Drive in Movie Party How-To

*this post contains affiliate links*

So you’re thinking about a Drive-in Movie Party?  I will warn you making the cars is a bit of a time investment.  But after that, it was one of the easiest parties I have ever thrown (both in prep work and in hosting!).  Let me make it EVEN easier for you… everything you need to throw an awesome outdoor movie night gathering!

Drive in Movie party is such a fun way to celebrate a birthday for all ages! Pin me.

I have been wanting to throw a drive in move party for ages! And my second oldest was kind enough to oblige for his 5th birthday. The invitation is in a separate post and can be found here.

How to Make the Cars for a Drive-In Movie Party

I started by making the cars. You can easily round up used and free boxes from your many amazon deliveries (if your anything like me) or businesses around town, however I wanted all the boxes to be uniform.  I’m kinda OCD like that.  So I went ahead and purchased them on amazon.  (I think they are unavailable now, similar sized ones here). This way they come without any markings on them and fresh and clean. Makes it much easier to paint & work with in my opinion.  The size and sturdiness of the boxes worked out pretty perfectly, I would definitely recommend a similar size (20X16X14).  It was a bit cozy for my 7 year old but worked great for my 5 & 2 year olds.

How to make cardboard box cars

So first things first- I taped all the boxes with one flap up (as shown) and spread them all out on a big tarp.  I recommend taping the flap that you have up as securely as possible (read: lots of pieces of tape, I used packing tape but perhaps duct tape would be better?) as the children will lean on their “dashboards” once they are inside.  None of our dashboards collapsed, thankfully, but I was worried about that. I spent one Saturday painting them, and the following Saturday adding the wheels, racing stripes, steering wheels, headlights & tailpipes.  Each time it took me about 3 hours, so about 6 hours total to do 20 boxes.  I painted the boxes with a roller.  Spray-painting cardboard=finger cramps and TONS of bottles of spray paint.

drive in movie car tutorial
Paint the card with a roller, so much faster than spray paint!

Except be smarter than me and don’t waste time painting the bottoms- that was just dumb.

drive in movie party car tutorial
Add tailpipes with spray-painted toilet paper tubes

The wheels & steering wheel are just black paper plates I got at the dollar store. I glued them on with a hot glue gun.  The tail pipes are toilet paper rolls that I cut in half and spray painted silver.  They were also put on via hot glue gun.  But if you can think of a more effective method to get them on I would advise that as there were very few that made it to the end of the party without being knocked or broken off. The license plates are full page sticker labels (like these).

license plate template
Personalized license plates make the cars a fun party favor to take home!

At first I made one license plate to a page, but they looked way too big so after that I changed to 2 to a page and I think that was much more proportional.  I am happy to personalize up to 20 license plates for you for a fee of $10 (paid via paypal, you receive the digital PDFs).  Just email me @ if you are interested in having these, or any other printables for this party, personalized for your event πŸ™‚

tips and tricks to turn a cardboard box into a car for your drive in movie party
cardboard box car tutorial

The racing stripes are just white duct tape (gotta love how easy that is!) and the headlights I spray-painted on with a homemade stencil and yellow spray paint.

cardboard box cars
Just use black paper plates for the steering wheels and tires!
cardboard box cars
Ready for all the kids to come and claim their car!

Decorations for a Drive-In Movie Party

drive in movie party ticket booth made from a refridgerator box
DIY ticket booth out of a refrigerator box

The cars took care of most of the decorations.  We also had a ticket booth, which I reused from youngest’s circus party (details on how I made it here).

I have to tell you I was very glad I saved it, despite hubby’s pleadings not to.Β  These are the tickets we made (which I am happy to personalize for your event for $7) and printed on cardstock.Β  Or some generic ones are included in the digital party bundle. The only thing I forgot was to actually come around and “punch” their tickets as the movie was starting, as I had intended to do πŸ™

Drive in Movie Party Digital Bundle
Printable tickets, admission sign, ticket sign, concession sign, food labels, blank license plates, and invitation template. 14 pages total

movie tickets drive in movie partyWe strung some christmas lights around the yard, since it was an “after dark ” party I thought that would add some nice ambiance. And of course what’s a movie theater without movie posters? I just made one:

movie poster drive in movie party ideas and free printables
Now showing movie poster sign, a fun touch for an outdoor movie night

Strung christmas lights around it, set it up on the kids easel and stuck it next to the ticket booth.

