How To Create a Fun and COVID-Friendly Kids Drive-In Movie Party

Travel back in time with this nostalgic, COVID-friendly drive-in movie party for kids. It's fun for everyone, DIY and inexpensive. Win, win, win!

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Children in boxes watching a movieToni DeBella for Family Handyman

Drive-in movie theaters were all the rage in the 1950s and ’60s. Now they’re making a comeback. Turn your backyard movie theater into a blast from the past by staging an unforgettable, open-air viewing party when the sun goes down. Who knew that social distancing could be so much fun?

Outdoor movie screenToni DeBella for Family Handyman

Pre-Party Prep

Good planning is the key to any successful and memorable event. Leave nothing to chance by getting a head start with these helpful tips.

  • Begin by scoring recycled cardboard refrigerator or other large boxes to make the cars. You can usually find them at appliance stores or home improvement centers. Call ahead to arrange for curbside pickup of the boxes. Grab a few more than you’ll need for unexpected guests.
  • Browse the Internet for free templates to design personalized license plates for each child. Google Sheets and PowerPoint work well too.
  • If you don’t already own one, now’s the time to procure an outdoor projector. Ask to borrow a friend’s, pick one up at a local electronics retailer or order one online. These projectors are affordable and simple to operate.
  • Borrow or buy a projector screen, too. Or just raid your linen closet for a flat white sheet to use instead.
  • Before the big day, do a test show to work out any technical glitches.
  • Consider hanging string lights around the yard for an even more celebratory atmosphere.
  • Ask invitees to bring pillows, blankets and sleeping bags from home to help make their vehicles comfortable. Their adults can bring lawn chairs, too.

Child standing in a boxToni DeBella for Family Handyman

Transform Cardboard Boxes into Cars

To transform refrigerator or other large cardboard boxes into cool coupes, follow these three easy steps:

  1. With scissors or a utility knife (adults only), carve off the top of the box. Leave about a three-to-five-inch lip around the perimeter to put beverages on, and a half-moon opening in the front for easy entry.
  2. Space the cut-out convertibles at a safe six feet from one another, forming a semi-circle. (If room is limited, stagger in rows.)
  3. For the roadsters’ finishing touch, use double-sided tape or glue sticks to attach paper-plate wheels to the sides and personalized license plates at the rear.

Child standing in a boxToni DeBella for Family Handyman

Let the Fun Begin

  • As each guest arrives, hand out a goodie bag filled with a personalized disposable mask, travel-size hand sanitizer and washable markers.
  • Invite kids to customize their “rides.” Encourage creativity — anything goes!
  • Lay down the pillows, blankets and sleeping bags you asked the kids to bring from home inside the vehicles, for comfy reclined movie-viewing.
  • While the kids are mesmerized by the movie, parents can relax in the background, enjoying grown-up tidbits and libations at a safe social distance.

Craft a Snack Bar for Intermission

Cover a table with a brightly colored tablecloth to create a makeshift snack bar. Invite older siblings or parents to man it during intermission or act as carhops. Include plenty of individual bags of popcorn (this hot oil popcorn maker is a classic cinema replica!) and other quintessential movie treats. Limit the handling of food and make sure everyone uses hand sanitizer.

Toni DeBella
Toni DeBella is a freelance travel, lifestyle and digital content writer based in a medieval hill town in central Italy. Her work has been featured in such publications as Fodor's, The Telegraph, Walks of Italy, Italy Magazine, Frommers.com, Touring Bird (via [email protected]) and more. Most recently she authored the 2020 edition of DK Eyewitness Sicily travel guide. When Toni is not roaming around Europe, you'll find her tending her alley-side container garden or honing her clay-court tennis game.