20 of the best movies set in winter weather

Written by:
November 19, 2021
New Regency Productions

20 of the best movies set in winter weather

Conjuring images of snowy landscapes, barren trees, and frigid temperatures, winter weather imparts an instant and identifiable tone. It’s no wonder that a number of key films use this particular season as a constant backdrop. Rarely does the mere use of weather render such an immediate impact as it does when characters are exhaling steam as snow falls in an ever-present blanket around them. Indeed, audiences can practically feel the shivering cold through the screen.

Putting tone aside, winter often plays an even more direct role in the narrative. Films such as “Christmas Vacation” wouldn’t make much sense if they didn’t take place during the holiday season, after all. That’s not to mention the obstructive nature of snow and freezing temperatures in films such as “Cold Mountain,” “Fargo,” and “Force Majeure.” In John Carpenter’s horror classic “The Thing,” which takes place in the heart of Antarctica, the desolate winter weather mirrors the isolation characters face as the film progresses.

Meanwhile, audiences get to wrap themselves in warm blankets and sit next to the fire as they partake in the viewing experience. That makes winter-weather movies all the more appealing, as if they reinforce one’s own sense of comfort. It also helps that a number of these films are just downright great in their own right. Here are 20 of the best.

Stacker compiled a list of 20 great movies set in winter weather. To qualify, the film had to be primarily set in winter and have at least 20,000 votes and a 7.0 user rating on IMDb.

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1 / 20
August Films

Black Christmas (1974)

- Director: Bob Clark
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 65
- Runtime: 98 minutes

A benchmark of the proto-slasher sub-genre, Bob Clark’s cult classic takes place on a college campus during Christmas break. Against a wintry backdrop, a deranged serial killer stalks a group of sorority sisters. The film was shot on location in Toronto, where temperatures can drop as low as –20°C.

2 / 20
Miramax

Cold Mountain (2003)

- Director: Anthony Minghella
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 73
- Runtime: 154 minutes

Adapted from the best-selling novel, this Civil War epic follows a wounded soldier (Jude Law) on a journey through perilous mountain terrain. Hostile winter weather is one among the many obstacles standing between the soldier and his wife (Nicole Kidman). Renée Zellweger won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the role of rugged individualist Ruby Thewes.

3 / 20
MGM

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

- Director: David Lean
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Metascore: 69
- Runtime: 197 minutes

David Lean’s sweeping saga spans several decades and chronicles the romance between a Russian physician (Omar Sharif) and a married woman (Julie Christie). Adapted from a controversial novel, it clocks in at over three hours and touches on a number of historical events. Snow and frost provide the predominant backdrop, with a key scene taking place inside a famous ice palace. It won five Academy Awards.

4 / 20
Focus Features

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

- Director: Michel Gondry
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 108 minutes

Putting a surrealist spin on modern romance, this beloved dramedy stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as a former couple trying to move past their break-up. In one of the most iconic scenes, they lie upon the cracked ice of a frozen lake while looking up at the stars. The ice itself could be viewed as a metaphor for their respective memories.

5 / 20
Polygram Filmed Entertainment

Fargo (1996)

- Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 98 minutes

An expanse of snow sets the tone for this Coen Brothers classic, set in the midst of a harsh Midwestern winter. What starts as a harebrained kidnapping scheme gives way to a double homicide and other heinous crimes. Pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) contends with cold weather and quirky personalities as she searches for answers. It won two Academy Awards.

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6 / 20
Plattform Produktion

Force Majeure (2014)

- Director: Ruben Östlund
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 120 minutes

A literal avalanche causes figurative disaster in this acclaimed Swedish black comedy from Ruben Östlund. The events unfold during a family ski trip, as the layers peel back on a seemingly happy marriage. It was later remade for American audiences as the critical and commercial dud “Downhill,” starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell.

7 / 20
Walt Disney Animation Studios

Frozen (2013)

- Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Metascore: 75
- Runtime: 102 minutes

Gifted with magical powers, a new queen accidentally turns her kingdom into a permanent winter wonderland. Hoping to lift the spell, the queen’s sister embarks on an epic adventure. Disney’s computer-animated musical was a blockbuster smash, earning over $1.2 billion at the global box office and spawning a hit sequel.

8 / 20
Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

- Director: Wes Anderson
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 99 minutes

Auteur Wes Anderson took loose inspiration from the writings of Stefan Zweig when crafting this clever comedy. Set in the 1930s, it welcomes viewers to a lavish hotel perched deep within the snow-capped mountains of Europe. The movie’s unique visual palette was brought to life through a combination of traditional film and advanced digital technologies.

9 / 20
Columbia Pictures

Groundhog Day (1993)

- Director: Harold Ramis
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Metascore: 72
- Runtime: 101 minutes

Bill Murray plays to his strengths as sarcastic but likable weatherman Phil Connors in this blockbuster comedy. On assignment in small-town Pennsylvania, Connors is forced to live the same day over and over again. Winter weather functions as both an uncontrollable obstacle and a motif as the story unfolds.

