Not to speak in generalities, but absolutely nobody wants to sit through Wet Hot American Summer, La Piscine… or basically any title with the word summer or beach or swimming pool in it (even in a foreign language) in the dead of winter. So it’s par for the course that come every holiday season, you can’t toss a quarter without hitting some woman’s publication running a very Nora Ephron-heavy list of must-watch cozy, fall-to-winter films, which you’ll no doubt be sitting through alongside your significant other. And, hey, no big complaint, who doesn’t love the genius that is Nora Ephron?
That said. We’ve compiled our very own list of winter films that you’ll be equally glad to cozy up to during that vast, no-man’s-land of time between Christmas and the New Year. Our list just happens to have a few less meet-cute’s and a little bit more… Carnage. With a side of sledgehammer.
THE THING (1982)
Released in the summer of ’82 – the all time great science fiction year – The Thing brings you a level of claustrophobic paranoia that has never been repeated as well. Ever. Director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell are at the top of their game, and Tarantino himself has cited it as a major influence on both Reservoir Dogs and The Hateful Eight. If you want edge of your seat suspense, turn down the lights and enjoy.
THE GREY (2011)
Looking for something a little more modern, but still an edge-of-your seat thriller, then you really can’t do much better than The Grey. The film got a little sidelined when it came out, probably due to the overexposure of Liam Neeson action movies at the time, but it’s really a much better movie than that and deserves attention. Be warned though, the film is bleak – so if you want a slightly campier and not as good version of a somewhat similar premise, consider putting on The Edge instead.
Moving into full stir crazy territory, we have the first of two Stephen King adaptations, this one from Rob Reiner, starring James Caan (an odd, but ultimately perfect choice) and the Oscar-winning Kathy Bates as the completely and utterly unhinged Annie Wilkes. Although R-rated, this one is probably OK for kids 12 and up—although the infamous sledgehammer to the feet scene still packs a hell of a gruesome punch.
THE SHINING (1980)
Jack Nicholson gloriously hamming it up in director Stanley Kubrick’s iconic take on what it must be like to be trapped with nagging Shelley Duval all winter long and how most of us would probably end up wanting to take an axe to her too. And you thought one week at home with the family was bad.
MCCABE AND MRS MILLER (1971)
Never will you be more happy to be at home under a blanket than while sitting through Robert Altman’s revisionist western. It’s cold, it’s dark, and they don’t even have running hot water. Aren’t you glad to be all cozy with your family around you? That said, it’s also a masterpiece and one of the all-time great westerns. If you enjoy it and want an even darker snow western, check out The Great Silence.
THE LION IN WINTER (1968)
Well, it’s the holidays and somebody’s going to argue. That’s what families do – especially if they’re the family of Henry II vying for his kingdom and wishing him dead in the bargain, so think yourself lucky when all your family want is for you to help out with the dishes. Peter O’Toole, Katharine Hepburn in an Oscar-winning turn, and a young Anthony Hopkins as eldest son Richard I.
FANNY AND ALEXANDER (1982)
Possibly the greatest Christmas movie ever made – there, I said it. But it is Ingmar Bergman, so don’t expect a bellyful of laughs, although it is a hell of a lot lighter and cozier (and dare I say, funnier) than he is usually known for. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that Bergman set out to make this his last ever film, and it shows. Majestically shot, superbly acted, and never boring, Fanny and Alexander is truly a magical film about a magical time of year.
BATMAN RETURNS (1992)
The first Batman was such a hit that the studio allowed Tim Burton to kinda do his own thing on the sequel… and boy did he ever. Some people might prefer the first film, but it’s a cold fish. This one is all crazy whacky Burton Christmas goth with heart and a plot that doesn’t really make sense. In other words, the perfect holiday film for a time of year that is crazy, whacky with heart, and doesn’t really make sense. Also, it’s safe for the whole family, and who doesn’t want to watch Michelle Pfeiffer strut around in a vinyl catsuit? Do we need to turn the radiator down?
COMING TO AMERICA (1988)
Eddie Murphy actually has two great winter comedies, and if you haven’t already, be sure to check out his earlier Trading Places as well. However, Coming to America wins because it’s sweeter, it’s 100% Eddie Murphy’s film, it’s downright hilarious, and frankly, it’s less dated and problematic. It does have swearing, yes, but on the whole Coming to America is family friendly, and what’s more, it’s about the underdog. And who doesn’t want to root for that?
GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)
The film that started its own genre, and the closest to a date night movie on this list. Breakout some eggnog and get the fire going. We’ve all seen it about as many times as Bill Murray lives through it, but it truly never gets old. So, put your little hand in mine… you know the rest.
If you want the feel-good Disney movie about ice hockey, then what you’re looking for is The Mighty Ducks, and you’ll have a great time, especially with the kids out of school for the holiday. But if you want something a little crazier, with a hard R rating from the 1970s; something that reminds you down to the bottom of your balls what makes a sports movie great, then this ice hockey comedy is the one for you. Go get yourself a Coors beer (nothing high-end will do), shut the door, and watch a bunch of dudes beat the hell out of each other.
IN BRUGES (2008)
If you’re in the market for a movie to match your gloomy winter blues but need a good laugh, then this hilarious black comedy that’s become an underground classic is it. Besides the fact that Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson have Harry and Sally level chemistry, director Martin McDonagh’s first film delivers hitmen, grey-er than grey landscapes, a dwarf, and Ralph Fiennes at his best.
Easily the most famous and arguably most beloved Coen Brothers film of them all, the unbelievably clever and funny Fargo has everything you could ask for of a winter film. And as chilling as films like The Thing and The Shining feel, with their endless snowscapes, nothing seems to feel as cold as the winter in Fargo – with its long cold nights, ice on the cars, and dead end jobs.
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF A SPOTLESS MIND (2004)
The love story of the 2000s. It’s rare that a film with so much style manages to have so much heart (so rare in fact, that director Michel Gondry never managed it again). New York, like Paris, often serves as a backdrop to great romance, but never has the wintery New York of Eternal Sunshine looked less inviting. Here, the snow isn’t romantic. It’s wet and dreary. Everything feels damp – which of course is the point, because ultimately this is a film about heartbreak. So if you want a good cry, and a laugh, and perhaps a reevaluation of everything that’s important to you, there’s not many films that can hit all those marks quite like this one.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
Does this film need any commentary at all? If you haven’t seen it by now, you’re not going to watch it. So let’s just say, it’s the only winter film of the original trilogy. It’s the best film of the original trilogy (which makes it the best film in the entire Star Wars canon). It’s the film that deepened and changed the myths and legacy of the films forever. And it’s a damn good fantasy.