When the weather outside is frightful, movies about snow can make it seem a little better. After all, movie snow is almost always prettier than real snow looks after a few days. Here are six of our favorite movies that capture true celluloid winter wonderlands.
Bob Aquavia on Better off Dead
You can’t mention ’80s teen romantic comedies without including Better off Dead. Young John Cusack, wacky suburban shenanigans, dark subject matter turned lighthearted slapstick comedy… ah, the ’80s. The premise has Cusack’s lovesick Lane Meyer dumped by his girlfriend for the preppy captain of the ski team. Lane’s life couldn’t be worse at this moment: not only is he still hopelessly pining for Becky, but his prized Camaro doesn’t work, he keeps getting harassed by two Japanese drag racers, and the paper boy is stalking him because he wants his two dollars.
Better off Dead falls on our list because of the big elephant, er…mountain, in the room: the dreaded K-12 race. The most dangerous ski race around (and covered in 100% pure snow!), winning it is the only way Lane thinks he can fix all his problems. In the climatic showdown, Lane wins in a close and intense race. He’s shown up the bullies and attracted the attention of his ex, but he realizes that he resolved his troubles long before with the help of his friends and his new love interest. She was in front of him the whole time, how crazy is that?!
Danielle Ryan on The Thing
A blizzard is a tried-and-true method of isolation in winter horror flicks. Instead of seeing the snowy world around them as a winter wonderland, the Antarctic post team in John Carpenter’s The Thing see it as a wasteland. The only safety in the Antarctic comes from technology, whether it’s their trusty helicopter, snowmobiles, or even just good old-fashioned space heaters. Unfortunately, all of these things are destroyed pretty quickly, and even the team’s sled dogs are taken out before long.
By the time The Thing gets to its giant, fiery climax, the only surviving characters don’t even seem to feel the cold. The pristine snowscapes of the opening are gone, replaced with blood-and-soot-soaked slush. The surviving heroes know that the flaming shell of the complex will only keep them warm until the bitter cold drowns the fire out. There is no escape, no chance at surviving at all past dawn. In The Thing, the Antarctic’s isolation is a blessing and a curse, as it stops the alien from escaping but also prevents non-infected humans from doing the same.
Brandon Marcus on The Shining
We have all felt a little bit of cabin fever. The idea that if we are kept locked away inside a small space for too long we will go crazy. Maybe we’ll tear our hair out. Maybe we’ll start laughing at the dumbest things. Or maybe, like Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, we will go mad and attempt to murder our families with an axe. It’s a relatable feeling.
The secluded, snowy setting of The Shining makes everything more haunting. Everything is so secluded and cold. Like Torrance’s insanity and the plot’s tension, the snow level slowly rises and things only get worse. It’s a ticking bomb and everything is going to explode. It’s not a rolling thunder or a pouring rain but the light, gentle peaceful fall of snow that makes everything feels so suffocatingly intense.
No other horror film uses snow as well as The Shining. Of course no other horror film uses a lot of things as well as The Shining, it’s one of the greatest scary movies ever made. There is so much iconic imagery in the film, from Jack pushing his head through a shattered door to the blood pouring out of an elevator. But when I think about The Shining, I think about little Danny running through the soft, powdery snow. It’s gorgeous and hypnotic but can also spell certain doom.
Danielle Ryan on Lady Snowblood
Lady Snowblood is a Japanese samurai exploitation film from 1973, based on the manga of the same name. It is the film that inspired Quentin Tarantino to write Kill Bill. The snow battle between Uma Thurman’s Bride and Lucy Liu’s O-ren Ishii is a direct homage to Snowblood.
Lady Snowblood is aptly named, as the film features loads of snow and blood. The blood in the film is traditional Japanese-movie ridiculous red, and it stands out brilliantly against the white snow. The titular Snowblood, whose first name is Yuki (which means, you guessed it, snow) is a young woman who was born in a prison. Her mother seduced a guard and got pregnant by him in order to exact her revenge on criminals who raped her and killed her husband and son. Shortly after Yuki is born, her mother dies, leaving instructions with the other prisoners to raise Yuki to enact her revenge.
Yuki then goes on her roaring rampage of revenge, and it’s gorgeous (and bloody) stuff. The japanese streets covered in snow lend a unique atmosphere to the film, and there’s still nothing quite like seeing a splash of red on white to remind one of Nippon.
Colette Smith on Jack Frost
Yea, ok, the premise for Jack Frost sounds a bit dumb on the surface – dead dad returns as snowman to help his kid out – but this movie has a lot of heart. Michael Keaton plays a father and rock singer who rushes home from a gig to his family only to die in a car crash on the way. A year later, after building a snowman, Keaton’s kid plays a magical harmonica that brings it to life with the soul of his dead father. The boy gets quality time with his dad, playing hockey and chatting about father-son stuff. But, as is the case with every snowman, Jack Frost’s time is limited, and all the moving to colder locations isn’t going to keep him around forever.
Jack Frost features a great supporting cast including Henry Rollins playing the kid’s hockey coach and a weird Zappa family reunion with three of Frank’s kids appearing in cameo roles.
Sure, it’s a bit sappy and is technically a Christmas film, but beneath all that is a story about dealing with grief and loss and how, just like a snowman, our time on this planet is fleeting.
It’s ok if you want to cry, though.
Danielle Ryan on The Hateful Eight
Shot on antique 70mm lenses in Telluride, Colorado, The Hateful Eight has some of the most gorgeous snow scenes ever depicted in cinema. Snow plays a major part of the film’s plot as well as its visuals, with eight strangers trapped in a tiny cabin while they wait out the storm outside. Much like The Thing, cold weather is the thing that traps everyone together, and these are some people you don’t want to be trapped in a snowstorm with.
While shooting in subzero temperatures is less than ideal, the onscreen result is worth the effort. The snow of The Hateful Eight is fresh powder, piled high, with gusts of wind blowing it around. Tarantino uses the snow for thematic effect in almost every way, including dressing all of his characters in black to better contrast the snow. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and a welcome thing to see compared to the drab browns and grays of the cabin’s interior.
Initially, shooting of the film had to be delayed because of a lack of snow. It didn’t take long for several feet of the white stuff to fall, however. Keeping the outdoor sets looking pristine was difficult, and caused the movie to go nearly $10 million over budget. Despite the inherent challenges of filming a 19th-century winter using vintage cameras and real stagecoaches, The Hateful Eight turned out to be a beautiful and intense addition to Tarantino’s career.