If there’s one thing worth your investment this summer, it’s how to build an outdoor cinema in your back garden.
The popularity of large, outdoor cinema screenings in the UK has really taken off, with exotic backdrops such as stately homes and castles hosting large open-air cinema nights.
Now you can recreate this amazing experience in your own back garden or whatever outside space you have. You can even turn a balcony into a cozy, cinema space.
Picture the scene – The sun is just setting on a warm, summer evening.
You’re relaxing with family and friends, enjoying some drinks, and snacking on warm popcorn.
As it gets darker, the twinkle of subtle, outside lighting gives way to a canopy of a million stars.
The sound of Columbia Pictures’ opening music fills the air..Your blockbuster movie begins. 🙂
Creating a movie night in your own back garden is just magic, and it can be set up for all sorts of occasions. Plus, you’re guaranteed the best seats in the house!
But there are lots of other perks to having a cinema set up in your back garden, such as not having to search for a parking space, you won’t have to re-mortgage your house to pay for a large popcorn, or listen to the guy behind you slurp his giant drink for 2 and a half hours!
Just your home, your family and friends, and your favourite movie.
It’s also good to know that everything you may need to buy for an outdoor cinema, can be used indoors too.
This article will show you all the equipment you’ll need to create a perfect outdoor cinema experience, whether in your garden, courtyard or balcony.
Table of Contents
What You Need To Build Your Garden Cinema
- Projection Screen
- Media Source For Playing The Movie
- Your Outdoor Cinema Sound System
- Table or Stand For Your Equipment
- Make Yourself Comfortable – Seating
- Options For Keeping Warm
- Food & Drink
One of the reasons home outdoor cinemas are becoming more popular is because projectors have come down significantly in price, and gone up in quality.
The picture quality is everything and will make or break your movie night. So do your research before buying one. My advice – buy the best one you can afford.
The main consideration when looking for a projector is how many ‘lumens’ it has – basically how bright the lights are.
You need to look for a projector with at least 3,000 lumens. The more lumens the better, but 3,000 will do the job nicely for a smallish gathering.
If you’re lucky, you can pick up a decent, second-hand projector for around £50 to £100.
To buy one new you should expect to pay anything from £400 upwards.
Yes it is quite expensive, but they do hold their value well, and if you look after it, keep the box and all the bits together, you’ll be able to sell it on for a good price, if you decide you no longer want it, or plan to upgrade.
Don’t forget you can still bring the cinema experience indoors too.
I can certainly recommend this Epson EH-TW650 3LCD projector. I have a friend who owns this projector and he has nothing but praise for it.
It produces a great HD picture outdoors and can project onto a 300-inch screen.
If you manage to get a second-hand projector, make sure you see it working and it has plenty of bulb life left in it.
The Epson EH-TW650 3LCD has a bulb life of 10,000 hours, which the manufacturer says is enough to watch 1 film a day for 11 years!
The screen and projector are the 2 most important aspects of your back garden cinema experience. Get these 2 right and the rest is straightforward.
What To Use As A Screen?
You might have a cute vision of using a crisp, white bed-sheet, tied to some old branches, surrounded with soft white lighting.
Well, you can go down this route, but the reality is probably a little different.
If it gets even a little breezy, the sheet could end up rippling in the wind and distorting the picture.
However, if the conditions are perfect and there’s no breeze, a make-shift projector screen can be cheap and easy to put together.
Here’s a quick video to show you how it can be done:
Top Tip: Make sure you place a dark sheet directly behind the white sheet, you’ll get a much clearer image.
Here are some of the most common options for your outdoor cinema screen, from budget, to top end:
- Use a white sheet (with a dark sheet behind). This can be free-standing, tied, pegged, nailed or stapled to a fence panel. I’ve even seen someone use a shower curtain as the screen
- White painted wall or fence. Simple but effective
- Screen canvas. This is a sturdy, canvas material with reinforced holes in the corners. Has the same effect as a sheet, but far more durable, easier to fix in place, and folds away nicely afterward.
I happen to have an old projector screen that I use for presentations at work.
They aren’t too expensive if you do decide to buy a new one, and are well worth the money.
The new type of projector screen, as shown here, really do enhance the picture quality, and can be set up very quickly.
- Inflatable screen. An inflatable screen is at the top end of the budget, but they are a great addition, especially if you’ve got a large back garden.
Not only do they look great, but they also fold away into a small bag for easy storage. They come with guidelines, so you can tie or peg it into the ground.
