How to Create a Backyard Movie Theater

There’s nothing like watching a movie on the big screen.  Yet, as we get through summer and into fall, it’s hard to find something more enjoyable than a movie under the stars. A backyard movie night can be relatively easy to set up and fun for the whole family – we’re going to show you how. 

While some set ups can be thousands of dollars and permanent fixtures to your backyard, this article is a DIY outdoor movie theater that can be set up in 10-15 minutes and a few hundred dollars. We want to make it as easy as possible to get your movie theater set up in the spur of the moment. So, here are some ideas and go-to ideas to put together your “backyard movie theater kit” and make it easy to set up your outdoor movie night in no time

Backyard Movie Projector

The first big thing and easily the most expensive is going to be your projector.  These range in price and quality, but it is actually surprising how good your movies will look with even cheaper projectors. The set up you want is portable and easy, so we don’t have to worry about a projector that can hold up to the outdoors just one that can be brought in and out when you want.  A simple video projector can last a long time, the one I use is an old indoor projector (Opitoma HD66) from close to 8-10 years ago and it still works great. I have never changed the bulb and have probably watched over 100 movies on it.  So, an indoor projector will work fine as long as you aren’t bringing it out when its raining or muddy (but who is going to watch a movie in the rain?).  

So choosing a projector I say look for brightness, resolution, and size.  I’m not going to get super technical here, because the one I have is 2500 lumens and 720p – It works perfectly for me and looks perfectly clear on our projector screen.  So I feel anything like that or higher should be perfect for your outdoor setup.  Newer LED projectors report specs that are higher than that and are cheaper.  This VIVIMAGE C680 Native 1080p Projector, 6500 Lux Full HD LED Home Theater Movie Projector seems to have more than enough stats for a price-tag of $229. Though if you are looking for cheaper, maybe something like: OHDERII Projector, 1080p Supported Maximum 120″ Display, Compatible with HDMI, VGA and USB for Gaming, Movie for only $99.

While optional, one thing you might want to consider when choosing a projector, is making sure it has a tripod mount – the screw hole on the bottom that tripod will screw into.  When placing outside, you could put your projector on a table, but a tripod will help lift the projector up and stabilize it as well as make it more portable for future outdoor viewing. Both of the projectors above appear to have the ability to attach to a tripod.  

Backyard Movie Screen

One of the key pieces of a movie theater is the screen. You need to projector the image onto something and you have a few different options for this.

Cheap Backyard Movie Screen

The simplest and easiest thing to project onto is an old white sheet.  When I first started projecting movies in my backyard, this is what I used.  It is easy to set up and didn’t cost any extra money.  One tip for this is to try and make it as taut as possible and iron out wrinkles.  A sheet isn’t the best thing to project onto so you will lose a bit of quality and those wrinkles can be seen while you are watching the movie. But for a down and dirty DIY setup, this is the way to go.

Movie Projector Screen

If you are looking for the best quality for your outdoor movie, then you will need to get a movie projector screen.  Luckily these aren’t a huge expensive.  Most screens can be bought for under $100 and are available in a hanging version like this, or with its own stand like this. Both are great options, depending on your outdoor setup.  I personally bought the hanging out and mounted off my outdoor patio under the eaves.  This keeps it protected from the elements and I just leave it out there. The difference between the sheet and a screen is tenfold.  The images are clear and vivid, it’s amazing.

Video Input Devices

Once you have your projector and screen, the next big thing is getting something that will play your movies on.  You can always lug out a blu-ray player or DVD player out with your system. But, if you have a decent wifi signal, I don’t think anything can be easier than an Amazon Fire Stick.  This little device is cheap and tiny.  It plugs straight into your HDMI port and gives you access to all your favorite streaming services like Netflix, Prime, Hulu, Disney +, and more.  It also comes with an Alexa powered remote for easy navigation and voice searching.  

Outdoor Audio

Most projectors have a speaker that can emit the audio from your streaming device, however, that is usually weak and hard to hear.  You can use old computer speakers, but you will have to connect them to the projector through a audio wire.  What I find best is a bluetooth speaker.  I actually use a Sonos Move (not just for this), but any normal bluetooth speaker will do.  The important thing here is your streaming device or projector has to be capable of sending the sound to the speaker.  Again, this is where I find the Amazon Fire stick to be super useful as it does just that.

Setting Up Your Outdoor Movie Experience

Ok now that we have all the pieces together, it’s time to put them together.  I usually run a long, outdoor extension cord to the projector with an extra surge protector I have on it.  This gives me ample power outlets to plug in the Amazon fire stick and projector.  The bluetooth speaker is connected wirelessly and runs off battery and the screen is just pulled down for viewing.

Once it is dark enough, adjust your picture through the projector to make sure it is clear, straight, and the size you want.  This set-up for me takes a whole 5 minutes to set up so I can enjoy a backyard viewing experience whenever I like.  So, pick your favorite movie and enjoy a movie under the stars!