdoor outlets. Plug a power strip into the extension cord, and your projector and sound system into the power strip, and you’re golden! I like to use surge protector power strips for projectors in case of random power outages.
Comfortable seating is an important element to consider in your movie night. Do you prefer to sit or lay own on a blanket? Do you need back support? There are a multitude of options when choosing the seating for your outdoor movie night, and they can be used in combination with each other:
Lawn or Beach Chairs – Chances are you have some of these in your backyard or garage already. If not, you can find these for relatively cheap on Amazon (my favorite).
Loungers (affiliate link) – This is a nice hybrid of chair and floor-sitting.
Poufs (affiliate link) – For those who love floor-sits but do not want to sit on a blanket. These can also be used for neck support for those who want to prop themselves up on a blanket.
Large Blanket – Possibly the easiest to get, the large blanket can be made more comfortable with cute pillows and poufs.
The traditional popcorn containers and cinema film reels are an excellent way to spice up your summer movie night!
Your snack stand can have an assortment of tasty snacks - both sugary and healthy. It's really up to you!
Small decor items like this handmade sign really make the table setup unique.
Get creative with the way you display your snacks by using unconventional containers like these wooden baskets!
Glass containers are a great way to keep your snacks fresh and aesthetically pleasing to the arrangement.
What’s a movie experience without popcorn? The answer: Just a movie. Popcorn and jumbo-sized M&Ms, Dips, Sour Patch Kids, and drinks are a must have for your summer movie night. Bonus points if you get your own little popcorn maker or shaved ice machine! It’s also super fun for kids if you do a little movie-themed decorating for your snack table. There are tons of ideas on Pinterest for doing so, but I’ve included a few inspiration photos in the slider above for you!
This is the most important essential of the night! It is the reason you put this whole thing together, so pick a movie that you’ve been wanting to see or that the whole family already enjoys. I’ve made a list of family friendly movies to watch for your summer movie night below. A personal favorite that I watched only recently is Kubo. It was visually stunning and had a compelling storyline, but I wouldn’t recommend it for the littles. There are some rather freaky parts that I wouldn’t want to show anyone under 6 – but that’s just my opinion!
Alice in Wonderland
A Little Princess
An American Tale
Beauty and the Beast (Animated or Live Action)
Big Hero 6
The Chronicles of Narnia
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Coraline (Also Kind of Freaky)
Harry Potter (1-8)
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
How to Train Your Dragon
James and the Giant Peach
The Jungle Book
Kung Fu Panda
The Last Mimsy
Lilo & Stitch
The Lion King
The Little Mermaid
Meet The Robinsons
The Muppet Movie
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Parent Trap
The Princess and the Frog
The Princess Bride
Pooh’s Grand Adventure
The Secret of Nimh
Spiderman Homecoming (PG-13)
The Wizard of Oz
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Wreck It Ralph
Show Us Your Movie Night!
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