Ice cold take: I do not like hot weather.
I do not like pretending I feel cute in a sundress when I’m sweating my tits off. To be quite honest, I do not like the feeling of any part of my body touching any other part of my body during summer. I do not like the hot gust of garbage sludge-scented air that wafts over me when the subway (finally) arrives at the stagnant underground platform. My ideal beach weather is 50 degrees and overcast and my preferred beach attire is a bulky sweater.
I can, and do, occasionally enjoy the delights of the seaside and its breeze and spray. These moments are usually a true attempt to escape baking in a concrete and asphalt oven and are typically fueled by friendship and a near-lethal dose of The Beach Boys and Jonathan Richman tunes.
If you’re like me, you tire quickly of the unceasing exclamations that people around you “can’t wait for summer!!!!!!!!!” (which typically begin mid-April) and start to recede into your ice cave of bitterness by early June. I think that many of us learned to love summer as kiddos, when it meant freedom from school. Even if you liked school, those last few weeks in an oppressively hot classroom were agonizing.
I always found snow days much more special. The sheer euphoria of an unexpected day of bundled frolicking and cozy cocoa-sipping, or sleeping in as a teen, cannot be understated. The hope presented by snow days made the winters of my childhood that much more magical and I am mourning the looming loss of snow days for kids across the US following the widespread adoption of virtual learning. I find this is misguided AF.
By the way: assuming that caregivers can stay home to support remote learners, that teachers can turn an IRL lesson into a virtual one with limited notice, that there won’t be weather-related service interruptions, and that issues of internet and device access won’t continue to exacerbate an already inequitable school system…but I digress.
When you need to escape from the apparent joys of summer and reconnect with a bit of winter wonder, turn to these cold-weather movies to help beat the heat.
The Thing (1982, Dir: John Carpenter)
A thing from space terrorizes researchers at a facility in Antarctica. There’s nothing I love more in a sci-fi thriller than questionable science and killer practical effects, and this movie delivers on both fronts. In one pivotal scene, a super-advanced computer forecasts world domination by computing in full sentences. Come for the polar setting, stay for the gruesome and timeless special effects that employ techniques ranging from puppetry to remote control to stop motion animation.
Fargo (1996, Dir: The Coen Brothers)
A pregnant cop tries to untangle a series of murders when an arranged kidnapping goes haywire during a Minnesota winter. Watching characters don and remove huge winter coats, fur-lined hats, and waterproof boots every other scene might even make you feel grateful it’s not that cold where you are.
The Shining (1980, Dir: Stanley Kubrick)
Hoping to break out of a writer’s block, Jack Torrence brings the family along on his gig as an off-season hotel caretaker and it doesn’t go great. Quintessential cold weather thriller to chill you to the bone. Based on a Stephen King book, the film is a masterpiece with incredible performances, captured under what some might call abusive circumstances. Jack Nicholson is the untouchable master of portraying homicidal winter madness. Unless…
Misery (1990, Dir: Rob Reiner)
…Kathy Bates is better. My god, is she good. After his car spins off the road in a Colorado blizzard, a novelist (write what you know, Mr. King) finds himself in the care of a fan who may love him a little too much. Kathy stars alongside James Cann (who appears in another real cute winter movie which is not appearing on this list because I’m not about Christmas in July), whose character spends much of the movie beside a frosty bay window overlooking a snowy scene with great suspense.
Snowpiercer (2013, Dir: Bong Joon-Ho)
Ah yes, the timeless parable of class warfare aboard a post-apocalyptic choo-choo careening through a human-induced ice age. The production design is off the rails and will give you sensory overload, in a good way. The film was shot almost entirely in sets mounted on a gimbal to realistically mimic the movements of the train and jostle the performers around. If you weren’t already sold, you also get Tilda Swinton as a villain delirious with power and privilege.
