As the days get shorter, we often find ourselves more homebound than during the spring and summer months. This provides the opportunity to curl up and enjoy some movies that make you really appreciate not having to scavenge for food and build fires for warmth. There is a certain comfort in begin exempt from the struggles witnessed in TV and movies, whether you like eating a pint of ice cream while watching The Biggest Loser or watching Liam Neeson fight off wolves in the Alaskan wilderness while you are in front of a roaring fireplace, television is recognized as a luxury once again in those moments. Some winter films are technically better than others, but there is a short list of films involving the wretched winter months that truly make the viewers of each film feel a bit warmer than the poor saps they are watching on the screen.
Much of Stephen King’s stories include the adventures and struggles of winter. Films like The Shining, Dreamcatcher, and Crimson Peak take the audience to often snowed-in locations to set the stage as a place without escape and a fight for survival. One of the best adaptations of his works is the movie Misery. Starring Academy Award winner Kathy Bates and Academy Award nominee James Caan, the story is set after Paul Sheldon (Caan) finishes typing up his novel in his Rocky Mountain cabin. Upon lighting a lone cigarette and popping a bottle of champagne, Sheldon wraps up his manuscript and prepares to head back to the city to turn in his work to his publisher. Driving down the Colorado mountain pass in his 1964 Mustang proves dangerous as he crashes and it later rescued by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Quickly realizing his rescuer is an obsessive fan of his literary work, the bed-ridden Sheldon must stay in her home until the storm passes and the phone lines come back on. A deeply psychological thriller with superb acting from the Academy Award winning duo has proven to be one of King’s best film adaptations. The story itself, mostly occurring in the confines of Wilkes’ cabin home, relies on the slightest actions and reactions of the power struggle that is the relationship between two strangers seemingly destined to cross paths.
The Grey (2011)
This film scratches the itch of every person out there who has a fantasy of surviving an awful situation in nature. The Grey opens with a small group of six oil workers and their wolf-sniping protector, played by Liam Neeson, board a puddle-jumper plane to head out of the Alaskan wilderness where they had spent the past few months. The viewer is made aware that something awful is going to happen at the onset of the film. The masks drop from the cabin ceiling, and one look out the plane window shows an engine blow, and then the men brace for impact. After crashing, those that survived quickly realize they need to put themselves in a better position to survive the coming night. Collecting jet fuel and scrounging through the strewn about suitcases, the men gather what they can and create a make-shift basecamp. None of this information is a spoiler, because the action truly begins outside of the plane when the danger of surviving nature shows its face. As with any gruff male-dominated story, each man thinking they know the outcomes of their fate, the characters quarrel over what is the best mode of survival in their dyer situation. Just when guard duties are dealt out, the wolves make their way towards the basecamp. Lurking in the shadows and howling in the distance, the grey-haired villains recognize that there are trespassers in their midst.
To Build a Fire (1969)
Based on the short story by Jack London written in 1902, the story follows The Chechaquo (an unnamed man in the short story that goes by this name which means newcomer to the Yukon) played by Ian Hogg, as he traverses the Yukon Trail with his Husky. Hiking desperately to get to the next stop of the trail, the man and his dog are forced to stop and camp along the way in order to survive the storm. To Build a Fire is special because it reflects a certain moment in time in Hollywood— when Orson Welles, who narrates the film, was the biggest name in the game and a project like this was not often undertaken as it did not include the key elements of film in that day. Those keys elements being pretty women, singing and dancing, and a love story. Throughout the films in this list, there is the main theme of man versus nature. With severe weather, Chechaquo quickly learns the missteps he may have made in his adventure with mother nature. It is a story about loyalty and grief and forgetting the most basic lessons of surviving the winter— building a fire, but in the right place.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Set in the not-too-distant future, this eerily possible film revolves around a young man, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his father Jack (Denis Quade), who is a climate scientist trying to save the world from a climate disaster. As we all well know, this is neat impossible to achieve given the economic and political strife around the topic, this film touches on this, but lends larger focus on the characters survival instincts than the actual global political mechanisms at work. The Day After Tomorrow begins with some foreshadowing, showing a team working on getting core samples of permafrost in the Arctic circle when a crack in the earth tries to swallow the team whole. Not long after this, storm systems all over the globe erupt, forcing the whole earth to panic and biblical-sized floods and storms envelope major cities like New York City. This movie especially bares relevance to the current circumstances of our climate and fears therein today. Though we hope to never have to burn the rare book catalog at the New York Public Library, it certainly makes for a great scene in this often-forgotten winter classic.
Though there are several more films that follow along the guidelines of what makes a great winter survival flick, this list has been a great collection of films young and old to fall back on when you’re snowed in and forced to pretend like driving to the grocery store is a life-threatening adventure. These movies have the ability to whirl our imaginations into the child-like fancy that snow and winter has brought us over the years.