When the silver screen turns cold: winter movies from Frozen to The Revenant

Walter Matthau, right, lays into Jack Lemmon with a fish, in a scene from the film 'Grumpy Old Men', 1993. Picture: Getty Images
Walter Matthau, right, lays into Jack Lemmon with a fish, in a scene from the film 'Grumpy Old Men', 1993. Picture: Getty Images

Movies set in winter are often associated with Christmas, because so many come from the northern hemisphere. But Christmas isn't during winter here, so this will be no halls decked with boughs of holly in this discussion of winter movies that range from horror and drama as cold as the weather conditions to lighter, brighter fare.

The Ang Lee film The Ice Storm (1997) is based on Rick Moody's novel and set in an affluent Connecticut milieu in the early 1970s, where favoured pastimes include infidelity, drinking, key parties and drug abuse. And the ice storm of the title isn't some obscure metaphor: there really is one, and its consequences are devastating.

Nature can look starkly beautiful in winter, but the cold and bleakness can also heighten its dangers. Leonardo DiCaprio suffered his way to a best actor Oscar in The Revenant (2015) as a 19th-century trapper in the Dakotas who is mauled by a bear and left for dead by his companions and struggles to survive.

A scene from the wintry world of Frozen. Picture: Disney

A scene from the wintry world of Frozen. Picture: Disney

The characters in Quentin Tarantino's western The Hateful Eight (2015) are trapped together during a blizzard and, this being a Tarantino movie, there's plenty of talk. And violence.

In Alive (1993), based on a true story, another plane crash, this time in the Andes, leaves the surviving passengers with a painful choice. Next time you see your friends, ask yourself if you could eat their corpses to sustain yourself. It's not a pretty thought, but it could happen.

Being snowbound can drive people crazy, especially when the supernatural is added to the mix. The 1980 Stanley Kubrick film The Shining, adapted from Stephen King's novel, sees aspiring writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) take his family up to the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies to act as its winter caretaker. Things don't go well.

The title character in The Thing (1982) invades an Arctic base and can shift its shape, making it hard for those present to know who to trust until it's too late. The ending - with two survivors, apparently doomed, sitting together in the snow - is ambiguous. Is one of them the Thing?

The eerie vampire story Let the Right One In (2008) unfolds during a Stockholm winter with the sun viewed as a deadly threat, not a welcome burst of warmth. And on the subject of bloodsuckers, the finale of the 1967 film Dance of the Vampires (aka The Fearless Vampire Killers) takes place during a dash through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh, but there's nothing merry or Christmassy about this conclusion.

Occasionally, working in winter conditions causes real danger. While working on the comedy Grumpy Old Men (1993) one freezing Minnesota day, septuagenarian actor Walter Matthau came down with pneumonia. The consequences could have been very unfunny but he lived for seven more years.

Groundhog Day (1993) is set one February 2 in the Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney, where a groundhog is supposed to predict whether spring will arrive early or not. A misanthropic weatherman (Bill Murray), stranded there because of a blizzard, is forced to relive the day over and over and over until he Learns a Valuable Lesson.

Animated winter movies include the Happy Feet, Frozen and Ice Age series, all of which do a good job of making interesting visuals out of what could be monotonous backgrounds - who knew there were so many ways to work with snow and ice?

That's just a sampling of the ways in which winter settings have been used on screen.

This story When the silver screen turns cold first appeared on The Canberra Times.