With winter comes the woes, and even though Hollywood is no doubt conditioned to the sunlit landscapes of Los Angeles, it’s also just as well-versed in setting the stage for an authentically frozen-over ambience that’d make any snow squall or Nor’Easter proud. From the cool hues to the winter blues, cinematic winters can either exist as foundations for warm and fuzzy feelings or something otherwise deafeningly bleak. Over the years, some films have perfectly captured the poetic, snowcapped spell of the winter season, bringing out the season’s tightrope balance of chill and charm.
So, for a bundled-up stroll through history and cinema, here is a roundup of all things cold, cozy, and atmospherically cadaverous.
Forbidden love, infidelity, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara breaking our hearts — Todd Haynes’ melancholy study of want and loss, homosexuality, and the ’50s is as unforgiving as black ice at night.
Come for the love story, stay for the heartbreak and merciless Catch-22s.
Runners Up: Snow Falling on Cedars
1960s: The Apartment
Jealousy, corporate holiday work parties, mending a broken heart with card games and spaghetti—this Billy Wilder rom-com’s peek into social status, old-fashioned charm, and the ’60s is as toasty as crackling flames in a fireplace.
Come for the chemistry, stay for the authenticity and surprisingly modern stance on romantic insecurity.
Runners Up: The Grand Budapest Hotel
1970s: The Ice Storm
Suburbia, infidelity, a teenage Christina Ricci gliding down a hill on her bicycle and looking truly free—Ang Lee’s cold and all-too-real portrayal of familial instability, soul-searching, and the ’70s is as raw as chapped lips in the dead of January.
Come for the performances, stay for the awkward key party and muddled contrast between kids and adults.
Runners Up: Black Christmas
1980s: The Shining
Isolation, obsession, brushing shoulders with the socialite ghosts of a reputable Colorado hotel—Stanley Kubrick’s horrific dissection of the human psyche, fear, and the ’80s is as chilling as a cold gust in an ice storm.
Come for the scares, stay for the unnerving pace and mentally draining analysis of the shattered American family.
Runners Up: Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, The Dead Zone
Greed, brutality, destroying criminal evidence by stuffing a human body into a wood chipper—this Coen Brothers slice of Midwestern tragedy, selfishness, and the ’90s is as soul-crushing as cabin fever after a never-ending snow storm.
Come for the Minnesotan accents, stay for the dark humor and Frances McDormand.
Runners Up: Grumpy Old Men, Beautiful Girls
2000s: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Broken hearts, minimalist science fiction, Mark Ruffalo and Kirsten Dunst dancing on a bed in their underwear while Jim Carrey has his memories erased underneath them—the spectacular fusion of Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry’s vision of the future, love, and the 2000s is as dizzying as a toboggan ride down a steep hill.
Come for the ingenuity, stay for the clever effects and fragmented narrative.
Runners Up: Frozen River, Lars and the Real Girl
2010s: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Mysteries, Sweden, revenge against a rapist involving shame tattoos and electric shocks to the genitalia—David Fincher’s adaptation/remake’s gut-punching exploration of truth and lies, sadism, and the 2010s is as unrelenting as a winter season with no end in sight.
Come for the scenery, stay for the revenge scenes and Fincher’s strict attention to detail.
Runners Up: Winter’s Bone, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World