You’ve come to the right place if you want to learn how to show a movie outside. This website is dedicated to everything related to backyard movie nights and outdoor movie parties, with a wealth of information intended to make things as easy for you as possible.
First, let’s go over the fundamentals of what you’ll need to do if you want to learn how to show a movie outside.
How to set up
Choose a location for the movie’s showing.
The majority of people who visit this website intend to show a movie outside their own home, most likely in their backyard. If that describes you, you’ll need to ensure you have access to power in the area where you want to watch the movie.
You may need to invest in extension cables, but many wireless products now come with rechargeable batteries.
The most important consideration is to make sure you have enough space. Most outdoor movie screens (which I will discuss shortly) available for the home market will be at least 8-foot-wide, so consider whether you have the necessary space and access.
Read my essential guide to planning an outdoor movie night for technical advice on how far away your screen should be from your projector.
Buy or build an outdoor movie screen
Following that, you must select your screen. If you plan on doing this for a long time or want the best results, you should consider investing in an outdoor movie screen. They aren’t that expensive, and you can get one for less than $100.
Outdoor movie screens are made of a special material that allows movies to be projected against them to look crisp and sharp.
There are two main types available for purchase:
- Alternatively, standing and hanging
You can find my recommendations for both types on this website.
Which is preferable, inflatable or standing?
I prefer hanging and standing screens because they do not require electricity and can be left outside in all weather conditions. If you want to buy one, check out my list of the best screens for backyard movie nights above.
However, if you want to build one yourself, you can do so as well! To be honest, once you’ve purchased all of the necessary parts and spent the time doing that, it might be easier to buy a cheap one that will probably work better anyway.
The cheapest solution is to hang a white bedsheet, but it won’t work very well because it will blow around and wrinkle. Furthermore, they can be very transparent, which means your movie will not show up well against the sheet.
Can a bedsheet be used as an outdoor projector screen?
Yes, but the eventual consequence will be disastrous.
You consider the cost of purchasing a good outdoor movie projector, possibly speakers, and inviting your friends and family… merely to display the latest movie onto a fragile and see-through bedsheet on a fluttering wall or fence.
Light from the projector will travel through the bedsheet screen when you begin to project your movie onto it. As a result, you will receive a picture that is hardly visible, almost transparent.
If you’re determined to try the bedsheet method, you’re welcome to do so. However, to achieve better outcomes, avoid using a cheap bedsheet and instead opt for one with a high thread count that is thicker than a regular one.
Buy an outdoor movie projector
After you’ve hung your screen, it’s time to get a projector. If you’re not sure what to buy, I’ve put together some guides.
Instead, you could go straight to my top-rated backyard projectors and pick something that fits your budget.
I only have a few suggestions to keep things simple, so you don’t become overwhelmed by the vast array of options available to buy online.
Decide on your storage device or media player
You’ll also need something to hold or play the video, movie, or live sports, in addition to the screen and projector.
You can connect your projector to the following devices:
- USB stick, hard disk, flash drive
- Laptop, Computer, Mac, PC
- Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime
- Amazon Firestick.
- iPhone, smartphone, Android phone
- DVD/Blu-ray player
The majority of projectors will have a variety of ports and connection types.
All you have to do is plug in your preferred media player and begin projecting.
Include some additional sound
You’ll need more sound to make it a memorable night.
While all projectors have built-in speakers, they aren’t very good and aren’t loud enough for use outside or in the backyard.
What I advise is that you add some supplemental speakers or a soundbar to the mix.
Your speakers can be plugged directly into your media player or projector to provide a much better audio experience that everyone can hear clearly.
Wireless Bluetooth speakers and rechargeable speakers will be the best for outdoor movies. It means you won’t have extra cables and wires in your backyard, and you can place the sound source wherever you want without worrying about how to connect them.
I have some favorites, and you can find more information about the best outdoor speakers on my website.
