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How to Throw an Oscar Viewing Party on a Budget

For movie lovers, there’s no more exciting event than Oscar night. All the biggest stars of the silver screen gather in one place dressed in their red-carpet finery to learn who will receive the most prized honor in the film business, an Academy Award. Most film fans never have a chance to attend this star-studded event in person. But many like to share in the pageantry by throwing Oscar parties complete with red-carpet attire, fabulous food, signature cocktails, and elaborate swag bags like the ones the stars receive.

If you yearn to celebrate the Oscars in style but are on a tight budget, good news: That’s not a deal-breaker. With a little planning and creativity, you can throw a Hollywood-style Oscar night extravaganza without breaking the bank.

Host an Oscar Viewing Party (Step by Step)

Step 1: Select Your A-Listers

The first step in keeping your Oscar party budget-friendly is to consider the guest list carefully. Filling your home with all the people you know, from intimate friends to workplace acquaintances, seems like it can only make your party feel more like a spectacular event. But a big group also means more crowding, more work, more stress, and — unavoidably — more expense.

If you limit your party to around six to eight people, you can focus on inviting true Oscar aficionados. Once the festivities begin, there’s plenty of room for lively conversation. And with a small group, you can afford to spend more per guest on cocktails and canapes to give your event a lavish feel.

Step 2: Send Oscar-Worthy Invitations

Once you’ve settled on the guest list, set the tone of the party by sending out Oscar-worthy invitations. Even on a tight budget, there are several ways to craft elegant invites:

  • Print Your Own. Pick up a packet of plain card stock from Amazon, then search online for party invitation templates you can download and print for free. Several blogs — including Twig and Thistle, Moms and Munchkins, and Hey, Let’s Make Stuff — offer downloadable templates for invitations specifically designed for an Oscar party.
  • Make Them By Hand. With construction paper, colored pens, and glitter, you can create your own glitzy party invites. Make sure to include the location, date, and time of the party and a way to RSVP. Browse online designs for Oscar party invitations to get ideas.
  • Go Paperless. If you don’t have time to handcraft invitations for all your guests, take a shortcut. Make just one snazzy handmade invite, take a photo of it, and then send it out to all your guests by text or email. It’s also an eco-friendly option because it uses less paper. Alternatively, you can use an e-vite service like Paperless Post or Punchbowl to create and send invitations online. E-vites from these services cost less than paper invitations, and with a trial subscription, you can send a limited number for free.

Step 3: Set the Scene

To create a festive atmosphere for your party, choose decorations in an elegant color scheme. Black and gold is the classic combination for the Oscars, and you can jazz it up by adding a brighter color like red, green, or pink to the mix.

Hit the dollar store for trimmings like balloons and garlands in your chosen colors. To keep it from looking like a kids party, do something unexpected, like lining your ceiling with fancy gold and black balloons. There are several ways to do it without paying for a helium tank:

  • Affix each balloon to the ceiling individually using glue dots or double-sided tape.
  • Tie string or ribbon to the balloons and tape the string or ribbon to the ceiling so the balloons hang down.
  • Attach the balloons to the ceiling with static electricity by rubbing them on your hair. Note that it only holds the balloons in place for a few hours.

Find full instructions for all three methods on Party Eight’s YouTube channel.

Movie posters also make appropriate decorations for an Oscar party. If you already have some, it costs nothing to move them all to your foyer or TV room for the event. Alternatively, print out photos of Oscar winners and current nominees, “frame” them inexpensively by mounting them on pieces of construction paper, and tape them to the wall.

Choose tableware — plates, cups, tablecloths, and silverware — to match your chosen color scheme. You can dress up clear plastic cups by adding stripes of gold washi tape around the rim. Washi tape accents also look lovely on plate rims and plastic Champagne flutes. Adorn the table with inexpensive votive candles, real or fake flowers, or a sprinkling of gold confetti spangles.

