Backyard Drive-in Movie Party Ideas for Kids: Fun Basics + Easy Substitutes

Summertime is outdoor party time! But the reality is, with the kids out of school and into a dozen activities, Mom barely has the time to pull together a full-blown fancy party. Much less the energy to clean up afterwards! So what kind of summer event would have one super-fun activity to keep the kiddie guests happily occupied, plus a venue that keeps the ‘mess’ out of the house? A backyard drive-in movie party, of course!

So keeping cost, convenience, and cuteness (mustn’t sacrifice that!) in mind, we’re presenting the basics for staging this ever-popular theme. Plus, we suggest substitutes in case you’re extra tight on time and budget.

Backyard Movie Night Essentials

First and foremost, of course, you must have some way of projecting a large enough image for all to see out in your backyard. The movie itself can be played from either a portable DVD projector, or your laptop connected to an LCD projector. Then, all you need is a white screen backdrop. This could be one of those portable pull-down screens on a stand, a large white bedsheet stretched on a frame, or even a plain white wall.

Now, for the add-ons that make this a party!

Backyard movie party ideas with fun props, popcorn, candy, and picnic food.

Themed invitations and printables – Imagine the little guests’ excitement when they get their invites (1) to this event! Be sure that these and other printables you may choose (many of them are free!) set the tone with themed designs, like filmstrips, movie clappers, popcorn, etc. You could even DIY strips of ‘tickets’ printed on colored paper, with each ticket entitling the guest to party entrance, food, drinks, games, and favors!

Cars or comfy seating – The most fun version of a backyard movie night is the ‘drive-in’ kind! Just look at these adorable cardboard kiddie cars (2) waiting for the little movie-goers! Don’t have the crafting skills or the spare hours to make these, though? No worries! Kids may not know the concept of a drive-through cinema anyway. So, you can set out picnic mats, blankets, or quilts instead. Toss in some huggable throw pillows, seat cushions, maybe a bean bag or two. And you’re all set!

Outdoor decorations and lighting – Since this will be out in the garden, decorations that are hung overhead or strung from the trees are the perfect festive touch. Prepare DIY bunting, garlands, and balloons in the party colors you’ve chosen. While for lighting once night falls, set out paper lanterns (3) or those ever-magical string lights!

Picnic-style food buffet and drinks station – While it’s still too bright to start the viewing, have the little ones serve themselves from a picnic-table buffet (4). Set out a selection of pre-packed, single-serve sandwiches, hand pies, filled rolls, fruit cups and whole fruits for them to choose from. For drinks, have a beverage table (5) offering bottled water with ‘movie night’ labels, fruit juices, and maybe mini cartons of fresh milk.

Movie munchies and take-home treats – Old-style drive-in cinemas had those concession counters selling candy, popcorn, chips, nuts, and soda. For an easy alternative, scoop similar goodies into retro popcorn containers (6), perfect for munching on while the movie runs. Then, to take home afterwards, prepare cello bags filled with favorite sweets and finished with personalized thank-you tags (7).

Not too much of a challenge, right? And since the entertainment literally ‘runs itself,’ this is one summer party option that busy moms can manage—and actually enjoy themselves, too!

Image credits:
1 – invites, Swanky Press via Babble (slide #9)
2 – kiddie car seating, Sola Gratia Mom
3 – paper lanterns, The TomKat Studio
4 – picnic-style buffet, Caldwell Couple
5 – drinks station, Betty Crocker
6 – popcorn treat bags, The Moes Family in Texas
7 – candy favors, That Party Chick

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