Media Source For Playing The Movie
Luckily there are now dozens of sources you can use to play a film through your projector.
I have a basic Toshiba laptop that has a built-in DVD player, which works a treat. If you’ve got a laptop but not a built-in DVD player, you can pick up an external DVD player for around £20.
You can also use a games console, a DVD player or even play the movie wireless, via your phone. All you need is an Amazon Prime or Netflix account and you’ve got live access to 1,000’s of films!
Choosing The Best Location For Your Outdoor Cinema
The position of your outdoor cinema will obviously depend on the size, location, and proportions of your outside space. It also depends on what screen you decide to use.
Somewhere sheltered if you can. If the wind picks up, you don’t want your popcorn blowing away!
And the last thing you want is your cinema screen flapping about in the wind and ruining the visual experience – or worse, falling over!
It’s a good idea to secure your screen with string or rope. I use some large bricks to weigh the base of the projector screen and tie the back to a fence.
Stay clear of external lights, especially street lights. Street lighting can cause too much light to shine on the screen and reduce the picture quality.
They may also be in the eye line of your guests which can be a nuisance and again will reduce the visual experience.
If you have your own outside lights, make sure you switch them off when the film starts.
The darker the surrounding area, the clearer the picture.
Don’t position the screen too far away from where you intend to sit. Everyone should have a good view of the screen, and that means being close enough to see the film clearly.
Top Tip: Try to keep the screen just above eye level, so your guests don’t leave with cricked necks and strained eyes – that’s a recipe for bad reviews left in the visitor book straight away.
Think about the neighbours. Obviously, you need to be considerate towards your neighbours if you’re going to make noise after dark.
Try and locate your garden cinema so as not to intrude on the peace and quiet of your neighbours. Not always easy to do, I know.
Invite them round if you’re on good terms with them. It may even be a good opportunity to get to know them better.
Failing that you could connect your projector to wireless headphones for complete noise elimination.
Your Outdoor Cinema Sound System
Having a clear and loud enough audio experience is vital for the enjoyment of your film. If you struggle to hear what’s being said, you’ll start losing interest and the night will fall flat on it’s head.
Speakers are an essential bit of kit, as you want to be able to hear the movie crystal clear, especially after you’ve put so much effort into making the space look amazing.
Who wants to watch Top Gun without listening to the awesome soundtrack?!
Like everything else you may have to buy, you can use the sound system for inside your home as well.
From around £50 upwards you can get a great sounding system.
However, these Logitech Z533 Multimedia Speaker System with Subwoofer, knock out an impressive 120watts of power. They are very popular right now and have some great reviews.
Most projectors will have a jack connector, or Bluetooth connectivity to pair with your speakers or wireless headphones.
Table or Stand For Your Equipment
With all the equipment you’re going to use, you need something to put it on.
A simple low-level table might be all you need.
If you prefer the ability to raise or lower the projector or laptop etc. then a projector trolley would be a useful addition.
The Proper Adjustable Trolley for Laptop and Projector from Amazon has 2 platforms for your laptop (if you’re going to use one) and a projector.
This is ideal if you’re going for the modern, back garden cinema experience.
Lighting for your outdoor cinema is optional, but necessary at the same time!
No, you shouldn’t watch the film with bright lights around as it will reduce the quality of the picture. But some soft lighting set up, prior to the screening adds so much to the ambiance and magic of the event!
Everyone who comes to one of our film nights comments on how lovely the lights make it look.
We bought these White LED Connectable Festoon Lights from Lights4Fun.
They look absolutely brilliant and add a real, warm glow to the evening.
We put them on about an hour before the film goes on. It’s lovely to sit and have a drink with family and friends beforehand.
These lights have now become a firm favourite in our household, and we actually have them on most evenings!
Here’s how these Festoon lights look in our garden..
Are You Sitting Comfortably?
Comfortable seating for your outdoor home cinema is an absolute must – for obvious reasons.
Apart from the kids, no one likes to sit on a hard floor for a couple of hours.
There are plenty of options for your seating arrangements, and you can get really creative with soft furnishings.
In the same ballpark – got any old quilts? Again cover them up with a funky quilt cover and they make ideal comfortable padding.
If you’re keeping it simple – i.e. you just want to put a rug on the grass for the kids, make sure you put down a waterproof groundsheet first, to keep your soft furnishings/rugs, cushions etc. nice and dry.
