Movie nights are an easy date choice: laptop, snacks – done. But how can you make it feel just a bit more special, worthy of foregoing the big screen to stay indoors?
With a bit of careful planning, you can turn your living room into an ultra-cosy home cinema that will make you glad you stayed home.
Leave aside the overpriced cinema food and follow these steps to make your own moreish popcorn and rich, velvety hot chocolate, choose a great movie (even if you’re not sure what your date will like) and rearrange your space for the occasion.
You’ll save money and have a great time!
Step 1. Making cinema quality popcorn🍿
Fresh popcorn is so easy to make, and there’s nothing like the smell it leaves in your kitchen to make you never want to buy ready-made popcorn again.
Instead of spending a couple of quid on bagged popcorn from the supermarket, you can buy a bag of un-popped corn for the same price. You can make endless amounts with it – fresh, warm, and at a fraction of the price of ready-made.
- A large, deep, non-stick pan with a lid
- Enough un-popped corn to cover the bottom of your pan (any more won’t fit in the pan when it’s all popped)
- One or two tablespoons of butter / ghee / vegan butter
- Oil for cooking (since popcorn is dry and likely to catch, it’s best to choose one with a high smoke point, such as canola, sunflower or avocado oil, but olive oil and coconut oil will also work – just keep an eye on the pan and shake it every now and then to prevent anything burning)
- Wooden or silicone spoon
- Glass, metal or ceramic bowl
- Heat your pan on the stove over medium – high heat
- Add a tablespoon of oil and tilt the pan to get it coated (or, if using a spray bottle, 10 – 15 sprays should do – you want a good amount)
- When everything is sizzling, take the pan off the heat and put the lid on quickly. Wait for 20 – 30 seconds and then add your popcorn before putting the lid back on
- Turn the heat up to high and put the pan back on the stove. It should quickly start popping!
- Once the sound dies down almost to a stop, remove from the heat and shake it into a large bowl (not plastic*) to put aside whilst you melt your butter / ghee / vegan butter.
* The reason is that there might be some unpopped corns still in the pan. These will be like little tiny little embers for a minute or two, so they might just melt any plastic bowl you put them in unless you let them cool down first 🙂
- Turn off the heat and add a nice chunk of butter / ghee to the hot pan. It’ll sizzle and melt immediately. Return the popcorn to the pan. Swirl around to get it coated… and you’re done!
(or are you?)
This popcorn is good enough to eat plain (in my opinion), but if you want to top it, try:
- Golden syrup (mix this with the butter topping – but only after the heat has reduced a lot, and then add it quickly. Sugar burns quickly and will stick to the bottom of the pan if you’re not careful)
- Salt (table or sea, any is fine)
- Savoury spices (paprika, cumin, curry powder etc.) work surprisingly well
- White chocolate and dried berries – let it cool fully afterwards so it isn’t sticky. This is a great make-ahead recipe, if you favour a generously coated popcorn that’s more like candy.
Step 2: Making The Ultimate Hot Chocolate ☕
Whilst a shop-bought hot chocolate powder will do just fine for a sugary hit on a cold day, you should try making your own at least once, just to see the difference it makes.
There are a few different approaches for homemade hot chocolate, but this one is basically a mixture of two things: chocolate and milk. Within that scope, there are endless possibilities!
The chocolate 🍫
A lot of hot chocolate recipes emphasise getting the best quality chocolate – but what this is really depends on you. Generally, whichever type of chocolate you like eating, you’ll probably also enjoy drinking (just make sure it’s not got chunks of anything in it – i.e. nuts, fruit or similar. You don’t want lumps in your drink).
Having said this, some very cheap types of chocolate won’t work. If you’re going for white chocolate, bear in mind that good white chocolate is usually more on the pricey side, since it’s mostly cocoa butter. Less expensive brands have less or lower-quality cocoa butter, making them waxy.
Different cocoa content will also affect the kind of milk you might want to use (as well as the toppings / seasonings you might prefer – more on this later).
If you like your hot chocolate dark and bitter, use something like Green and Blacks 85% and add a pinch of salt.
Your milk choice depends on what flavour and consistency you’re after.
- Condensed – for a thicker, creamier hot chocolate. It’s quite sweet (and definitely not low-calorie!) but feels super indulgent.
