Throw an outdoor movie party for friends and family in Chicagoland

Throughout the city and suburbs, Chicago families can enjoy movies in parks during the summer months. But what if you could bring this cinematic experience to your own backyard?

Outdoor movie parties can be elaborate (think: renting big screens) or simple (rigging up your own TV and equipment). This concept works well for birthday parties, neighborhood get-togethers, back-to-school bashes or just for fun on a summer evening.

Here are some creative ideas and local resources to get you inspired to host your own backyard movie party.

Set the scene

The Main Attraction. Take a look at your backyard space and decide the layout for the party. Choose a location where guests can spread out and all see the screen. You can go big or small with your screen.

Several Chicago-area companies offer big screen rentals. Prices start at around 9.

Other options include borrowing or renting a projector. A white sheet works well as a cheap screen option if you are using a projector.

Before guests arrive, have a quick run-through to make sure your film is ready and check to be sure your sound is loud enough for guests to hear (but not so loud your neighbors call the police).

Consider adding a couple strings of twinkling lights, a fun bunting or some movie-themed decor to create a festive atmosphere for your guests.

Offer guests a selection of blankets, large pillows and lawn chairs (or ask that they bring their own).

Make it a party!

Your guests will be thrilled to watch one of their favorite flicks under the stars. But you can really take the experience to the next level by adding in some additional “movie themed” elements. Creative options include:

Admit one. Offer each guest a “movie ticket” upon arrival. In addition, you can hand out drink, popcorn and candy tickets for guests to redeem. You can find free, printable movie-themed tickets on Pinterest.

Drive-in movies. Turn your backyard into a drive-in movie theater by repurposing plain cardboard boxes into customized wheels so your little guests can enjoy a “drive-in movie.” Collect several large boxes (large enough for a child to comfortably sit in) and remove the top. Offer a variety of art supplies such as crayons, stickers and colored construction paper. When guests arrive, they can choose their “car” and add tires, a steering wheel, vanity license plate and any other desired embellishments. Kids can “park” their individual “cars” right in front of the screen.

Light it up! As the evening grows dark, hand out individual “starry night” flashlights. Use a star punch to make several cutouts on a circular piece of black construction paper, contact paper or vinyl. Cut to fit the head of the flashlight. Secure the “star filter” to the top of the flashlight with tape. Little guests can shine their star flashlights into the sky for added fun.

Sweets and treats

Backyard movie parties lend themselves to lots of great food and drink options. But every backyard party must include popcorn!

Set up a popcorn bar. Start with a big bowl of popcorn and individual cardboard popcorn containers. Offer a selection of flavored salts and add-ins. Options include salt, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, cinnamon, brown sugar, five-spice powder, cocoa powder, pretzel sticks, grated cheese, dried fruit, M&Ms, shredded coconut, mini marshmallows, chocolate chips or granola.

Rent a popcorn machine. Local popcorn rental options start at (includes popcorn and individual bags for 50 people). Of course, you can pop your own popcorn as well and serve it in individual popcorn bags or cardboard containers.

Pass a selection of candy. Go old school and offer guests a selection of candies. Use a cardboard box (such as an empty box from a 24-pack of canned soda or bottled water). Attach a sturdy ribbon on either side so the “candy vendor” can comfortably wear it around his or her neck. Stock the box with mini candy bars and stroll the yard offering guests a yummy snack. If you want to skip the homemade candy vendor box, you can simply stack mini candy bars on a cute tray instead.

Cool drinks. Offer guests a variety of drinks in large tubs stocked with ice so everyone can self-serve.

Most importantly, remember that this party is all about having fun with family and friends, so don’t stress too much about any of the details. Choose a fun flick and get the party started!

Party resources

  • Screen and projector rentals:
  • Fun Flicks:
  • Starlight Home Cinema:
  • Popcorn machine rentals:
  • Chicago Moonwalks:
  • Free printable movie tickets:
  • How to make a “drive-in movie car”:
  • How to make starry night flashlights:

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