Even if it’s dry at the start of the evening, by the end of the evening things can get soggy.
If you already have outdoor furniture, then you can obviously use what you have. You can also use deckchairs, camping chairs, bean bags (kids favourite), hammocks, or just a comfy pile of pillows and rugs.
Or.. you could invest in some cool inflatable furniture.
I saw this inflatable corner sofa and just knew it would look great in the space we have.
You can read my mini-review of it here.
We just love it and is perfect to watch a movie on.
Just remember – comfort is key.
Food and Drink
To complete the movie experience, nothing beats good ol’ fashion popcorn! Who doesn’t enjoy eating popcorn while watching a film?
It’s a pretty cheap purchase and your guests will love the touch. Obviously the kids will go through it like a plague of locust..
How about these classic, reusable popcorn containers?
Let’s face it, you’re going to serve whatever food and drink you and your guests enjoy, but popcorn! well..nough said nom nom nom.
It’s those little touches that don’t cost that much, that really make a difference.
It’s a good idea to have a big bucket full of ice or cold water nearby whilst watching the movie. Stick your drinks in it to keep them nice and cold instead of repeated trips to the kitchen fridge.
Want to impress? Go for this Rattan Ice Cool Box. Looks great, and goes will go with your Rattan furniture if you’ve got any.
Options For Keeping Warm
We aren’t typically blessed with warm evenings, even in the summer. Plus there will be opportunities in the Spring and Autumn to enjoy the magic of your back garden cinema.
When the temperature does drop a little and you really would appreciate a little warmth, there are a few options available.
Garden Fire Pit
I’m a real sucker for the sound and smell of a real, crackling, wood fire.
A fire pit is a great addition to your outside cinema experience. It adds a warm, cosy feel to the evening, and once it’s up and running you can simply add another log to the fire every 30 mins or so, to keep it going.
There are dozens of great-looking fire pits to choose from, and some of them double up so that you can also cook on them.
Have yourself a little BBQ and then settle down to watch the film – whilst keeping toasty warm!
Personally, I don’t think it matters what the occasion is, just sitting outside near a crackling fire is such a peaceful experience.
They don’t kick out an awful lot of heat unless you’re quite close to the fire pit, so bear that in mind if it’s primarily heat you’re after.
Do you need to go out and buy one for your outdoor cinema? No, you don’t. But if you have got the funds, and you’ve not already got a fire pit, I think they are worth investing in.
Just be careful where you place it i.e. not under low hanging branches, near combustible structures, away from children etc. Also do not leave it unattended.
Although not as romantic as a crackling fire, a patio heater has certain advantages over a fire pit.
A patio heater will keep you much warmer. The heat these things generate is immense. Plus you have the ability to quickly raise or lower the temperature.
They are more portable than a fire pit, so you can easily reposition it if it’s not quite in the right place.
Most patio heaters run off gas, so there’s no chance of running out of firewood half way through the evening.
Again, it is an investment you’ll use many times, other than just for your cinema evenings. It certainly keeps you warm outdoors when the temperature drops.
You can either go for 1 main patio heater or purchase 2 or 3 little ones and space them apart.
It all comes down to your budget, what atmosphere you wish to create, and how much space you have.
The simplest and cheapest options are often the best. It can be very romantic to snuggle under fluffy blankets or a duvet, whilst watching the film.
You do this indoors anyway, so why not take them outside too?
You can purchase luxury throws in so many stores. Asda, Tesco, Ebay, and Amazon have plenty of choices.
My favourite experience: a crackling fire, some big, luxury soft blankets, a cup of wine hot chocolate and a bag of large marshmallows (each) with long wooden sticks to toast them over the fire. All whilst watching
Top Gun your favourite film under the stars.
Last but not least, you can add some finishing touches to really set the scene, and create an authentic and fun cinema space.
Okay, we’re going a bit mad now, but if you’ve gone to all the trouble to create the perfect, back garden cinema experience, then why not add a few finishing touches that really put the icing on the occasion.
These little extras are all cheap to buy but add so much.
Admit One – Cinema Night Invitations
I loved sending out these cinema invitations. If it’s your first time hosting a cinema night for your friends or family, these are brilliant for setting the scene and raising curiosity – especially if you send them out by post.
We decided our first showing for our friends would incorporate a fancy dress evening! So the invites could also include the theme of the evening. We just went for; “come as your favourite movie star”.
Our friends loved the invites, and it really encouraged them to go overboard embrace the occasion.
