There’s something magical watching a movie outside, even in this hyper-techy age where you can watch anything on demand anywhere. We’ve been throwing summer outdoor movie parties for years, and they are simple, cost-effective events that allow us to tick off a lot of social obligations in one night. This is the kind of event summer family memories are made of. With candy, wine, and a couple of desserts, everyone is happy as a clam. In terms of numbers, you are only limited by the size of your lawn, which I’m guessing is larger than your living room!
1. HAVE A FUN BUT SIMPLE INVITE: Our tradition is to transpose our faces onto the movie poster. You don't even have to know photoshop to do it, and it doesn't need to be perfect. You'll make up in cleverness what you might lose in artistic ability when you just cut and paste your own heads onto, say, Sandy & Danny.
2. THE SCREEN: When we started doing this, home outdoor screens weren’t readily available, so we jerry-rigged our own system. Really, a simple sheet that we attached to our fence did the trick. But you can also get screens and projectors pretty inexpensively these days, and these are the kinds of things you’ll use again and again. (Or, better yet, ask around. Chances are someone at the office has one they’ll lend you .) This movie screen by Camp Chef is easy to set up and, at 140”, a pretty good size. Inflatable screens are also an option if you want an even bigger picture, although a little more work.
3. DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE SOUND: The biggest challenge of a movie night is the sound. I promise you that what sounds super loud during the day will be drowned out by crickets and a couple of chatting adults. These guys do a better job of explaining some of the sound logistics than we do. But, seriously, if you’re not hurting your ears during the test when it’s only at half power, you need more sound support.
4. CANDY, CANDY, CANDY: A little early planning on the candy and movie side helps you save a lot of money. We start with a trip to Costco or Target and stock up, or the best deals are at Sweet Candy City, which has bulk candy online. We try to get at least 8-10 different kinds of candy. We then display it in a bunch of different glass jars. Our kids would say that sorting the candy is as fun as the movie night itself. It’s Halloween in July. Don’t forget some mini scoops or tongs for serving, as well as little baggies to store it in. Etsy has some lovely colorblock wooden scoops.
5. THE SET UP: Citronella torches are key, both for light and for bugs. Lay out all the beach chairs you have and a bunch of comfy blankets and pillows.
6. WHAT TO BRING?: As we mentioned, one of the best parts of a movie night is that numbers aren’t a big obstacle, so it’s easy to invite houseguests to join. We ask folks to bring beach chairs and blankets, in addition to laying down a bunch in advance.
7. HAVE A STARTER ACTIVITY: As kids arrive, they have to see the ticket takers, my kids, who happily hand them a copy of a scavenger hunt they have created. Kids have to “earn” their candy by running around the house several times, finding out what my husband’s favorite dessert is, singing happy birthday to my son, etc. There’s a free printable of one we created here. (And they can even pop it in their Savor box as a keepsake of the evening.) Once they complete the form, they receive 5 bills of fake money to use at the snack bar. Kids love the idea of going shopping and being able to make their own choices among a bevy of sweets. Plus, the money allows us to keep the overall amount of sweets the kids are having to a somewhat manageable amount. (Popcorn is a free extra on the top.) For adults, we make simple desserts and offer wine, but, truthfully, many are just as happy with the candy.
8. IT’S LATER THAN YOU THINK: It needs to be pretty dark to have a movie on, so in August, be prepared that the movie may well not start until 8 or 8:30. Make sure parents with little ones are prepared that it’s a late night. We encourage kids to come in PJs.
9. CHOOSE WISELY: Of course, the key to a successful movie night is selecting a movie that will hook both kids (in a big range of ages) and adults. We probably spend more time on this than on anything else. Past favorites have included Big, E.T., the Princess Bride, the Karate Kid, and Bend it Like Beckham, For more ideas, Rotten tomatoes offers a list of 100 recommended family films. But our most popular night, by far, was Grease. (Don’t worry, a lot of the inappropriate stuff flies right over the head of the kids, just as it did when you watched it.) The singing was so popular I’m sensing we might try for another musical next year. Singin’ in the Rain, anyone?
10. WE LOVE THE CLASSICS, BUT: Having said we love the classics, there is an important caveat: often their sound is worse. Especially if it’s your first time out, you might want to go with a newer release as there’s nothing that kills off a movie party more than a movie you can’t hear. Trust us. It’s happened.