And then of course we had to deal with all the “technology” of the movie.  This was honestly the part I was most stressed about.  We were just going to try to borrow a projector from my mother-in-law’s work but after seeing what a great deal they were on amazon we ended up just buying one (and its even cheaper now than when we got it!) I tested out the logistics of it a few times before the big night and we have used it a few times since, I cant speak highly enough of this projector! I don’t think you can beat it for the price.  I just hooked our roku right up to it and played the movie straight from netflix.

drive in movie party set up
Use a white sheet as a screen for an outdoor movie

Our very fancy screen is just a king sized white sheet (with some blankets behind it so it wasn’t so see through) tacked to our porch railings/roof. You can buy an expensive screen off of amazon, but I thought our sheet was just fine πŸ˜‰

Activities for our Outdoor Movie Night

As guests arrived we had a table set up right by the ticket booth with a bag for each guest.

drive in movie party guests party bags
movie party favor bags

Inside each bag was their personalized license plate, glow sticks, play money & stickers. We also had a table set out on the lawn with all kinds of stickers, puff paint, crayons, markers and other fun things they could use to decorate their cars.

drive in movie party car decoration station
Have them each decorate their cars while you’re waiting for it to be dark
decorating cardboard box cars at drive in movie party
stickers and markers to decorate their cars

So with their bag they could pick their car and decorate it, buy a movie ticket from the ticket booth & hit the concession stand with their play money.

Once they had their car decorated, their concession items and ticket purchased we settled down to watch the movie.

drive in movie party ideas and free printables
They could use play money to purchase things from the concession stand
watcing the movie in their cardboard box cars
No one budged out of their cars for like the whole movie!

I was amazed how all the children stayed in their cars the whole movie!  I thought they would get out and purchase some more candy and treats from the concession stand but for the most part they just stayed put.  We included in the invitation for them to bring a pillow & blanket if they wanted which helped make the cars much more comfortable to sit in πŸ™‚ After the movie we had cupcakes, sang to the birthday boy, opened presents, and played in the dark on our swing set and trampoline until children were dragged to their vans, cardboard cars in tow. Birthday boy was asleep in 0 seconds flat πŸ˜‰

Food for a Drive in Movie Party

Our party was held later (to accommodate for the sun going down at just the right time). I wanted about 30 mins of sunlight before we started the movie so the kids had time to decorate their cars and things.  It worked out pretty well. The sun ended up being a bit too bright as we started the movie, but about 15 mins into it it was plenty dark.  Since our party was later we didn’t do a meal, just concession snacks & treats. I dont have a good “finished” shot of the whole concession stand. It was a pretty windy day so I didn’t set a lot of the stuff out until the last minute- but this gives you an idea…concession stand drive in movie or theater party

The table skirt pictured above can be found here.  I used it in conjunction with a dollar store red tablecloth.  As I mentioned the kids could use their play money from their bags to purchase items at the concession stand.  To keep things simple every item was $1.00. I gave each of them $5 but they had to purchase their movie ticket ($1) so that left them with $4 to spend at the concession stand.

movie theater concession stand idea
Concession stand for a drive in movie
drinks concession stand movie party
Food labels for a concession stand

My thought was they would buy 1 drink, 1 popcorn and 2 candies. But of course they could spend it how they wanted.

buying items from the concession stand
Using their play money to buy things from the concession stand
drive in movie party

Tough decisions my friends! πŸ˜‰ Isn’t she adorable in her perry the platypus costume?

popcorn concession stand treats movie party

My amazing mother in law found a popcorn maker at the thrift store and so Grandpa got the prestigious role of popcorn popper during the party.  Mmmm-mmm it was delicious! They sell the same one on amazon, but finding it a thrift store is definitely the cheaper route πŸ˜‰ I was so happy with the popcorn boxes. I think they are adorable and they were the perfect size! And they were sturdy enough I saved a lot of them that were in good condition.

concession stand free printables for movie party

The little cups are those fruit bowl cups, you know what i’m talking about? Anyhow I got them through my hubby’s work but you can get similar type here.  Those are nice because they have lids so kiddos won’t be spilling candies on the way to their cars. The trays I also got from my hubby’s work, however before I got those I went to our grocery store and asked for some and they gave me a ton! The ones from my hubby’s work ended up being smaller and I thought a better size so I used those:

movie party trays
DIY food trays out of grocery store can trays

I just hot glued this ribbon around them to dress them up a bit.  At first I was going to spray paint them all red AND put the ribbon on, but after only getting 2 trays done with a whole can of spray paint I thought, “forget that”.

movie party cupcakes
popcorn cupcakes

The cupcakes were another amazing feat by my mother-in-law.  I’m so lucky to have her as my party planning partner in crime!

popcorn cupcakes
look at these amazing popcorn cupcakes!!

