Ideas to host a backyard movie night with a list of over 100 best outdoor movies for all ages + recommended equipment, snacks, and seating.
I don’t mean to scare you summer-lovin’ guys, but prime time backyard movie night season is just around the corner!
The air gets crisp, the bugs calm down, and the sun starts setting earlier to create the perfect environment for watching outdoor movies with friends and family. (Truth be told, fall makes me a little sad knowing my days in the sun are growing shorter, but backyard movie night makes up for it.)
Regardless of the season, it’s one of our favorite activities to host in our backyard regularly, even in December with cups of hot cocoa in hand snuggled under blankets by the fire.
Over the past few weeks, our family has come up with a big list of the BEST outdoor movies to watch. And I asked our Instagram followers to add to the list of outdoor movie recommendations too!
So I thought it would be a helpful resource to share all of the top rated backyard movie night films, many of them being nostalgic classics that everyone of all ages love, to help you plan your own outdoor movie night.
How to Pick the Right Movie for a Family Movie Night
Consider the Season
We love showing baseball or beach themed movies (like The Sandlot or Jaws) in the summer.
In the fall, it’s fun to pull out the Halloween or football movies (like Hocus Pocus or Remember the Titans).
On a cold night while gathering around the campfire in winter, snuggling up with a Christmas movie or a film set with snow (like Home Alone or While You Were Sleeping) makes it even cozier.
The list of movie recommendations categorized by season is further below in this post.
Think About the Age Group
I mean, I know this one goes without saying, but if you have a crowd full of toddlers, they probably won’t jive well with a slasher horror movie.
It’s probably worth mentioning that movies rated PG on or before the production year 1983 might be for more mature audiences since the MPAA introduced the PG-13 rating in 1984. (The list below includes movie ratings and production dates to help you use discretion best suited for your audience.)
Common Sense Media is a good place to check parent guides for any language, violence, sex, nudity, alcohol, or drug use before showing (and can help you find films with more cultural diversity too).
Account for Movie Length
Most crowds don’t enjoy watching a movie that’s longer than 2 hours or else it gets uncomfortable and people start getting tired.
Best Spring / Summer Movies for Outdoor Movie Night
These are the top rated movies with beach, summer sports, warmer weather themes, or set during summertime.
- The Sandlot – 1993 | PG
- Overboard – 1987 | PG
- Dirty Dancing – 1987 | PG-13
- Heavyweights – 1995 | PG
- Parent Trap – 1998 | PG
- The Secret Garden – 1993 | G
- Field of Dreams – 1989 | PG
- Rookie of the Year – 1993 | PG
- The Karate Kid – 1984 | PG
- Dr. Dolittle – 1998 | PG-13
- A League of Their Own – 1992 | PG
- Independence Day – 1996 | PG-13
- Jaws – 1975 | PG
- Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants – 2005 | PG
- Blue Crush – 2002 | PG-13
- Under the Tuscan Sun – 2003 | PG-13
- The Great Outdoors – 1988 | PG
- George of the Jungle – 1997 | PG
- Mamma Mia – 2008 | PG-13
- Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – 2017 | PG-13
- Caddyshack – 1980 | R
- Fever Pitch – 2005 | PG-13
Best Fall Movies for Outdoor Movie Night
These are the top rated movies featuring Halloween, Thanksgiving, fall sports/activities, fall weather themes, or set during autumn.
- Edward Scissorhands – 1990 | PG-13
- Hocus Pocus – 1993 | PG
- Remember the Titans – 2000 | PG
- Dead Poets Society – 1989 | PG
- Beetlejuice – 1988 | PG
- Practical Magic – 1998 | PG-13
- Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone – 2001 | PG
- Matilda – 1996 | PG
- Friday Night Lights – 2004 | PG-13
- The Witches – 1990 | PG
- The Village – 2004 | PG-13
- The Goonies – 1985 | PG
- E.T., The Extra Terrestrial – 1982 | PG
- Planes, Trains, and Automobiles – 1987 | R
- October Sky – 1999 | PG
- Ghostbusters – 1984 | PG
- The Blind Side – 2009 | PG-13
- Rudy – 1993 | PG
- Clue – 1985 | PG
- Murder on the Orient Express – 1974 | PG
Best Christmas / Winter Movies for Movie Night by the Campfire
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – 2005 | PG
- Cool Runnings – 1993 | PG
- Sleepless in Seattle – 1993 | PG
- Home Alone – 1990 | PG
- The Holiday – 2006 | PG-13
- Elf – 2003 | PG
- While You Were Sleeping – 1995 | PG
- Knives Out – 2019 | PG-13
- Little Women – 1994 | PG
- Trading Places – 1983 | R
- Meet Me in St. Louis – 1944
- Love Actually – 2003 | R
- The Lord of the Rings – 2001 | PG-13
- It’s a Wonderful Life – 1946 | PG
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – 1989 | PG-13
- The Santa Clause | 1994 | PG
- The Muppet Christmas Carol – 1992 | G
- White Christmas – 1954
- Gremlins – 1984 | PG
- A Christmas Story – 1983 | PG
- Die Hard – 1988 | R
- Holiday Inn | 1942
More Great Outdoor Movies for Kids
These movies have little to no profanity, violence, nudity, or adult situations better suited for children. (Review movies beforehand here to double check.)
