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How to Transform Your Backyard into the Ultimate Home Drive-In Everyone Will Love!

by Ann Ferguson

What is it about a drive-in movie theater that has us going back for more again and again? Even with all the fancy features cinemas have now, there's no denying the appeal of a drive-in experience. Now, imagine if you could recreate that experience at home — it's more possible than you think!

Sure, it won't be the exact same; you probably won't actually drive up to it, but you can create similar vibes that'll bring that nostalgia straight to your backyard just in time to celebrate National Drive-In Movie Day (on June 6th). And if you invite all your friends and family, it'll be an experience no one will soon forget!

But don't worry; you don't have to figure it out yourself — just follow our checklist!

Drive-In Movie Magic

Comparison of old drive-in to a modern drive-in

Before we jump into the how-to, let's look at the brief history of drive-ins — did you know they go as far back as the 1930s? The very first drive-in in the U.S. opened its "doors" in 1933 on June 6th, where it showed the popular British comedy Wife Beware; it had parking spaces for up to 400 cars!

After that success, drive-ins quickly launched all over the U.S., with up to 3,000 locations by the 1950s which was the height of the drive-in craze! So, it's no wonder that even now, with all the convenience of streaming, we'd still celebrate the drive-in movie theater magic on National Drive-in Movie Day!

Did You Know? The biggest drive-in theater was in New York, with accommodations of up to 2,500 cars, a restaurant, a playground, and indoor seating arrangements!

Where Oh Where

The first step to creating drive-in magic is choosing the best location! This means looking for a spot where you can put a large screen, accommodate all the seating, and plug in all the electronics. So, if you have a large garage or a spacious backyard that faces a large wall, either of these places will do.

And don't forget to map out the distances for each seating area so that everyone can see the screen clearly!

Which Projector

Focus on the projector setup outside

Since your at-home drive-in will be outside, this changes the number of lumens your projector needs. The lumens determine the brightness, and since you'll have some outdoor lights or want to start the proceedings around sunset, you'll need a projector with a minimum of 500 lumens. But if you want the best image, a 3,000-lumens projector is best!

You'll also need to look for other features like built-in streaming apps to see if you need to connect it to a secondary viewing source, built-in sound, and 4K UHD picture quality! For sound, a projector with Dolby Audio provides an exciting experience. Still, even if the projector has its sound source, you might need to connect to external speakers depending on the size of your venue.

Pro Tip: If you don't have space for a plug-in, look for a portable projector since they typically have their power source (although they might not be as powerful!).

Screen Time

Large projector screen set up outside

Aside from the projector, the second most essential part of a drive-in is the screen! Sure, you could pick a blank wall, garage door, or bed sheet, but you'd end up seeing the texture of whatever surface you're projecting on, which will lower your image quality. So, it's better to have a dedicated projector screen!

Your projector screen needs to be big enough for everyone to see, especially if you have a large backyard then the bigger, the better. Another factor to consider is the gain, which is the amount of light the screen reflects. The bigger your screen is, the less bright it will be, so you'll need a projector screen with a minimum of 1.0 gain to show the video properly.

Pro Tip: You can also find inflatable projector screens, so you don't have to rely on a flat wall!

The Sound

As we said before, some projectors will have built-in sound. But sometimes, the built-in speakers aren't powerful enough to recreate that movie-theater magic, so you'll need additional external speakers. With an outdoor speaker system, you'll have good bass from the buried subwoofer and camouflaged speakers!

You can also find party speakers and strategically place them around the seating area!

Setting Up the Seats

Kids in cardboard "cars" at an outdoor movie

After setting up your electronics comes the seating! There are several options you can do:

  • If you have the space, have people bring over their trucks or SUVs for a genuine "drive-in" feel.
  • Set out blanket zones for the number of guests you have.
  • Place bean bag chairs!
  • Use floaties in the pool!

Regardless of your seating arrangement, make sure to keep enough distance between the seats for good traffic flow!

Pro Tip: You can create cardboard box cars for the kids to "drive-up" to the screen!

Create a Grand Entrance

The last step is to create a grand entrance! You can home in on the drive-in feel by putting up a welcome sign advertising the movie everyone will see. You can also include movie poster prints around the space and have homemade movie tickets as keepsakes (or use those leftover raffle tickets!).

And, of course, no movie theater experience is complete without the snacks! Set up a "snack kiosk" near the entrance and have individual bags or cups of popcorn ready and waiting next to a cooler full of drinks!

Get the Show Started!

Backyard movie with lots of kids

Now that you know what goes into creating an at-home drive-in movie theater, it's time to start the show! So, if you don't have a projector, screen, or outdoor speakers ready, don't worry; Toton’s TV has you covered! We have various in-stock name-brand items to create a movie experience no one will forget!

And if you have any questions about which projector is best for you or the screen, give us a call or stop by! Our experts are happy to help!