Heading to the local drive-in or your town’s outdoor movie screenings always makes for a fun evening. But movie night in your own backyard can be just as enjoyable — and is arguably more convenient with necessities close to home.
Setting up for DIY film under the stars does require some advance planning, though, and an investment that costs more than a few movie tickets. But the upfront expense can bring years of unlimited outdoor entertainment, and sets the stage for memorable nights with family and close friends.
While there are plenty of nice-to-haves to make the experience feel extra-special — things like theatre-style popcorn boxes and colorful melamine dinnerware to serve up the nachos — there are two musts for outdoor movie viewing: a screen and a projector. And, if sound quality is important to you, or if you have a large backyard, separate speakers are an important add-on, as most projectors have only mediocre audio.
As for seating, while a lawn blanket or two make for a cozy surface, a few chair options are nice to have for back support. And maybe you’ve already got perfectly fine deck chairs or pool loungers, but something low to the ground and extra comfortable will make taking in a full-length feature that much more enjoyable.
So whether you’re in it for the whole shebang or just the essentials, here are our favorite products for throwing the ultimate outdoor movie night this summer.
A Premium Projector
Optoma HD146X High Performance Projector
The first step to setting up your backyard movie night is to find the right projector. Two main variables to consider are backyard size and the amount of surrounding light. As such, there are a few important tech terms to know: lumens and throw-distance, which refer to brightness and the amount of space between seating and the screen, respectively.
Other things to look for include definition (1080p resolution is ideal), the number of ports (HDMI, USB, etc), color spectrum, and keystroke correction, which keeps the image level if the projector is on an uneven surface such as grass. This projector, from well-known maker Optoma, offers an excellent lineup of all those features for a reasonable price, plus high contrast ratio for crisp images, long lamp-life, and it supports 3D viewing. “We’ve used it twice so far,” says one recent five-star reviewer. “We love it. Great for the backyard movies.”
A More Affordable (But Still High-Quality) Projector
Elephas 2020 Wi-Fi Movie Projector
This projector offers a solid set of features for just $100 — and it works with your smartphone, so it’s a snap to use. Simply sync up your Android or IOS device to Wi-Fi, or connect via cable if there’s no signal. The mini projector offers full HD 1080P, excellent brightness in comparison to other projectors at this price point, built-in speakers, a remote control and mini tripod. It’s ideal for backyard movie night setups, with six to 10 feet as the recommended distance from the screen. Customers give it high marks for handling screen-mirroring well, and having a clear picture, good sound and a quiet fan. It’s also lightweight at just over two pounds, and easy to set up.
“Not only was it cheaper than the other option I was looking at, but it performs so much better than I expected,” says a recent buyer. “Works perfectly whether I’m projecting in our camper or outside of it at night. Great for movie nights and incredibly portable. Would highly recommend to anyone!”
A Wrinkle-Free Movie Screen
Elite Screens YardMaster Plus
Sure, projecting a film on the side of the garage or a sheet hung up on the back of the house is a possibility, but springing for a screen can turn your backyard into a drive-in theater. High-quality screens have features for taught, wrinkle-free viewing. This one has just that: a tensioned, snap-button frame, which is also lightweight and collapsible for easy storage inside an including carrying bag. Depending on the particular backyard setup, there’s the option for using the detachable T-legs or ground stakes. It’s also mildew-resistant and cleans up with soap and water.
“Excellent screen; crisp and clear image!” says one recent purchaser. “No wrinkles, easy to take down and put up… Provides hours of outdoor fun movie nights!” Another customer who gives it a five-star review says: “If you are looking for a screen that you can use repeatedly without frustration, this is it.”
A Giant Inflatable Screen
EasyGo Inflatable Mega Movie Screen
You can’t beat the ease of an inflatable movie screen for backyard movie night setups. Rather than deal with connecting poles and finding a level spot on the lawn, this mega screen is ready for prime time viewing in minutes. Plug it in and it automatically inflates, and when the flick is over, its detachable white canvas screen allows for a quick wipe-down before stowing the screen in its zippered carrying case. It also comes with ground stakes and tie-down ropes for breezy evenings.
“I’m absolutely amazed at how great this screen is,” says one satisfied five-star reviewer. “You plug it in and it inflates within minutes….love that the screen clips in and is not velcro. Very sturdy and comes with ties down as well. The quality is great and the size is perfect for an outdoor screening, which is what we wanted. LOVE! Can’t recommend it enough”
Extra-Loud Outdoor Speakers
JBL Charge 4 Waterproof Speakers
It isn’t uncommon to find that some of the best, and most expensive, projectors on the market have unimpressive sound. A separate set of outdoor speakers will deliver a better outdoor movie experience — and it’s tough to beat this wireless one from JBL for portability and powerful sound quality, plus 20 hours of playtime. It’s also stylish, available in a dozen colors, and waterproof to withstand spilled drinks or a surprise sprinkle during the flick. Reviewers give it an average 4.7 stars.
