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What You Need for a DIY Backyard Movie Theater

An outdoor movie night isn't just for a park or public lawn—you can create a DIY backyard movie theater of your own! All you need is the right equipment and setup.

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Pop up some ‘corn!

While the movie theater might be off limits for now, that doesn’t mean you can’t watch your favorite flicks—and have a whole lot of ambiance, too. A backyard movie combines two of our favorite things: movies and the outdoors. Add a few comfortable touches and invite a handful of friends over for some socially distanced screen time. Get inspired by check out the top drive-in movie theaters around the country.

Note: Prices listed were accurate as of press time; pricing fluctuations may occur.

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DIY outdoor projector

Don’t even think about dragging your indoor TV system outside. For a real movie night outdoors, you need a portable projector. Fortunately, there are many outdoor projectors available these days at a variety of prices. Pay close attention to the lumens (how bright the projector is) and the resolution at the desired range. You will also want to make sure that your projector can handle your content format (Blu-ray, external hard drive, HDMI connection, etc.). We like the BenQ GV1 Wireless Mini Portable Projector. It’s wonderfully portable, has 200 lumens, which is great for the price point, and connects directly to all your favorite streaming services via an app as well as your phone or laptop. Once you’re set up, here are some great options for a summer movie night.
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DIY outdoor movie screen


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Where will you project your movie? An old DIY standard is a sheet tacked up on a fence or wall. But that isn’t dependable, and the slightest breeze will wreak havoc with the picture. Instead, the ambitious can build a PVC pipe frame for a more professional-looking screen. Or buy an outdoor screen that comes with a firm stand, like this 100-inch screen from P-Jing.Looking for a more go-big-or-go-home screen for a larger group? Try renting an inflatable screen. You can also skip the screen and projector altogether by buying an outdoor TV. Any of these 16 funny family movies also make a great choice for your backyard cinema.

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Speakers for your DIY outdoor projector screen

You may have a picture, but now you need sound to go with your DIY outdoor movie screen. A basic soundbar is relatively easy to move out and hook up to a projector if it is compatible and if you have one on hand. If you have an outdoor Bluetooth speaker, like this Cambridge Soundworks Oontz Angle 3, you may be able to connect it to your projector as well, depending on capabilities. Or consider buying a durable, affordable speaker seat (a three-piece set is usually sufficient) that you can bring out as needed. This is also a good time to explore any local or HOA regulations on noise levels and backyard sound, just in case your DIY backyard movie theater needs a few tweaks. If you’d rather not stay at home, some restaurants have turned their parking lots into drive-in theaters during the pandemic.
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Seats and blankets


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Okay, all the important technical elements are ready to go! But now you need to start thinking about the people! Pick a place for everyone to sit: Smaller gatherings can make do with a few blankets, but larger groups may require folding chairs to make enough room. An ideal solution, if possible, is to have people sit on the deck or patio and position the DIY outdoor projector screen in the lawn (house lights must be turned off). Remember to include extra blankets and cushions for maximum outdoor comfort, and use materials that are OK to get damp or a little dirty. We recommend the Picnic Blanket from ChappyWrap. It’s sized at a generous 60” x 80” and is machine-washable.

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Popcorn maker


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A movie without popcorn is like a peanut butter sandwich without the jelly. This Nostalgia Vintage Healthy Hot-Air Tabletop Popcorn Maker looks just like an old-fashioned popcorn machine, but pops up 12 cups of popcorn without any oil. Shockingly, movie theaters used to ban popcorn.

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When it comes to beverages, think about an outdoor drink dispenser, like this FineDine 1 Gallon glass beverage dispenser for serving a group. Make the night even more fun by mixing up one of these summer cocktails—just make sure the kids know they’re for adults only.

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Bug repellent

Bugs happen, and you need to be prepared. Avoid wet areas or standing water. To ward off mosquitoes try using natural defenses like Howemon citronella candles or torches. Remember that moths (followed by bats) are naturally attracted to light, so you may have to deal with a certain amount of nighttime creatures. Here are the best bug zappers for summer 2020.
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Good weather

A calm, warm night is important for the best DIY backyard movie theater. When making plans, always check the weather forecast first—the Storm app from the Weather Channel offers a high resolution eight-hour radar so you’ll always know what’s on the horizon. The nice thing about an outdoor movie at your house is that you can always move it indoors if it starts raining, but it’s better to choose the right evening first. You won’t want your hard-earned DIY outdoor projector and screen ruined by water damage.

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The Family Handyman
Originally Published on The Family Handyman