If you really want to go all out with your party decor, welcome your guests with a “red carpet” near the front door. You can buy a red carpet on Amazon for around $10. But a long red tablecloth, red table runner, or swath of plain red fabric makes an inexpensive substitute for the real thing. Tape it in place or, if it’s outdoors, use rocks or bricks to hold it down.

To complete the scene, make a playlist of well-known movie themes to play on a loop before and after the ceremony. If you want, you can make a game of asking your guests how many of the themes they can identify and give a prize to the one who gets the most right. On a more practical level, arrange the furniture in your TV room so you have plenty of comfortable seats with a clear view of the screen.

Step 4: Get Red-Carpet Ready

To give your party an extra touch of glam, specify a formal dress code in your invitations. Privately, let your guests know there’s no need to buy an Oscar-worthy gown or rent a tux. They should just show up in the fanciest dresses and suits they own. Or you can invite them to hit the thrift shop beforehand to pick up the most over-the-top evening wear they can find for the event.

Or make your shindig a costume party. On the invitation, ask everyone to come dressed as their favorite movie character of all time. To add to the fun, give door prizes for the best costume.

As guests show up on your “red carpet,” announce their arrival in Oscar-worthy fashion. For instance, when a schoolteacher friend arrives, proclaim, “And now, please welcome last year’s winner for the best classroom director award, Jane Smith!” Or, if your guests are coming in costume, announce them by the names of their characters.

Dressed Up Women Party Confetti

Step 5: Serve Fabulous Food & Drink

The food and drink for your party should reflect the mood you want to set. To make your party a glamorous event, set the mood with fancy fare, such as mini-quiches and other hot hors d’oeuvres. You can find these in the freezer case at Trader Joe’s or a warehouse store like Costco. Movie-style popcorn and candy can also fit your formal mood if you serve them up in your fanciest serving dishes.

Complete the lavish spread with desserts like chocolate-dipped fruits or opulently decorated cupcakes. Or, for a more thematically appropriate sweet course, use award-themed cookie cutters to make sugar cookies in the shapes of stars and Oscar statuettes. Decorate them with royal frosting and gold sanding sugar or luster dust.

If you can’t afford to feed a whole crowd on your budget, try making your Oscar party a potluck. On the invitation, ask your guests to show up with an Oscar-worthy dish to contribute to the festivities. As an extra incentive for them, make a game of giving out awards for best appetizer, dessert, and drink.

And no Oscar party is complete without a festive drink. Champagne is the classic libation for any red-carpet event. Sparkling wine doesn’t have to be expensive. Food Network recommends several vintages for $25 or less. However, you can also serve beer, sparkling cider, or even ginger ale in Champagne flutes to give your guests the feel of sipping bubbly on a budget.

Alternatively, you can serve all your guests a signature cocktail, such as martinis, gin and tonic, or Old Fashioneds. One way to please all your guests is to whip up a fabulous nonalcoholic mixer to combine with the tipple of their choice, including sparkling water for nondrinkers. The food blog Pine & Crave provides recipes for several Oscar-appropriate mixers in flavors like plum-ginger sparkler and cranberry cheer.

Pro tip: If you’d prefer to have food delivered from your favorite restaurant, you can download the DoorDash app. Plus, if you’re a Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholder, you can receive a free DashPass membership, giving you free delivery.

Step 6: Play Oscar-Related Games

Naturally, the main event of any Oscar party is watching the awards. However, you can add extra spice for your guests by providing a few Oscar-related party games to play before and during the ceremony. Most of these games require no special equipment beyond a little paper and printer ink.

Oscar Ballots

The most popular game to play during the Academy Awards is trying to guess the winners in each category. People do it anyway, so make it official for your guests by printing out some ballots with the names of the nominees in several top categories. You can make these yourself or do an online search for “printable Oscar ballots” and the year.

Pass out Oscar ballots to your guests as they arrive. Have them submit their predictions at the start of the night, then mark off the correct guesses as the evening goes on. Whoever correctly guesses the winner in the most categories wins the game.

