Dim the lights, pick a lovely wine, and choose a movie together, suggests Caron Barruw, LCSW, a relationship specialist in London. Turn the loveseat toward the TV, so that sitting side-by-side and holding hands are the obvious options.
"My husband and I have had Saturday night movie dates for 12 years—the length of our marriage," says Michelle Morton, a mother of three in Raleigh, North Carolina. "We let the kids—15, 11, and 7—know this is Mom and Dad's time." The pair sip Sangria, eat chips and dip, and relish finishing sentences.
Instead of dimming lights, up the romance by lining the room with candles, says Sheryl Boltze, creative director of Sure Fit, a home solution company in Allentown, Pennsylvania: "Just be sure to blow them out before bed!" Creating a special ambiance sets the scene that this is not just any other movie night with the kids.
Surprise your sweetheart by pulling out a heated throw. There are a variety of brands available, with multiple heat settings, for less than $50. Snuggling under that together may just lead to a double feature.
"Cook a great dinner to share together," says psychologist and dating coach Paulette Kouffman Sherman, author of Dating from the Inside Out. Using favorite foods or copying a recipe from a favorite restaurant will make it special. "Then choose romantic movies that remind you how you fell in love," she says. The guy who doesn't want to go to a chick flick at the theater may not mind viewing at home. Plus, everybody thinks a movie like Casablanca is romantic.
Set the mood with a spicy scent, says Food Network star Aaron Sanchez, owner of and chef at Centrico in New York City. Make a dish using toasted spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper. "Toast the spices just to their smoking point and the bouquet will help set the mood," he says—and make your guy think you're a fabulous cook.
Involve the kids by arranging the food and room setup together, says Barruw, relationship specialist and mother of two: "Pillows and blankets make it more fun." Set a start time so no one misses the movie's beginning.
To get the kids excited before an at-home movie, show previews like mom blogger Colleen Padilla (classymommy.com) does: "We love showing our kids movie trailers before we take them to the theater or watch a movie at home. It really excites them for the movie and enables them to instantly relate to the characters at the start of the film," she says. "Search for the official trailers along with tons of additional scenes and clips online at YouTube. This preparation is more than worth it," she says.
No need to make movie night a sugar festival. Colleen Reilly, co-founder with Stephanie Stanely of ThursdayNightDinner.org, a cooking website, suggests serving avocado dip with crispy kale chips, both a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. Add baked pumpkin seeds for a more salty crunch. Or let kids make fruit kebabs, suggests Susan Fisher, R.D., LD, professor of foods and nutrition at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina. They're not processed, and they're fun to build. "When children see adults make healthier choices, like consuming fruit," says Fisher, "they'll model that behavior."
Lynette Kittle, a publicist and mother of four in Colorado Springs, sets a projector in the garage, pops corn, and the family sits in the car, windows down, for a "drive-in" classic Disney movie night: "My daughters loved it since they'd heard us talk about the drive-ins we went to when we were growing up."
Stress about the movie goblins, not about the upholstery: toss old sheets over the furniture so spilled drinks and runaway popcorn are no tragedy. Or have movie night slipcovers that you pull out for the occasion. Inexpensive covers are available in stores or from specialty companies like Sure Fit in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Just because you're watching at home doesn't mean you have to forgo the fancy popcorn. Sunbeam and other companies make tabletop popcorn makers that are ringers for the old-fashioned kind. Serve your fresh-popped corn in old-fashioned popcorn bags and boxes or in special bowls reserved for Family Night.
Ask your kids to arrive at movie time with an object that fits the movie's theme, says Penny Warner, party planning expert for Balloon Time, a balloon kit company in Columbus, Ohio: "Bring an action figure for an adventure move, a favorite toy for Toy Story, or an eye patch for A Pirate's Tale. That makes the evening interactive."
Set the kids in the den with their own movie. Or foist them on their fathers and get together with long-time buddies, as Judy Woodward Bates does. Bates, the "Bargainomics Lady" on Fox-6 TV in Birmingham, Alabama, likes "chick" movie nights best. For Under the Tuscan Sun, each lady brought an Italian dish, and for French Kiss, French food.
Your guests will be impressed if you get a bit sophisticated (and clever) with your snacks. Instead of serving popcorn, serve popcorn shrimp to enjoy while you gaze, says Jose Delgado, executive chef at Canard, a New York City catering and event planning company. For six people, buy four pounds of small shrimp, shelled. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper, then coat the shrimp and fry. Serve the shrimp hot in popcorn tubs available at popcornpopper.com.
"Add the cinematic thrill of surround sound," says Brian Gibson, president and founder of Elite Media Solutions in Wellesley, Massachusetts. "Simply add a stereo speaker setup to your TV." Speakers can run from $99 on up and require only a cable or two to make them work.
If you're in a warm climate, rent or buy a movie projector and use a white sheet as a screen, says Chris Malloy, owner of Community Events, an outdoor movie company in Nashua, New Hampshire. "Bring blankets, bug spray, sweatshirts, and popcorn, and enjoy a movie under the stars!"
"Pick the room that has the most floor and largest TV," says caterer Andrea Correale, owner of Elegant Affairs, a catering company in Glen Cove and New York City, New York. "Take out the tables and lamps and bring in comfy chairs so each guest has a plush place to sit facing the TV," she says. While everyone waits for the movie, play your own previews or "trailers"—a photomontage of attending friends on the screen. They'll feel like stars.