Drive-in movie theaters are practically extinct these days, but if you want to introduce your kids to a bit of 1950s nostalgia, here’s an idea: Create a homemade drive-in movie experience at home. The whole family can join in to make “cars” out of cardboard boxes and set up a movie screen outside – and of course, there’s that all-important concession stand. Here are some tips on making your own backyard drive-in movie theater.

Make a Cardboard Box Car (Or Two…Or Ten.)

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This easy start to your theater is really the most important part, because you can’t go to a drive-in without a set of wheels. You’ll need one large box for each car you want to make, as well as packing tape, a box cutter, paper plates and non-toxic paints. Once you have you supplies gathered, make sure the box is completely taped shut with packing tape. Next, cut a square out of the top of the box, but leave a third of it intact for the “hood.”  

To make the wheels, paint four paper plates using black and silver paint. While the wheels are drying, paint the entire box whatever color you wish, and don’t forget to include headlights. (You can either paint them on or glue white plastic bowls to the front of the car.) You can also paint on or glue a license plate, and attach the wheels with glue once the box is dry. This project is especially cute if you plan to line up multiple, multicolored cars for your drive-in theater. Note: If you use a big enough box for this project, you may be able to fit a couple of kid-size chairs inside. If not, make the box more comfortable by putting a pillow inside.

Setting the Screen Scene

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You can’t have a drive-in without a movie screen, and luckily there are several options, depending on budget and skill level. The simplest option is to attach a large white bed sheet or white blackout fabric to the side of your house or garage and project the movie on to it. If you want something a bit fancier, you can purchase an inflatable movie screen at a discount store, but it will take some setup and it could cost $150 or more. (In addition to the cost, another con to this option is that the blower may be noisy.) Once you have your screen in place, your DVD player or laptop can be hooked up to a movie projector with an HDMI cord. If you don’t own a projector, you can look into renting one from a rental company. 

Snack Attack

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Let’s face it, your drive-in theater is only as good as its concession stand, so you’ll need a supply of hotdogs, popcorn and candy. Plastic popcorn boxes or striped popcorn bags can be found at the dollar store, and hotdogs can be cooked on a portable cooker, like a George Foreman grill. Movie-theater sized boxes of M&Ms, Twizzlers and more can also be found at the dollar store. You can set up your snack bar on a picnic table or display everything on a cart or a tray.

A Grand Entrance

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Welcome your guests to your theater with a chalkboard sign that advertises the movie that will be shown. You can also create movie “posters” by searching for images from the movie online and gluing them to poster board.  In addition, be sure to hand out movie tickets as your guests arrive. Tickets can be printed out online or purchased at a craft or dollar store.

A Night Under the Stars

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You can light up the sky with tiki torches to make things festive. (Bonus: They help keep bugs away, too.) Lanterns and string lights will also add ambience, and if you have more movie patrons than cars, you can create extra seating with pillows and blankets on the grass. All that’s left is to pick out your movie out before the cardboard cars line up for the show.

Victoria Miller is a freelance entertainment writer who also covers recreation and leisure activities in the Philadelphia area. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.