Last summer, as the mercury threatened to pop the top off the thermometer, we offered a list of sweaty movies that depicted summertime in its extremes. But it is fair to ask whether images like Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, standing in an un-air-conditioned Alabama courtroom wearing a three-piece suit during the dog days of summer, really help anyone feel cooler.
So let’s try a little reverse psychology.
With vivid memories and some good new-fashioned streaming, we’ve found some most excellent movies set in cold climates to give you the cinematic illusion of cool as steamy summer sets in.
(Note: Some of the movies are not suitable for young children. Please check IMDB.com before streaming.)
Here’s the Icy 20, so get your air conditioning going:
▪ Doctor Zhivago (1965), directed by David Lean. Starring Omar Sharif, Julie Christie and Alec Guinness. From the majestic and chilly shot that opens the sequence in which we meet young Zhivago, this is a movie that loves its cold for three hours, 17 minutes. And does anyone else at the end wonder how Zhivago and Lara stay alive in that unheated ice house? Is Lara’s daughter building fires? Is there a 7/11 nearby?
▪ The Thing (1982), directed by Kentucky native John Carpenter. Starring Kurt Russell and Wilford Brimley. The opening sequence is a long tracking shot of a chase across the frozen surface of Antarctica. Yes, there might be an alien force afoot, but this movie is more a psychological thriller about how an isolated team disintegrates into chaos.
▪ Frozen (2013), directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, with the voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel. If you have children, you’ve seen it at least three or four times already, so this might not be much of a respite for you. But there is a lot of animated winter.
▪ Happy Feet (2006), an animated feature about a penguin who tap-dances, if you want entertainment for young children. March of the Penguins (2005), a documentary about penguin migration, if you want to teach the young’uns a little something. Either way: penguins!
▪ Ice Station Zebra (1968), directed by John Sturges, starring Rock Hudson and Ernest Borgnine, who gnaws the scenery along with Patrick McGoohan in a submarine racing to the North Pole. If anyone was wondering whether Borgnine can scream: Yes. Yes, he can, long and loud.
▪ White Christmas (1954), directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. The movie creaks along charmingly on the thinnest of movie clichés that were then new: first, the couples meet cute, and later a big misunderstanding derails the course of true love until it suddenly doesn’t, just in time for the big finale. Vera-Ellen’s all-turtleneck wardrobe is a wonder, and Rosemary Clooney sells the silliness in a surprisingly sweet performance.
▪ Fargo (1996), directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, starring Frances McDormand, William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi. Pregnant sheriff Marge Gunderson has to traverse a whole lot of winter before that unforgettable finale, which includes the classic line, “I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper.”
▪ The Shining (1980), directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall. Almost everybody except author Stephen King, who wrote the original book, loves The Shining, which shows what mayhem ensues when you isolate a guy already on the edge in a haunted hotel with snow and spirits for company.
▪ Misery (1990), directed by Rob Reiner, starring Kathy Bates and James Caan. Again, the story was adapted from a novel by Stephen King, who, being from Maine, knows a thing or seven about winter. Former nurse Annie Wilkes “rescues” writer Paul Sheldon from his snowy car accident. Bad things — many, many bad things — ensue for Paul.
▪ Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), directed by Irvin Kershner, starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. Who can forget the icy planet of Hoth, or how Han Solo saved Luke Skywalker from freezing to death by tossing him into the smelly innards of dead tauntaun (“and I thought they smelled bad on the outside”)? IMDB reports that the only way to get to the set in blizzarded-in Norway was on a snowplow train with a giant auger in the front.
▪ The Day After Tomorrow (2004), directed by Roland Emmerich, starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal. The New York ice surge that seals our hardy crew into the library is a pulse-pounding sequence, followed by painful-to-watch shots in which library books are burned for warmth.
▪ The Sweet Hereafter (1997), directed by Atom Egoyan, starring Sarah Polley and Ian Holm. The movie centers on the aftermath of a bus crash into an icy river that kills most of a small town’s children. It is unforgettable but also emotionally taxing and not for family viewing.
▪ Pontypool (2008), directed by Bruce McDonald, starring Stephen McHattie and Lisa Houle. Taking place on a snowy day in Ontario, this thriller is largely set in a radio station where normally they’d be broadcasting school closings, except for this little problem they’ve got with the spoken word creating a town of zombies. It’s an underrated classic produced on a shoestring budget.
▪ Ice Castles (1978), directed by Donald Wrye, starring Lynn-Holly Johnson and Robby Benson. A movie fondly remembered by “women of a certain age” about a blind figure skater and her inspirational boyfriend. (By the way, ladies, former heartthrob Robby Benson and his gorgeous head of hair are now 60.)
▪ Everest (2015), directed by Baltasar Kormakur, starring Jack Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin. Ambitious people go up Everest; some don’t make it back down. Even the preview will raise your blood pressure because of all the swooping action and danger, but there’s plenty of ice — and some graphic depiction of frostbite — in the movie.
▪ Alive (1993), directed by Frank Marshall, starring Ethan Hawke and Vincent Spano. Remember the 1972 plane crash in the Andes where members of the Uruguayan rugby team were “forced to use desperate measures” to survive? “Desperate measures” is cannibalism, not just keeping warm in the fuselage of the plane while awaiting rescue.
▪ National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik, starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and Juliette Lewis. Clark Griswold tries to have a picture-perfect Christmas, which involves too many holiday lights and even more pratfalls.
▪ Mystery, Alaska (1999), directed by Jay Roach, starring Russell Crowe and Burt Reynolds (an unlikely duo, yes?). The residents of a small town get pumped when their hockey team is chosen for a televised event. The movie includes a line, unrepeatable for a family newspaper, about the two most fun things to do in cold weather: One of them is hockey.
▪ Gorky Park (1983), directed by Michael Apted, starring Willliam Hurt and Lee Marvin (again, who could make up this casting?). A murder mystery in Soviet-era Moscow in which a triple homicide leads to a broader political conspiracy, the movie features a heroine who ponders whether to sleep with a man for a pair of new boots. Being Siberian and used to the cold, she declines.
Reporters Morgan Eads, Janet Patton and Harriett Hendren contributed to this story.