If you’d rather not bring out your friends’ competitive streaks, you can hold an Oscar-winner drawing instead. Put the names of all the nominees into a bag and have each guest draw a name. If that nominee takes home the prize, the guest is a winner.

Oscar Trivia

Another amusing game to play before the show and during commercials is Oscar trivia. To play, write down a list of questions and answers about the Academy Awards or film history, such as “What was the first movie to win best picture?” or “Who has been nominated the most times for best actor without winning?” You can find more question ideas on the official Academy trivia list at Oscars.org.

Anytime there’s a lull in the action, read one of the questions. The first person to call out the correct answer gets a point. At the end of the evening, award a prize to the guest with the most points.

Oscar Bingo

One of the most popular Oscar party games is Oscar bingo. Create bingo boards filled with things that might happen during this year’s awards — for example, a speech that runs past the time limit, a speech censored for profanity, or a guest in a nonblack tuxedo. You can design your own bingo cards or search for downloadable cards online.

As your guests arrive, present each one with a unique bingo card. As they watch the ceremony, whenever they see or hear one of the things listed on their card, they can mark that square with an X or a star sticker. The first guest to get five marked squares in a row is the winner.

Prizes for Winners

Oscar party games are more interesting if you have prizes for the winners. One obvious choice is plastic award statuettes, available at party stores or online. If you can’t find these, there are several ways to make your own:

  • Paper Statuettes. Download the printable Oscar template from Twig and Thistle. Print it out on card stock, cut out the pieces, and assemble them according to the directions.
  • Cookie Statuettes. Use the instructions at Bakerella to make three-dimensional Oscar cookies. Use a statue-shaped cookie cutter for the top piece and a circle with a cutout section for the stand. Then use icing to help hold the pieces together. Decorate the statue with gold-dusted yellow icing and the base in black.
  • Painted Dolls. To make funny DIY statuettes, pick up some cheap Ken-style dolls or action figures at the dollar store or find old ones at a yard sale. Strip the dolls naked, spray-paint them gold, and mount each one to a round base.

Other possible prize ideas include small bottles of Champagne or sparkling cider and movie-themed paraphernalia, such as posters. Ask each winner to make an Oscar-worthy speech upon receiving their prize.

Step 7: Present the Swag Bags

It adds to the fun and glamor of your party if you give your guests mini versions of the celebrated Oscar swag bags the nominees in the top categories receive. In 2019, Good Morning America reported these bags contained over six figures’ worth of freebies, including gourmet chocolates (some infused with cannabis), designer T-shirts, fancy liquor, high-end cosmetics, and certificates for all kinds of services, from sessions with a personal trainer to all-expenses-paid vacations.

Your DIY swag bags don’t need to be this luxurious — you can still treat your guests on a budget. Start by picking up a plain white paper or canvas bag for each guest. Decorate your bags with gold stars using iron-on transfers, washi tape, or glitter and glue.

Then, hit your local party store or dollar store to look for interesting pieces to fill up your goody bags, including:

  • Confetti poppers
  • Costume jewelry
  • Scented candles
  • Bubble wands
  • Ring pops
  • Toy award statues (store-bought or homemade)
  • Mini Champagne bottles
  • Candy
  • Sample-size cosmetics or skin care products
  • Anything gold or glittery
  • Ballots or scorecards for your Oscar party games

Final Word

The best thing about an Oscar party is that you don’t have to provide the entertainment. The ceremony itself takes care of that. From the red-carpet gowns to the whimsical opening number to the nail-biting tension of the best picture announcement, the drama unfolding on the screen provides plenty of color and excitement to keep your guests absorbed.

But the real point of an Oscar party isn’t watching the awards — it’s watching them with your friends. The ceremony is twice as much fun when you have people there to talk with about red-carpet looks or snubs. And when you consider how much you often have to spend to get together with a big group for dinner or drinks, throwing a low-budget Oscar party starts to look like a perfectly reasonable way to hang out with friends on a budget.

What’s your favorite way to celebrate Oscar night?

Amy Livingston
Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, "And from that you make a living?" She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.

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