Outdoor Movie Night: What You Need for Movies Under the Stars

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Your movie-watching experience doesn’t have to be in a movie theater or in your living room. Imagine relaxing and watching classics like Karate Kid, The Princess Bride, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Practical Magic, Edward Scissorhands and The Addams Family on a giant movie screen in your backyard. Hosting an outdoor movie night with your friends and family is a great way to spend an evening.

All it takes is a decent projector and a few other accessories, and you can transform your garden in your own personal drive-in drive-in for the perfect movie night in your backyard. Below are some product ideas and recommendations, including outdoor projectors to help you host an outdoor movie night in your own backyard.

We’ve broken down our best spotlights and sound selections by whether you’ll need a power supply, like an extension cord or Power plant, or if you intend to rely on the device’s built-in battery. You can also take cushions, pillows and a lawn chair or two to accommodate as many seats as needed around the projection screen to create your outdoor cinema. Don’t forget popcorn, ice cream and more snack essentials.

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For the biggest movie screen, you will need a projector. Any projector will work, but the brighter it is, the easier it will be to see the image. This is especially important outdoors, when even on a dark night, ambient light — from your neighbors, patio lights, or tiki torches — can affect the image. Brightness also determines the size of an image a projector can create. The BenQ HT2050A is the best projector for the money overall, and one reason is its bright image.

To use this projector in the garden, you will need to run a power cable. If you can’t do that or don’t want to bother, you’ll need a battery-powered portable projector.

Read our BenQ CineHome HT2050A review.

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There are many other excellent plug-in projectors to choose from. Here are some alternatives for a movie night in your backyard.

  • Epson EF12 ($900) is smaller than the BenQ and has a better built-in speaker, although not as bright.
  • Optoma’s UHD35 ($1,300) is the best 4K projector for the money we’ve tested, and it’s more detailed and significantly brighter than the BenQ.

See our list of best outdoor floodlights, best projectors And best 4k projectors for more options.

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This AAXA is the brightest battery-powered portable projector we’ve ever tested, but it’s still weak compared to a plug-in projector. The BenQ HT2050A above, for example, measured over three times the brightness in our tests. If you don’t mind its (relatively) small and dim image, a projector like the AAXA can be a great backyard companion and offer a big screen.

It’s MUCH lighter and more compact than most plug-in models, and the built-in battery lasts longer than most of its competitors. It’s also less than half the price of the BenQ and hundreds less than many other portable projectors. It lacks built-in streaming, but there’s an HDMI port and USB power so you can plug in a streaming stick and go wireless.

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As with their plug-in brethren, a number of other portable projectors make good alternatives. Here’s a couple that work well for backyard movies.

  • THE Anker Nebula Mars II Pro ($550) is our favorite outdoor floodlight overall. It’s weaker than the AAXA but has a comparable battery, better overall picture, higher quality speaker, and built-in streaming.
  • THE Xgimi Halo Plus ($850) is more expensive but has better image quality than others, and its 1080p resolution offers a sharper image.

See our list of best portable mini projectors for other options.

Learn more: 9 tips for setting up your projector perfectly

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Assuming you don’t have an outdoor TV already, you could bring your indoor TV outside. Keep in mind, however, that TVs are very delicate. One wrong twist and you can crack the screen. Even small TVs should be carried by two people. Treat it like you’re carrying a thin, expensive sheet of glass. Technically, that’s exactly what it is. You shouldn’t leave any regular TV outside. That’s sure to destroy it, and quickly.

You’re also not going to want to rely on any projector’s built-in speaker. Here are some options to let you hear the movie as well as see it.

If you’re using a traditional projector, you’re going to have to run electrical power. Since you’re running power anyway, why not just connect an actual speaker? A good soundbar will be significantly louder than a Bluetooth speaker, and probably sound a lot better too.

We like the inexpensive Vizio V21, which can connect via HDMI or analog and produces a surprising amount of bass for its size and price. More expensive soundbars might have better sound overall, but you can’t beat the Vizio for its combination of price and power.

Read our Vizio V21 review.


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Read more: Best Soundbar for 2023: Yamaha, Vizio, Sonos and More

Don’t forget that you’ll need a cable to connect it to the projector. Nearly all projectors have an analog audio output, which can connect to most soundbars, including Vizio. Some have HDMI, so you’ll need an HDMI cable from the soundbar to the projector.

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Anker’s $109 Soundcore Motion Boom is what Executive Editor David Carnoy calls a mini boombox speaker. It has a big handle, weighs a little over 4 pounds and even floats. A plug-in soundbar like the Vizio will sound better, but if you don’t want to run a cord, you’ll want something that sounds big and has a battery.