“I absolutely bloody love this thing!” says one recent buyer. “Couldn’t be happier … and can say that the sound quality is absolutely epic. It’s a thing of beauty too.”
A Durable Lawn Blanket
JJ Cole Outdoor Blanket
A good outdoor blanket is essential for summertime fun, and makes excellent front row seating for your backyard movie night. It should be durable, easy-to-clean and water-resistant, and this colorful one from JJ Cole ticks all the boxes. Another perk: It folds up into a compact bag that has an adjustable shoulder strap for hands-free portability, making it doubly great for trips to the beach or the park. It also comes in a rainbow of colors and two sizes.
“Fantastic product!” says one happy customer. “We use it at the park and even in the backyard all the time.“ Another commented on its quality: “I’ve had this blanket for 5 years and it still looks great and no flaws.”
A Portable Lawn Chair
Coleman Portable Camping Quad Chair
Those who prefer seeing backyard films in a movie theater-style seat — complete with a cup-holder — will want to consider this top-rated folding chair from Coleman. It has a study steel frame, a cushioned seat and back, adjustable armrests and side pockets, plus a little built-in cooler, a fun detail customers love. It’s also extremely comfortable to sit in for long periods of time, making it a great choice for marathon viewing.
“These are awesome chairs, just purchased for the family,” says one enthusiastic recent reviewer. “Comfortable and sturdy without being bulky and the cooler feature is spectacular. Highly recommended!”
A Comfy Outdoor Lounger
Jaxx Ponce Outdoor Bean Bag Chair & Lounger
This bean bag-style lounger offers relaxed comfort with some support, a nice compromise between stretching out on a lawn blanket and sitting in an upright chair. It’s a smart and stylish addition to any outdoor movie party seating setup, made of fabric that’s mold- and mildew-resistant and designed to withstand fading. Another bonus: the cover is removable and machine-washable.
“OMG!! I love these lounger chairs,” says one enthusiastic reviewer. “I bought two of them. They totally conform to your body and are super comfy.”
A Cooler For All Your Concessions
Yeti Roadie 24 Cooler
No one will miss a moment of the action with a cooler at arm’s length for keeping all your at-home concessions chilled. Customers rave about Yeti coolers, and with good reason: they offer top-notch cooling features, they’re extremely durable, and they have an attractive design. The Roadie 24 is a next-gen edition to the brand’s popular Roadie 20. It’s tall enough to accommodate an upright bottle of wine (or a two-liter bottle) it has 20 percent more capacity, and the handle was revamped for more comfortable carrying.
“This Yeti cooler is an incredible upgrade from the Roadie 20,” says one recent reviewer. “It can fit more, has better insulation, and is lighter. If you are on the fence about this just buy it. It will keep your food/drinks colder than any other cooler out there.”
Colorful Outdoor Dinnerware
Foundstone Lovette 16-Piece Dinnerware Set
Melamine dinnerware is a must for outdoor snacking and dining. The 16-piece set offers service for four and includes small plates, dinner plates, bowls and cups. They’re dishwasher-safe, BPA-free, stackable for easy storage, and durable enough to withstand chips and scratches. The sets come in two color options: soft, on-trend pastels or classic, bright rainbow hues. “These dishes are really nice quality with enough substance that they feel like they will last a long time,” says one five-star reviewer. “The colors are beautiful…Love them!”
Domaine Shatterproof Outdoor Cabernet Glasses
Shatterproof wine glasses are another must for safe, hassle-free outdoor dining. This elegant piece of stemware from Williams Sonoma has a generous 20-ounce capacity—which makes it just as ideal for serving up an Aperol spritz cocktail as a big pour of rosé or Sauvignon blanc. The glass is lightweight, top-rack dishwasher safe, and BPA-free. “I love this shatterproof Cabernet Glass,” says one recent buyer. “…the size is perfect for any summer spritz cocktail.”
Movie Party Popcorn Boxes
Sometimes it’s the small details that make everyday occasions memorable. These popcorn boxes are an inexpensive, fun add-on for an extra-special movie night. They’re quick to assemble and will last for multiple evenings, too, with 20 recyclable boxes per package. Simply fold them up and pour in the popcorn.
“Kids loved these,” says one customer, who gives them a five-star rating. “Used them on movie night. Holds up to my kids just fine. Neighbors all think I’m super fancy now. Great value.”