How to Turn Your Backyard Into a Movie Theater This Summer

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Welcome to “Best Summer Ever,” your guide to making the most of the sunny season. Whether your idea of a perfect summer is embarking on epic adventures or blissfully doing as little as possible (preferably somewhere with good air conditioning), we’ve got you covered, because the best summer doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen.

Drive-in movies were once a staple of summer evening entertainment—what could be better than a movie under the stars? You can bring back those days, but do it better, by turning your backyard into a movie palace.

Creating a DIY outdoor screening room will make you the envy of the cul-de-sac, and it’s surprisingly easy and inexpensive. Here’s everything you need to do to turn those lazy summer nights into a cinematic experience.

The essential ingredients of a backyard movie theater

Choosing a projector for an outdoor movie theater

The easiest solution to screening movies outside is obviously to haul your TV out to the backyard and set it up. Or, if you’re more serious about outdoor media watching, you could invest in a element-resistant TV like this Samsung Terrace to permanently sit on your patio. Both have their advantages, but if you want to create the most impressive outdoor movie-going experience, you have to go with the authenticity of a projecting Jaws onto an actual screen.

When choosing a projector for outdoor viewing, keep these things in mind:

Brightness: Without getting into the technical weeds of light measurement, the rule-of-thumb for projecting anywhere is: The bigger the screen, the brighter the projector needs to be. You also need to take the ambient light into account—the more ambient light, the more brightness you need. Luckily, even a budget-friendly projector like this BenQ GV30 projector will do a decent enough job for movie night, and they’re extremely light and portable, too.

Resolution: If you’re a true cinephile, you might insist on full 4K. That’s fully possible with higher-end projectors, but for most purposes, 1080p is plenty. But the same rule basically applies: The bigger the projection, the higher the resolution.

Space: If you don’t have a huge backyard, but you still want to project a big image, you can take a look at projectors with short throw lens, like this Optoma GT780.

Cords: You can avoid the hassle of running extension cords outside with a cordless projector like this Anker Nebula Capsule 3 Laser projector.

Our sister site PC Mag recently took a deep dive into outdoor projectors and named the Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 as the best overall, so that’s an excellent place to start (or end) your research.

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BenQ CV30

$۴۹۹.۷۶ at Amazon

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Optoma GT780 Short Throw Projector for Gaming & Movies

Optoma GT780 Short Throw Projector for Gaming & Movies

$۸۸۱.۲۵ at Amazon Amazon Prime

Anker NEBULA Capsule Max Mini Projector, Pint-Sized Wi-Fi Portable Projector, 200 ANSI Lumen, Native 720p HD, 8W Speaker, Movie Projector, 100 Inch Picture, 4-Hour Video Playtime, Home Entertainment

Anker NEBULA Capsule Max Mini Projector, Pint-Sized Wi-Fi Portable Projector, 200 ANSI Lumen, Native 720p HD, 8W Speaker, Movie Projector, 100 Inch Picture, 4-Hour Video Playtime, Home Entertainment

£۳۹۴.۰۰ at Amazon UK Amazon Prime

Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12

Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12

$۶۹۹.۹۹ at Amazon

$۹۹۹.۹۹ Save $300.00

Choosing a screen for outdoor movie projection

It’s not a movie theater without a movie screen. Your first thought might be to project the film on the wall of your house or your garage. That will work, but only if the wall is white and not textured. Any imperfection will throw distracting shadows.

Another option: hanging a white sheet. If the sheet is wrinkle-free, it will work well as a movie screen, but a breeze that ripples through will mess up the movie, and you might find that the logistics of hanging a sheet so it stays perfectly still are more trouble than its worth.

So consider an inflatable movie screen. This one is 16 feet diagonally, and tops Amazon’s user recommendations.

Choosing a media player for your outdoor theater

Most projectors designed for home use, even on the budget side, are essentially smart devices that are ready to stream as soon as they hook up to your wifi network, so you won’t have to drag your Blu-ray player outside. But if your projector doesn’t do that, a USB-based streamer like a Roku Streaming Stick or an Amazon Fire TV Stick will do the trick.

Choosing a sound system for your outdoor movie theater

Many projectors feature onboard speakers and hook up to Bluetooth speakers too, and for a one-time special occasion movie screening, it will work just fine. But if you want to get more seriously, something like this Sonance Patio Series 4.1 Speaker System can live in your yard permanently and provide background music all year, as well as on movie night. Another option: These solar-powered, Bluetooth speakers that look like rocks and even offer a light show for intermission.

Outdoor movie theater extras that you might not have thought of

Extension cords: The amount of cords that will need to run into your backyard depends entirely on how your yard is wired, but it will probably be more than you expect, so it can’t hurt to stock up on a long extension cord or two so you won’t be running to Staples on movie night.

Cord cover mat: Speaking of cords, consider a cord cover mat to make sure that any wiring is covered so guests don’t trip.

Wifi extender: Before movie night, check if your wifi actually reaches your backyard. If not, consider a wifi extender.

Blankets: Remember to keep a supply of blankets on hand in case things get chilly.

Insect control: Keep bloodsuckers out of your movie theater with these tips.

What movies should you show at your outdoor movie night?

The movie you choose is really the most important thing about your outdoor movie night. In keeping with the casual vibe of a summer movie screening, classic, more lighthearted movies are the conventional choices. You can’t go wrong with Back to the Future, Goonies, or Raiders of the Lost Arc, especially if you’re keeping it kid-friendly. If your guests are all adults, Jaws is a classic. If you’re going for a little more elevated (but still crowd-pleasing), try The Big Lebowski.

That said, it’s your movie theater, and if you want to screen Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, go for it. The right movie depends on the crowd—my brother-in-law screened a series of movies for a group of adults and young teens in his yard last summer, and the biggest crowd-pleaser was Breaking Away, a quiet coming-of-age story about bicycle racing from the 1970s, so it really depends on the crowd.

Ideas for making your home movie night extra special

There are lots of ways you can make your best-summer-ever movie night an occasion instead of just “watching movies outside.” Here are a few ideas:

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