Drive in Movie Party How-To

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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…

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.

tons of ideas and free printables to throw your drive in movie party!

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.


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

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

drive in movie party car tutorial

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

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 🙂

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

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

cardboard box cars

Decorations for a Drive-In Movie Party

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). drive in movie party ticket booth made from a refridgerator box

I have to tell you I was very glad I saved it, despite hubby’s pleadings not to.  These are the tickets we made (which I am happy to personalize for your event for $7) and printed on cardstock.  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 🙁

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 whats a movie theater without movie posters? I just made one:

movie poster drive in movie party ideas and free printables

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

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 😉

Entertainment for a Drive-In Movie Party

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

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

decorating cardboard box cars at drive in movie party

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

watcing the movie in their cardboard box cars

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 🙂 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 😉

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

drinks concession stand movie party

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

drive in movie party

Tough decisions my friends! 😉 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 😉 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

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

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

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

Shopping List for a Drive-In Movie Party:

Other Popular Purchases Made from this Post:

Free Printables for Drive-In Movie Party

I am happy to provide the following printables for you at no-charge! However I would be very grateful if you would take  second and follow me on your social media platform of choice: Instagram /facebook/pinterest

Now Available: Drive-In Movie Party Pack (all digital files) $25 = Includes personalized invitation, movie tickets, license plates & food labels. Email details to to order.

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 drive in movie party free printables

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!


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22 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.

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