Don’t they look amazing? We used these liners, they are more like cups actually, you slip the cupcake inside.

movie party treat ideas and free printables
Concession stand ideas

Shopping List for a Drive in Movie Party

Other Popular Purchases Made from this Post:

Printables for a Drive in Movie Party

You can get all the printables featured in this blog post (and a few bonus ones) for just $2.99 with the button below. If you’d like things like the license plates or movie tickets personalized I can do that for an additional fee, just shoot me an email I do include a few free printables with the button at the bottom of the post.

Drive in Movie Party Digital Bundle
Printable tickets, admission sign, ticket sign, concession sign, food labels, blank license plates, and invitation template. 14 pages total
drive in movie party free printables
drive in movie party free printables
drive in movie party free printables
drive in movie party free printables
drive in movie party free printables
Movie party food labels
You can download the free printables with the button above

And I can’t close the post without giving a shout out to Come on Ilene, if you are throwing a drive in movie party you have got to check out her awesome post from which I got tons of ideas!

Happy party planning!


26 thoughts on “Drive in Movie Party How-To

  1. You did a great job. Thanks for posting this. It is very detailed and made my party planning much easier.

  2. Pingback: fun holidays
  3. If I purchased you party pack for $25, would I get a blank template for the license plates so that I could print them as people rvsvp?

  4. This is AMAZING! Thank you so much for sharing! <3
    I've been searching my local grocery stores for the trays.. I cannot seem to find any. Could you tell me where to find them?? thanks again!

    1. Hi Sarah, have you asked someone who works at your grocery store? I had to speak to a few people before I got to the right person who took me back and let me sort through what they had. You might have to try a few stores! Or there are trays you can order on amazon as well (I believe I have them linked in this post).

    1. I mentioned in the post but I just used some leftover interior house paint that I rolled on. It took probably about a gallon in the end to do all 20 boxes. Maybe 3/4 of a gallon. I do not recommend spray paint. Your fingers will fall off and you’ll need about a can per box.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing! I found you using Google because I’m looking to throw my son a drive in 6th birthday party! I will be emailing you for the personalized pkg! Great job!

  6. Hello,
    I’m curious about what’s o. Top of the cupcakes? Popcorn or marshmallows that somehow look like popcorn?.? I would live to make my cupcakes like yours :)They lay so perfect lol

    1. Hi Shannon! They are marshmallows. My mother in law made them so I don’t know the exact steps but she added some yellow coloring as well to look like melted butter.

  7. Hello, I’m curious about what’s on Top of the cupcakes? Popcorn or marshmallows that somehow look like popcorn?.? I would lovee to make my cupcakes like yours :)They lay so perfect !!

  8. Hiii , I Was wondering about what’s on Top of the cupcakes? Popcorn or marshmallows maybe u made look like popcorn?.? I would lovee to make my cupcakes like yours :)They lay so perfect !!

  9. Thank you! I asked and received the same day! Thank you they are awesome!!!
    I appreciate you working with my short notice! You gave some awesome ideas! Perfect for Covid distancing party!

  10. What an awesome idea n execution of a drive in themed party. You did a beautiful job. I came on your page for the popcorn (marshmallow) cupcakes, but I got so much more.

  11. I love themed parties, and this one is AMAZING! Would also be a great idea for a family reunion. Thanks for all the great ideas.

  12. Hi Alia! Did you have to add color to the leftover house paint? If so, what method did you use? I wasn’t sure if I brought it over to Home Depot or somewhere comparable that they would be wiling to add color to my old pain. I’d be curious to hear what you found to be successful. Thanks!
    Jessi recently posted…St Patrick’s Day Gift Tags

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.