How to Host an Outdoor Movie Night That Your Friends Will Talk About Forever

Because movies are just better when you watch them outside.

Who says you can’t enjoy your favorite pastimes al fresco? That’s right, movie nights can head outdoors now, thanks to some rad technology, cozy seating, and a bit of event planning. Because really, what’s better than enjoying your favorite flicks — or watching this week’s The Real Housewives ep — with your besties under the stars? Nothing! For those of you that host an annual Super Bowl party, guess what? Your rsvp list is about to double when everyone learns they can actually watch the game outside next year (which is a whole lot closer to the keg!).

While there are lots of accoutrements for an outdoor movie night, the event is anchored by one main thing — the projector. As I began to research the little-known (to me) product genre I realized three things. First, there are a lot of projectors on the market. Second, they ain’t cheap. And thirdly, the tech specs — think lumens, contrast ratios and pixels — are confusing at best, overwhelming at worst.

After much research and in-person testing, I found the best projector on the market for those of us looking to watch the big game outside or screen "Minions" for our five-year-old’s birthday party for the whole neighborhood. Read why I love it below, and see what else you’ll need to make your outdoor movie night one for the books. 

The Projector

As I said before, there are a sh-- ton of projectors out there, and like Goldilocks, you don’t want one that’s too cheap or too expensive. Because even the “cheap” one will cost you a few hundred bucks, but they’ll barely last a season of regular use. And the highest-end one can land you in the land of four figures and mind-numbing optionality. For your money, the best buy is Epson’s Home Cinema 2150. Created by the number-one projector manufacturer in the world — that’s right, if you’re going to splurge on a projector, you should probably go with an Epson — this product delivers a remarkably bright and sharp picture up to 11-feet diagonal. Stream your favorites (TV, movies, video games, etc.) from wireless or wired devices like Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV, or you can opt mirror the content.

My favorite part, however, is that out of the box, this projector was a cinch to setup. Straight-forward manuals make connecting to your streaming device easy (FYI: the unit also has two HDMI ports included), and the vertical lens shift and portable size (it’s only 7 pounds) make it super easy to position on a tabletop. A built-in speaker means that your movie night can happen in within minutes of setting up. Yes, this is an investment, but consider it one for you, your family, neighborhood and anyone who’s willing to join you for your annual screening of “Goonies.”   


 

The Additional Speaker

If you’re a sound geek like me, you’re going to want some additional oomph for your amp. Connect Kicker’s rough and tumble Bullfrog speaker to the projector via a 3.5 mm connection to boost your movie night’s sound quality. Offering a battery-life of up to 20 hours and 360-degree sound thanks to speakers on both sides of the unit, the Bullfrog’s best feature is how tough it is. Whether you’re off-roading and it’s covered in mud or you’re boating and it gets soaked, you’re good to go thanks the speaker’s IP66 rating (which essentially says it can sustain water projected by powerful jets without suffering any harm). More perks: 100-foot Bluetooth range and DoubleKick pairing that allows you to wirelessly synch two speakers for a surround-sound effect.


 

The Screen

Overwhelmed by the projector price? I get it. The good news is that you don’t need to break the bank when it comes to screens. Let’s face it, a garage door or a strung-up sheet would get the job done. But if you’re looking for something that will match the Epson’s quality projections, I recommend Camp Chef’s 120-inch screen. Bigger than their 92-inch option, but more affordable (and portable) than the 12-foot contender, the 10-footer is juuuust right. The kit comes with stakes, ropes, and two heavy-duty storage bags for both the screen and frame.


 

The Seating

We’ve got the technology down pat, so now let’s focus on the fun stuff – comfy seating. You know what could ruin your movie night? A fold-up chair. No one wants to relax and watch a two-hour film on a hard, uncomfortable seat. (Not even an Adirondack chair!) Enter: Jaxx  outdoor bean bag chairs which come in a bunch of styles, all of which feature all-weather fabrics that are resistant to dirt, mold and mildew. My favorite part is that the covers are removable and washable. Done and Done. The Juniper is great for those that need more back support…

And the Twist is like the bean bags we knew and loved as kids, but sizable enough for adults! (Or provides seating for up to three kids!) Great for patios and poolside alike, the Jaxx chairs can easily work inside as accent seating, too.


 

The Ground Cover

Depending on your group size, you might not have enough seating, which is when you break out the picnic blankets! Create your own mini-Coachella vibe by overlapping a few of these Ikat-patterned cuties, which fold up into easy-to-carry rolls and are machine washable to boot. (I have two and bring them to the park, town pool and pretty much everywhere my family goes.)


 

The Cozy Blanket

Even though it’s summer, the temperatures dip at night and you don’t want your guests to catch a chill. Enter: L.L. Bean’s oversized outdoor blanket. Comprised of super-soft fleece on one side and waterproof nylon on the other, this is the blanket your friends and family will curl up under as they take in your favorite films. Bonus: It comes with a stuff sack it can be stored in.


 

The Lighting

As they say, ambiance is everything. And any event planner worth his or her salt knows that lighting is 90-percent of ambiance. Create a Sundance Film Festival vibe with this 16-foot-long string of 20 whimsical paper lanterns that are both solar-powered and waterproof. Yes, really! And the lanterns fold flat for easy storage the next day.


 

The Snacks

Movies and popcorn go hand-in-hand. For a relatively cheap price, you can surprise your guests with an old-timey machine that churns out fluffy popcorn…and more importantly, emanates that popping sound and buttery smell we all love so much.

Gunning for the hostess with the mostest award? Serve that delicious popcorn in these adorable (and disposable) bags. You win.


 

The Bug Zapper

You know what could ruin this night quick? Mosquitos. Place a few of these Stinger zappers (available in discreet black or cute pink and blue hues) around the perimeter of your viewing area to keep those f**kers at bay.


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