- Coconut milk 🥥 (the carton sort, not the canned sort) – makes for a medium consistency with a coconutty hint. Try this with a creamy milk or white chocolate and a dollop of coconut cream to make it extra luxurious!
- Rice milk – rice milk works well for a thinner hot chocolate, because of its light, sweet flavour
- Hazelnut 🌰 – for a medium consistency and a hint of gorgeous Nutella-like flavour. Good with a milk chocolate or dark chocolate.
- Whole milk or semi-skimmed – won’t be the thickest consistency, but a reliable choice, and you’re likely to have it already
How to make it
- Break up your chocolate into chunks. You could stick it in a food processor and smash it up, or you could have fun putting it in a plastic sandwich bag and whacking it with a rolling pin (or a big book) until it’s all broken up. Aim to get it as fine as possible, but remember it doesn’t need to be perfect, as you’re going to melt it anyway.
- Shake it all into a small saucepan or milk pan and melt it down over a medium to low heat.
- Add your milk a little bit at a time and whisk it in until smooth. Keep the heat moderate – don’t let it boil – and keep adding milk until it reaches the consistency you want.
Serve in your favourite mug and finish off by topping generously with something like this:
- Whipped cream
- A sprinkling of cinnamon, nutmeg or more crushed chocolate
- Marshmallows (you could toast them in the oven or simply burn with a match or lighter for that crispy, golden shell)
- A chocolate flake
Adding a shot of rum works wonders too 😁
Step 3. Setting up your cosy environment
The easiest way to make your space relaxing is to consider all of the senses. You’ve already got tasty snacks. What can you add?
Start with soft blankets and fluffy pillows
No matter how good your central heating is, to be properly snug you need some good blankets. You could add a few cushions to your sofa and wrap up warm in your duvet and call it a day. But if you want to go all out, why not make a blanket fort?
If you’ve got one of those sofas with big, square seat cushions you can remove, you’re in luck: these are perfect walls for your fort. If you don’t have a sofa, the backs of chairs are perfect for draping a sheet over. Or what about that laundry rack? Get creative!
Decorate your space with some LED string lights or LED candles. The good thing about LEDs is that they don’t get hot, so are safer in that sense than other types of lights. You can even get battery-powered LED candles that flicker like real flames (but if you knock them over, they won’t burn the house down).
Step 4: Choosing the best home cinema
If you don’t own a TV, you could use a laptop to watch your movie. That’s perfectly okay, but for a proper cosy movie night experience, nothing beats a projector. These are much more affordable than a TV and with a much bigger display. You can get small portable ones for a reasonable price.
You can project onto any wall, but hanging up a sheet as a makeshift screen somehow makes things feel even more special.
Step 5 – Picking a movie 🎥
The first rule of successful movie date nights? Don’t wait until your date arrives to decide what to watch.
Unless you’re both super easy-going about it and can pick something quickly, it’s best to think of two or three watchable movies beforehand and choose between them later.
That way, there’s choice and flexibility, but not enough that you’ll be discussing it for hours and never getting round to pressing ‘play’.
There aren’t really any rules about which specific movies to watch – that all depends on what you and your date personally enjoy – but if you’re not sure, think about what your ‘goal’ is for your movie night.
For example, do you want to watch something light-hearted that doesn’t require lots of plot-following and complicated concepts? Do you want to learn more about the movies that have moved you and your date and inspired your outlooks on the world? Or just have a laugh? All of those are good reasons to watch a movie!
For the easiest watch, picking a fun classic or something you’ve already seen is probably your best bet. But if you’re determined to watch something new, head to Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB for inspiration and check out their top movie lists.
Some fun movie ideas
- Rewatch your favourite movies or cartoons from when you were kids. You could even stock up on vintage sweets (sherbert fountains, strawberry laces, pic ‘n’ mix etc.) and share them whilst you watch!
- Movies that are ‘so bad it’s good’
- Sci-fi classics
- Bargain-basement horror
- … or good horror, depending on how squeamish you are
- Christmas movies, if it’s that time of year (or even if it’s not)
Some more serious movie ideas
- Which movie had the most impact on each of you as a young person? Set aside a few hours and watch both.
- Look up the best foreign-language movies of the past year – these are often overlooked by English-language media
- Watch mind-bending psychological thrillers
If you’re going out with someone for a while, a great way to plan ahead for your movie nights is to make lists using a tool like Letterboxd. You and your partner can share a list and add items to it whenever you want – so you always have something to watch later.