You can even hand them out to the kids in the morning to build the excitement of an impending outside film evening – complete with popcorn and hot chocolate – if they’re good 😉
Cinematic Light Box Sign
A cheap accessory that looks great.
This big and bold Now Showing Banner leaves no one in any doubt about what’s going on. It’s a great backdrop that could be attached to a wall, fence or shed etc.
I think it adds a real sense of occasion, and at nearly 6ft long, it looks pretty impressive to boot.
Roll Out The Red Carpet
This one is more tough paper than carpet, and it will probably only last you one evening.
But for the price, and that it’s recyclable (paper), you can’t complain.
Who would have known you could get movie napkins? Well, you can..I don’t care, I got em! 🙂
Choose From 1,000’s Of Films
Why not try a 1 Months Sky Cinema Pass For Now Tv. You’ll never be stuck for a movie choice again.
At the time of writing this, Amazon had a 75% sale on this subscription.
For The Kids
Stuck for a birthday party idea? Why not hold a film night in your garden?
As well as providing the usual food and drink, these cinema themed party bags make cute gifts for the little ones.
Keep The Mozzies Away
Get yourself some mozzie repellent candles and dot them around.
Not only do they keep the little beasties away, they also smell nice.
Some Safety Measures
Common sense is the name of the game when creating your home cinema outdoors.
Here are a few suggestions to keep you and your loved ones safe whilst enjoying the experience:
- Beware of the rain! Keep an eye on the weather forecast. Electrics and rain don’t mix. If it starts raining, resort to Plan B.
- Keep electrical items away from heat sources such as BBQ’s and fire pits, and water sources; like pools, ponds etc.
- Cables, wires, cords etc. should be out of the way or securely covered to avoid tripping over.
- Pack all your equipment away when you’ve finished with it. DO NOT be tempted to leave it out overnight. It will get damaged through dew and moisture. Plus you don’t want to encourage thieves into your garden/home.
Cinema Night Ideas
You are limited purely by your imagination when it comes to building an outside cinema experience in your back garden.
From tiny spaces on a balcony to big open gardens, there’s scope and budgets to suit everyone.
Here are some ideas for ‘cinema nights’ to get you creative juices flowing:
Looking for a new idea for date night?
This will take some beating. – Line up a romantic film, just you and your partner, some soft outdoor lights, a bottle of wine or hot chocolate and some super soft blankets to snuggle under.
All under the canopy of a million twinkling stars!
Have Your Friends Round
There’s no point in creating your awesome, back garden cinema experience if you can’t show off share it with your friends and family.
Why not make an afternoon/evening of it and get the BBQ out beforehand.
Beers, cocktails, fancy dress.. your new fire pit!
If you follow some of the tips and suggestions in this article your garden cinema will be an absolute hit. Once your space is complete, your popularity within your circle of friends is guaranteed to go up.
Cinema Fun For The Kids
The kids will absolutely love your outside movie theatre.. Guar..an..teed!
They will get lots of use out of it during the summer holidays too, so when the dreaded “I’m bored” cycle begins, a movie out in the garden is always a winner.
Grab a few bean bags or pillows, buy a ton of popcorn, put on their favourite film, or The Exorcist (kidding) and you’ll be the best ever parents for years (at least the weekend).
Got a kids Birthday Party coming up? What better party than to incorporate an outside film night?!
A Family Get-Together
A great way to spend some quality time with the family.
A Movie Marathon Day
Start off indoors, with the finale film showing outside, under the stars.
Just you, your favourite food and drink, and without any compromising with what movie you want to watch!
I’ve not even touched on this option yet, but hosting a sports night with your outdoor screen could be a lot of fun! If you can’t go to the big game, watch it in style, in your garden!
The list could go on and on..
What better way to spend a warm summer’s evening than to host a screening of a classic film such as Top Gun, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Ghost or Jaws? Or as a treat for the kids, they’ll just love!
It might sound like a lot to get started, but there are lots of options available to suit every budget and size.
You can buy most things like the projector and screen second-hand on ebay or local ads, Facebook etc. If the cinema night is a hit (it will be), then you can always upgrade your equipment, and add things later.
Be creative. If you’re stuck for layout or design ideas, the likes of Pinterest have some amazing outdoor cinema images.
Once you have everything set up, it’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy the reason you created this outdoor cinema in the first place – to make your neighbours jeal… to enjoy with your friends and family of course.