If your town isn’t lucky enough to have a drive-in movie theater, you can still enjoy a classic under the stars. Just follow our easy guidelines for picking a flick, staging a theater right in your own backyard, and making sure the whole gang has a great time.

movienight

  1. 1. PICK A PERFECT SUMMER FLICK!

Yes, Pixar is spectacular, but for a retro outdoor movie night, we recommend a family-friendly classic that centers on these warm, sunny months! A few to consider: The Muppet Movie (the road trip-themed original), The Sandlot (obviously), The Parent Trap (whether you go for the ‘61 or ‘98 version), and, if your kids are a little older, National Lampoon’s Vacation (an ‘83 masterpiece that’ll make even your most disastrous family trip look like a walk in the park). If you’ll be having the neighbors over, too, ask your kids to design some fun invitations they can hand-deliver.

  1. 2. SET UP YOUR BIG SCREEN

Speaking of classics, a white sheet will always work as a projector screen; steam it or iron it to get the wrinkles out, then secure it so it won’t flap in the wind. (Your setup will determine how you do this; you could thumbtack it to a gate, tie the corners to rope and stretch the fabric between supports, like two trees, or clip the top to something sturdy, like a swing set, and clip the bottom to something heavy, like a thick dowel or broom handle. If you’re willing to run to the hardware store, a sturdy painter’s drop cloth or heavy white “blackout cloth” will hang even better.

  1. 3. JOIN THE AV CLUB

Don’t forget the easiest option: Ask around to see if a neighbor, coworker, or friend can just lend you a projector. If not, you can probably rent one for a small fee, or even check one out from your library. Do a quick Google search to see your options. If you decide to invest in one, check Ebay and Craigslist for good deals on pre-owned projectors.

Don’t forget, the projector’s just one piece of the puzzle; you’ll also need a laptop, a speaker, and cables to connect everything. (For the sound, you can probably work with what you—or your friends—already have; think a portable bluetooth speaker or even a yard sale boombox.) Set everything up before showtime and play around with a dry run so that your night won’t be stymied by technical difficulties!

  1. 4. GET EVERYONE COMFY

For all its firefly-studded magic, a lawn is not a couch! To keep everyone comfy, map out some zones; a common arrangement is kids in the front, with lots of comfy blankets and pillows, and adults in the back row with patio chairs or folding canvas camp chairs. That way everyone has a great view! If you have rope lighting at home, consider stretching some out and securing it with a few tent stakes to mark out a walking aisle in the middle. That way, no one will be stomping on limbs in the dark on the way to or from the bathroom or treats table.

  1. 5. PREPARE SOME PERFECT TREATS

Cinema snacking is one of the best parts of the movie-watching experience, right? If you’re going all-out, consider ordering a load of those cute popcorn boxes online (they’re cheap on Amazon. And be sure to raid the movie theater candy section at your local grocery store or (even cheaper!) big-box club. Soda or ‘50s-throwback milkshakes are also a great bet. Set up a spread on a card table outside (or just inside, if bugs and wind are a concern), next to a lidded trash, and don’t forget the hand wipes or napkins for all the sticky finger food!