- Hook – 1991 | PG
- Singing in the Rain – 1952 | G
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – 1989 | PG-13
- The Greatest Showman – 2017 | PG
- The Princess Bride – 1987 | PG
- The Big Green – 1995 | PG
- Night at the Museum – 2006 | PG
- Honey, I Shrunk the Kids – 1989 | PG
- Honey, I Blew Up the Kid – 1992 | PG
- The Sound of Music – 1965 | G
- The Never Ending Story – 1984 | PG
- Freaky Friday – 2003 | PG
- The Wizard of Oz – 1939 | G
- Cheaper by the Dozen – 2003 | PG
- National Treasure – 2004 | PG
- Galaxy Quest – 1999 | PG
- Jumanji – 1995 | PG
- Mary Poppins – 1964 | G
- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – 1971 | G
- Star Wars: A New Hope – 1977 | PG
Great Outdoor Movies for More Mature Audiences
- Back to the Future – 1985 | PG
- Jurassic Park – 1993 | PG-13
- Grease – 1978 | PG
- The Mask of Zorro – 1998 | PG-13
- Twister – 1996 | PG-13
- Big – 1988 | PG
- Mrs. Doubtfire – 1993 | PG-13
- Major Payne – 1995 | PG-13
- Father of the Bride – 1991 | PG
- Liar Liar – 1997 | PG-13
- The Mask – 1994 | PG-13
- 10 Things I Hate About You – 1999 | PG-13
- My Girl – 1991 | PG
- Ferris Beuller’s Day Off – 1986 | PG-13
- Pirates of the Caribbean – 2003 | PG-13
- The Patriot – 2000 | R
- Sixteen Candles – 1984 | PG
- Clueless – 1995 | PG-13
- That Thing You Do – 1996 | PG
- Hidden Figures – 2016 | PG
- A Wrinkle in Time – 2018 | PG
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail – 1975 | PG
How to Set Up an Outdoor Cinema in Your Backyard
Outdoor Projector and Screen
See more information about how we set up our outdoor cinema movie screen, Bluetooth speakers, and portable projector here (even if you don’t have electrical outlet access in the middle of your backyard).
If you’re on a tight budget, a plain white shower curtain liner can do the job as a cheap DIY movie screen.
We like to set out any and all patio chairs or beach chairs we own in case people don’t bring their own. Here is a post with some of our favorite outdoor furniture.
In case it gets chilly later in the evening, we keep a big stack of blankets on our back porch for anyone to grab for sitting in the grass or snuggling under to warm up.
For a birthday slumber party for Olivia one year, we even set up air mattresses to let her friends have an outdoor movie night camp out on our back porch in September. It was a total hit!
Honestly, I kind of wanted to be 8 years old again. See more slumber party ideas here. (For younger kids, it would be so cute to set up large cardboard boxes decorated like cars for a drive in movie theme.)
Hanging a few string lights in a section of the yard away from the movie screen is helpful in case anyone needs to get up in the middle of the dark movie to get snacks or take a bathroom break.
To keep kids occupied since their attention spans are shorter, it’s fun to hand out glow sticks (I usually can find a whole tube of them in the Target Dollar Spot or at the dollar store).
Plan for your crowd to arrive about an hour before sunset so that everyone can get settled with snacks, drinks, seats, and the kids can run around in the yard or on the playground to get their jitters out.
The lighting for the outdoor movie is usually best a few minutes after sunset (we just refer to the day’s weather forecast for sunset times to send invites set for an hour prior).
Affiliate links are provided below for convenience. (Full disclosure)
Backyard Movie Night Snacks
Best Popcorn Machines
The most budget-friendly option for the best popcorn maker is the Whirley Pop (it won a taste test here) that makes it just like movie theater popcorn on the stovetop. You have to babysit the pot a little bit while turning the crank, but it makes a fluffy popcorn portion equivalent to 3 standard microwave bags in about 3 minutes.
After a few years of outdoor movie night hosting, we finally sprung for this larger popcorn machine that we can set on a tabletop or countertop for people to serve themselves into these paper popcorn boxes. These popcorn flavorings make it even better for people to personalize.
More Snack Ideas
S’mores – If we’re hosting a backyard movie on a chilly night, we usually light a fire and set out a tray with s’mores ingredients: graham crackers, cookies, marshmallows, Reese’s cups, and Hershey bars.
These retractable marshmallow skewers are great. If you don’t have a real life fire pit, we love this tabletop fire pit you can fit into an outdoor table’s umbrella hole with a camp propane canister underneath.
Candy – We can usually just pick up movie theater style candy at the dollar store: M&Ms, Skittles, Whoppers, Twizzlers, Gummy Worms, Milk Duds, Junior Mints, and Raisinets. If we feel like prepping, we’ve even put together baggies with assorted wrapped fun-sized candy inside to hand out.
Hot Drinks – If it’s a chilly night, we love setting out a big batch of hot apple cider, cocoa, or hot buttered rum (for the adults) in a slow cooker for people to ladle into their cups.
Cold Drinks – People usually just bring their own cold drinks, but we put bottled water and sodas in this rolling cooler in case anyone needs some. For the adult crowd, I sometimes make a batch of sangria in a drink dispenser so they can serve themselves.
More Movie Night Food Ideas:
- Chex Mix
- Candied Pecans
- Chips and French Onion Dip
- Chips and Salsa / Guacamole
It’s officially our new life goal to introduce all of the 80s and 90s movies that we grew up on to our kids.
Do you have any favorite movies that would be perfect to show at a backyard movie night? Have you ever hosted one before? I’m sure there are more great movies we haven’t thought of, but we had so much fun coming up with this list.