It turns out some of the finest movies showcasing coldness are fittingly chilling. I don’t particularly enjoy the rush of being scared and so there is a strict set of circumstances under which I will watch the thriller and horror genres:
1. I am told it is so good it is worth it.
2. I am told it is so bad it is worth it.
3. I’m in a group setting and would be an insufferable wet blanket if I declined (which is how I heard—but did not see —The Exorcist at a sleepover party in middle school, an experience from which I have never fully recovered).
So far, this list is comprised of deliciously dark movies from the first category and would lead us to believe that cold weather unequivocally leads to hysteria and destruction, but this is not so! As stated above, I love winter. So, in service of this love, I’ve done my best to include at least a little levity in the remainder of this list.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Dir: Irvin Kershner)
As the cheesy trailer linked above puts it, this second installment in the original Star Wars trilogy is “a galactic odyssey against oppression.” I’ll admit that the swampy Dagobah scenes feel too close to humid-home, but the opening sequence on the ice planet Hoth is a welcome respite. Before you get on my case about only 20-minutes of this movie taking place on Hoth, allow me to remind you that the of vacuum space is very, very cold. Bonus frigid content: Han gets frozen in carbonite.
Cool Runnings (1993, Dir: John Turteltaub)
This based-on-a-true-story Disney classic is about the formation (and inaugural Olympic competition) of the Jamaican national bobsled team. Waiting for Doug E. Doug’s chin and lips to enter the frame during the pull-up montage is still a guaranteed lol for me every time. The movie also features one of the better slow claps of family cinema. A great alternative to watching the actual Olympics if you’re feeling morally murky about the IOC’s anti-doping policies and impact on local communities.
Titanic (1997, Dir: James Cameron)
Star-crossed lovers scramble to survive as the unsinkable Titanic sinks. Late 90s Kate and Leo are super hot, but the iceberg cools everything way down. I encourage you to skip the first hour and jump straight to the attempting-to-survive-subzero-ocean-water portion of the movie (tape 2 on VHS). If you insist on watching the full feature, I strongly advise you to fast forward through the under-deck dancing and car love-making scenes, which are too sweaty and steamy, respectively, to tolerate during summer.
Frozen (2013, Dir: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee)
I know this is maybe too obvious, but like, whatever. A princess, with an ice-man and reindeer in tow, journeys through an arctic landscape to make amends with her sister whose icy magical powers have caused everlasting winter. I enjoy Josh Gad’s performance as an animated snowman and the musical stylings of Idina Mezel, so sue me. It’s a cute movie that is centered completely around the concept of ice and “the cold never bothered me anyway” is too relatable to ignore.
There are a few more films I thought about including here, but didn’t make the cut. First, The Devil Wears Prada (2006, Dir: David Frankel) deserves an honorable mention purely based on Meryl’s impeccable performance as an absolute ice queen.
Second, I considered watching Ice Age (2002, Dir: Chris Wedge) for possible inclusion on this list, but my husband described it as an okay movie with “Tim Allen and that squirrel.” Tim Allen does not voice any characters in the film, so I concluded that it may not be that memorable, and decided not to watch it.
Of course, thinking about being cold is no replacement for actual cooling methods, which require adequate infrastructure, especially for those of us living in cities. During the last year in NYC, the government distributed AC units to populations more vulnerable to extreme heat, such as elderly NYCHA residents (good), the state provided credits for cooling costs like energy usage and installing an AC unit (also good) which will ultimately result in more energy use (bad). They also sent emergency alerts to residents and businesses to cut extraneous energy use and turn down AC to protect the power grid (uh…) while developers and building owners are held to murky-at-best energy standards (wtf?) and federal and international law hasn’t caught up to climate science (ugh!!) so we are left with an overblown burden on individuals (Not cool, pun intended).
All to say it’s really fucking confusing. So, while these movies might mentally cool you down, remain informed about climate justice as best you can and stay fired up. In fitting with this list, I Am Greta (2020, Dir: Nathan Grossman), an unnerving and informative documentary following a teenage climate change activist, will not leave you feeling warm and toasty inside.