10 / 20
Alcon Entertainment

Insomnia (2002)

- Director: Christopher Nolan
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 78
- Runtime: 118 minutes

Director Christopher Nolan followed his breakout hit “Memento” with this remake of a 1997 Norwegian thriller. When a teenage girl is murdered in Northern Alaska, two Los Angeles detectives (Al Pacino and Martin Donovan) are called in to help with the investigation. A traumatic event and 24-hour sunlight spurs a bad case of insomnia for one of the detectives, who slowly loses his grip on reality.

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11 / 20
Haworth Productions

The Lion in Winter (1968)

- Director: Anthony Harvey
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 134 minutes

This historical drama takes place during Christmas in the year 1183 A.D. and plays loosely on Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Peter O'Toole stars as King Henry II, who must decide which of his three sons shall inherit the throne. It won three Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Katharine Hepburn in a rare tie.

12 / 20
Castle Rock Entertainment

Misery (1990)

- Director: Rob Reiner
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: 75
- Runtime: 107 minutes

Driving home from Colorado, author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) veers off an icy road and crashes his car. He’s saved from death by his number one fan (Kathy Bates), who gradually becomes his captor. Stephen King wrote the best-selling novel upon which this film is based, once describing it as an allegory for addiction.

13 / 20
Warner Bros.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

- Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Metascore: 49
- Runtime: 97 minutes

The third installment of the “Vacation” franchise proves that the ​​Griswold family are no less dysfunctional at home than they are on the road. From obnoxious relatives to an impromptu kidnapping, the holiday disasters just keep on coming. Comedy legend John Hughes wrote the screenplay and penned “Home Alone” the following year.

14 / 20
New Regency Productions

The Revenant (2015)

- Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Metascore: 76
- Runtime: 156 minutes

Leonardo DiCaprio went full survivalist when making this historical drama, sleeping in animal carasses and risking hypothermia. It tells the (supposedly) true story of 19th century frontiersman Hugh Glass, who’s left for dead after being mauled by a bear. His path of revenge plays out against a brutal terrain of dangerous weather and people alike. The film won three Academy Awards, including Best Actor for DiCaprio.

15 / 20
Warner Bros.

The Shining (1980)

- Director: Stanley Kubrick
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Metascore: 66
- Runtime: 146 minutes

Winter is an alienating force and a deadly one, too, in this horror classic, which explores the line between psychological and supernatural terror. While caretaking the secluded Overlook Hotel, a struggling writer (Jack Nicholson) goes insane. It’s based on a novel by Stephen King, who famously took issue with director Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of the material.

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16 / 20
SnowPiercer

Snowpiercer (2013)

- Director: Bong Joon Ho
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Metascore: 84
- Runtime: 126 minutes

A failed experiment has kicked off the modern ice age in Bong Joon Ho’s futuristic thriller, based on a graphic novel. Aboard a perpetually moving train called the Snowpiercer, humanity’s survivors engage in class warfare. Writing for CinemaBlend, critic Kristy Puchko called it a “deeply beautiful movie, punctuated by edge-of-your-seat thrills and unexpected laughs.”

17 / 20
Universal Pictures

The Thing (1982)

- Director: John Carpenter
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: 57
- Runtime: 109 minutes

A critical and commercial disappointment upon its release, John Carpenter’s “The Thing” has since been reappraised as a sci-fi horror classic. The story takes place at a research station in the heart of Antarctica, where omnipresent snow and freezing temperatures are a way of life. With the introduction of a shape-shifting alien comes a deadly game of trust between its human prey. It was adapted from both a famous short story and a previous film.

18 / 20
SF

Winter Light (1963)

- Director: Ingmar Bergman
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 81 minutes

Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman often employs a cold and stark tonality, making winter weather a fitting backdrop for his work. This acclaimed drama makes up part of an informal trilogy about faith and takes place on a frigid Sunday. Already questioning his relationship with God, a small-town priest is thrown into further conflict by the love of a woman.

19 / 20
NBC Film

Winter Sleep (2014)

- Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 196 minutes

Drawing from stories by Chekhov and Dostoyevsky, this Turkish drama centers on a wealthy hotel owner in a snowy village. Literal storms are matched by metaphorical ones as the story unravels, exploring themes of family struggle and class division. It won both the Palme d'Or and the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

20 / 20
Anonymous Content

Winter's Bone (2010)

- Director: Debra Granik
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 100 minutes

Jennifer Lawrence delivers a breakout performance in this tense drama, playing destitute Ozark Mountain teen Ree Dolly. To save her family from homelessness, Ree must break with outlaw codes and locate her criminal father. Her subsequent journey plunges straight into the heart of darkness, where potential danger lurks behind every tattered door. The film’s use of cold weather drives home its dreary and despairing vibe.

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