It’s not quite as loud as some bigger, more expensive options like JBL’s Boombox 2 ($500) and Ultimate Ears’ Hyperboom ($450), but it’s a lot louder than similarly priced compact BT speakers.

Read our Anker Soundcore Motion Boom review.


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Read more: Best Bluetooth Wireless Speaker for 2023

Outdoor screen

We don’t have a specific suggestion here, but we do have a few tips while you’re looking. 

Rigid-frame screens are more expensive and a little harder to assemble, but are more resilient against wind and typically have smoother screens for a better overall image. 

Inflatable screens need to be secured to the ground, and any wind is going to set them rocking. However, they tend to be easier to set up and take down. Keep in mind that their fans run constantly, so in a smaller or enclosed yard, this can be annoying.

There are also infinite DIY options; basically anything fairly reflective and lacking color will work. It’s worth noting that you’ll be able to see any texture in the screen’s surface, so a garage door or the side of your house won’t be ideal because you’ll see any design, seams or imperfections.

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The easiest way to get something to watch on your outdoor projector is via a streaming stick. Most modern projectors have a USB connection so you can connect a streaming stick without running an additional power cord. 

We like the Roku Streaming Stick 4K for its ease of use and wide range of content options. It’s also a better choice than the Roku Express 4K Plus because it’s a streaming stick, not a small box. Or you can kill two birds — sound and streaming — by choosing the Roku Streambar.

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Read more: Best Streaming Device in 2023

This assumes your home’s Wi-Fi is strong enough to reach into your yard. If it’s not, we’ve got some ways to fix that, below.

Ry Crist/CNET

Wi-Fi Standard

Wi-Fi 5

Speed Rating



Up to 1,200 sq. ft.

Wireless Networking Security



Dual-Band (2.4 and 5GHz)

Depending where and how strong your Wi-Fi router is, you may not have enough signal to stream anything in your yard. You might be able to fix that: Check out the Wi-Fi tips in our article on how to improve internet speeds for Netflix, Hulu and more.

If none of those options works, consider a Wi-Fi extender. These connect to your main Wi-Fi, then broadcast essentially “more” Wi-Fi from a different point in your house. We like the inexpensive TP-Link RE220 (aka the AC750) best for backyard movie night. As Ry Crist said in his review, “Nothing else I tested was able to match [the RE220’s] level of performance, making the RE220 a steal at $30.”

Learn more about improving your home’s Wi-Fi.

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Or just attach your phone

Three telephones on a colored background

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Another option that might work is to turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot. This uses a cellular signal for the internet and then broadcasts a small Wi-Fi bubble near the phone. Streaming a movie consumes data, so make sure you have plenty of it or have an unlimited plan.

Most modern phones have a feature that allows you to create an access point. Once it’s active, you just need to connect the streaming stick or the projector as if it were “normal” Wi-Fi. This guide is for connecting your iPad to your phonebut will work to connect any device.

Also keep in mind that running a hotspot usually drains your battery pretty quickly, so you should also consider a USB-batteryor plug it in via an extension cord.

Non-streaming option: Blu-ray player or game console


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If your Wi-Fi isn’t strong enough to reach your makeshift theater and you don’t want to burn through all your mobile data, Blu-ray players are pretty cheap and should cover your viewing needs. You still have records, don’t you?

For the most part, we’d recommend getting a 4K Blu-ray player at this point. They’re only a bit more expensive, will also play standard DVDs and Blu-rays, and 4K discs are the best way to enjoy a 4K-capable TV or projector (and I’m guessing you’ll use that also for indoor movie nights). THE SonyUBP-X700 shown here is our choice for best 4k blu ray player.

Alternatively, you can get a PlayStation 5 or one Xbox series X for outdoor games on a giant screen. Both also play 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays.

Power extension cord

Having one of these is important for any high performance outdoor theater. The outdoor ones are much sturdier, so they should survive just fine. I like those with three takes at the end. It is better to have too much than too little. Connecting it to a grounded outlet or GFCI probably makes sense as well.

Or you can connect a power strip with a fuse, but these are not designed for outdoor use, so proceed at your own risk.


An empty hammock

Rada hammocks

Finally, it’s what kept me sane during quarantine. Don’t underestimate the relaxing powers of a good hammock. You might get one from Hammock Hut, Hammocks-R-Us, Put-your-ass-there – really any will do. I’ve had one of those airy models for years and it has held up surprisingly well.

The only problem with watching a movie in one is that you’ll fall asleep in the middle of the second act. No problem with that.

More fun at the movies

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