Give it a stylish spin
To give your outdoor theater a retro camp look and feel, use Pendleton blankets and piles of outdoor cushions. Bring out snacks and wine chillers, as well as the hurricane candles, to create a romantic atmosphere. Hanging string lights from a pagoda or trees is also a good idea. Bring any non-waterproof decor inside after the movie in case it rains.
While staying in your neighbor’s good graces is a primary focus in our extra consideration section, there is also a slew of practical and entertaining things to think about. On the practical side of things, how will you handle seating? A common arrangement is blankets for the children and lawn chairs for the adults. If you have a large or at least long and narrow yard, you can divide it so that one part is a viewing area (typically dominated by kids) and the other is an adult sit, drink, and chat zone.
Prepare a feast
This could be as simple as pouring popcorn into bowls and stocking a bucket with ice and bottled drinks, so all you have to do is dive down for a refill. Fire up the barbecue or buy an outdoor oven and throw a pizza party for something a little more substantial.
Lighting and safety
Our final consideration is both practical and enjoyable. Although you want to keep ambient lighting to a minimum so that it does not distract from the movie or wash out the screen, you should plan for some low-level lighting so that people can move around. We buy the majority of our lighting at the end of the season. Throwdown some rope lighting and secure it with tent stakes at the end of your movie zone, and you’ve got some nice subtle lighting and a great boundary for the smaller kids (it’s easy to tell them not to cross over the lights into the darkness, but to follow them back to where the adults are seated).
On the fun side, kids love glow sticks, and you can get them super cheap online. We’ve purchased several tubes of these little bracelet glow sticks over the years; at $9 for 100 of them, you can fill every kid’s hands with them. You’ll be a movie night hero, we promise.
We’ll reveal our best backyard movie night secret in the final entry in the considerations section: the pre-reel. People will be excited about the movie, the experience, and the opportunity to socialize outside. Children, in particular, will be bouncing off the walls.
Running a pre-reel is our solution to the problem of people asking when it is time to watch the movie. We set everything up, test everything, and properly align the projector, and then when the guests arrive around dusk, we spool up something that primarily serves as a timer for when it is time to watch the movie.
We spool up that video and let it roll, and as the twilight deepens, the image becomes more crisp and vivid. People are eventually drawn to it; children sit hypnotized by the fish swimming by, and without even raising their voice and yelling “Movie time!” everyone is ready for the show. Even better, because the kids are so focused on deciphering what is happening on the screen, they forget to ask you when the movie begins.
Set up everything and invite everyone over
I would recommend doing a test run first, possibly the night before, when it is dark, so you don’t have to figure it all out on an entire night.
You can invite family and friends over once all of your equipment is set up and ready to go.
Wait until the sun has gone down before pressing the play button. Even the best movie projectors require complete darkness for you to see the image.
Be a good neighbor
If you live in a densely populated area, avoid playing Silence of the Lambs until the wee hours of the morning. Of course, you should practice crowd control.
Make sure you’re ready for a rain delay.
“Most personal-grade hardware today is not waterproof, so make sure you are prepared for a rain shower at any moment and that you can cover your gear quickly,” Schwartzberg advises. Also, before you decide to have your movie night outside, check the weather.
Will my backyard be suitable for movies?
First and foremost, you will require electricity. As a result, ensure that you have easy access to power outlets, either outside or by running an extension cord from inside. And, of course, make certain that there is no rain in the forecast.
You should ensure your yard is clean and level so you can set up your equipment easily and large enough to be comfortable for you and any guests. If you’re using a projector, you’ll need up to 15 feet between it and your screen for a good image, depending on the size of the screen.
In most cases, you’ll be screening your film in complete darkness. However, ensure that your outdoor setup is shielded from other bright light sources, such as streetlights or car headlights, which can make the image difficult to see.
The summer has arrived and with it comes the desire for warm weather and outdoor living. A backyard movie night is a great way to spend a summer evening, but there are a few things to consider when picking the best way to show a movie outside. There you have it, my recommendations for the best ways to show a movie outside.