Although snow is synonymous with the holiday period, we shall slalom past festive films and focus on pictures with an icy setting. One of the earliest snow scenes was Snowballs (1901), which was produced by the Lancastrian duo of Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon, whose contribution to early British cinema is commemorated in BFI collections like The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon (2004) and Electric Edwardians: The Films of Mitchell and Kenyon (2005).
As one might expect, French pioneer Georges Méliès was among the first to dabble in snow business with The Conquest of the Pole (1912), which reflected the fascination with polar exploration following the race between Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott, which was recreated in Charles Frend's Scott of the Antarctic (1948). Even more impressive was Frank Hurley's epic documentary, South (1919), which chronicled Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1913-14 expedition that was later dramatised in Martin Friend's Shackleton (1983) and Charles Sturridge's Shackleton (2002), with David Schofield and Kenneth Branagh respectively in the title roles.
Another landmark actuality from this period was J.B.L. Noel's The Epic of Everest (1924), which followed the ill-fated 1922 bid by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine to scale the world's highest peak. The lure of the Himalayas has since been explored in Graeme Campbell's Everest (2007) and Baltasar Kormákur's Everest (2015), but mountain films have been popular since Dr Arnold Fanck devised the 'Bergfilm' genre in Weimar Germany with features like Holy Mountain (1926), which starred future film-maker Leni Riefenstahl. Among the other mountaineering films on offer from Cinema Paradiso are Kevin Macdonald's Touching the Void (2003), Asif Kapadia's Far North (2007), Philipp Stölzl's North Face (2008), Nick Ryan's The Summit (2012), Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi's Meru (2015), and Jennifer Peedom's Mountain (2017).
Snow featured prominently in one of the seminal documentaries of the silent era, Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North (1922), which has been followed by the likes of Luc Jacquet's Oscar-winning, Morgan Freeman-narrated March of the Penguins (2005) and the Werner Herzog duo of Encounters At the End of the World (2007) and Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (2010), which he co-directed with Dmitri Vasyukov. A clutch of films have been made about the effects of climate change on the ice caps, including Jeff Orlowski's Chasing Ice (2012). But there are few more remarkable wasteland tales than the one told by Bill Morrison's Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016), which reveals how a cache of 500 nitrate films from the early 1900s was found in the permafrost beneath a Klondike gold settlement.
The Good Old Days
Charlie Chaplin discovers the need to speculate in order to accumulate in The Gold Rush (1925), which had to resort to a mixture of flour and salt to create its snow effects in a Hollywood studio. Such was the ingenuity of the SFX specialists during this period that everything from snowflakes to blizzards was fashioned using such items as gypsum flakes, sugar, painted cornflakes, asbestos shavings and the foamite used in fire extinguishers. In order to turn a sweltering Spanish location into a snowy Tsarist Russia for David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965), props master Eddie Fowley shovelled on marble dust, while salt was used to surround the Fortress of Solitude in Richard Donner's Superman (1978). More recently, a recycled paper mixture known as SnowCel was employed on Roland Emmerich's eco-disaster movie, The Day After Tomorrow (2004).
More uniquely, the snow that makes Thorold Dickinson's adaptation of Alexander Pushkin's The Queen of Spades (1949) so atmospheric was produced from the shredded perspex of crashed Luftwaffe planes. But, while a carpet covered the streets throughout this thrilling psychological drama, snow in the Golden Age of Film-making was often restricted to key scenes, such as Jean Gabin and Marcel Dalio's cross-country escape in Jean Renoir's La Grande illusion (1937), the spectacular 'battle on the ice' in Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (1938), the childhood sequences in Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941) and Margaret O'Brien's snowman assault in Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St Louis (1944).
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello twice got their tootsies cold in Charles Lamont's Hit the Ice (1943) and Jean Yarbrough's Lost in Alaska (1952), while Bob Hope and Bing Crosby had to wrap up to brave the Alaskan snow in Hal Walker's Road to Utopia (1946). The Alps take centre stage in Henry Cass's The White Tower (1950) and Ted Tetzlaff's The Glass Mountain (1949), as Italians Valentina Cortese and Alida Valli respectively introduce their native landscape to composer Michael Denison and climber Glenn Ford.
Writer Gregory Peck resolves his issues with Ava Gardner and Susan Hayward in the shadow of Africa's highest peak in Henry King's interpretation of Ernest Hemingway's The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), while Californian rancher Robert Mitchum has to cope with freezing terrain and a predator stalking his cattle in William A. Wellman's Track of the Cat (1954). A steady fall of snow makes bank manager Peter Cushing's ordeal all the more suspenseful in Quentin Lawrence's Cash on Demand (1961), while The Beatles have fun in the Austrian ski resort of Obertauern to the tune of 'Ticket to Ride' in Richard Lester's musical romp, Help! (1965).
Taking the Piste
As producers are unwilling to risk exposing their stars to the dangers of the slopes, the majority of skiing sequences are compiled from a mix of stunt footage and studio cutaways. In the digital era, back projection can look exceedingly creaky, with even Alfred Hitchcock struggling to make it seem as though Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman are really on skis in Spellbound (1945). Moreover, it's easy to spot that 007s George Lazenby (On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 1969), Roger Moore (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977, For Your Eyes Only, 1981 & A View to a Kill, 1985), Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights, 1987), Pierce Brosnan (The World Is Not Enough, 1999) and Daniel Craig (Spectre, 2015) are merely going through the motions.
Stand-ins and/or projection processes were also utilised in pictures like Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Bernard Vorhaus's Dusty Ermine (1936), Edward Dmytryk's The Young Lions (1958), Blake Edwards's The Pink Panther (1963), Frank Tashlin's Caprice (1967), Michael Ritchie's Downhill Racer (1969), Savage Steve Holland's Better Off Dead (1985), Patrick Hasburgh's Aspen Extreme (1993), Steve Pink's Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), Phil Traill's Chalet Girl (2011) and Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).
Even Olympic athletes like gold medal-winning figure skater Sonja Henie was prevented from doing her own skiing sequences in H. Bruce Humberstone's Sun Valley Serenade (1941). But she frequently laced up her blades on screen and there's more skating to enjoy from Cinema Paradiso in Paul Michael Glaser's The Cutting Edge (1992), Tim Fywell's Ice Princess (2005), Josh Gordon and Will Speck's Blades of Glory (2007), Fiona Cunningham-Reid's Thin Ice (2011) and Craig Gillespie's I, Tonya (2017), the biopic of Tonya Harding that earned Allison Janney the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Among the other snow sport movies on disc are John Turtletaub's celebration of Jamaica's first Olympic bobsled team, Cool Runnings (1993); Brendan and Emmett Malloy's snowboarding comedy, Out Cold (2001); The Crash Reel (2013), Lucy Walker's compelling profile of Olympic boarder Kevin Pearce; and Eddie the Eagle (2016), Dexter Fletcher's biopic of British ski-jumper Eddie Edwards. And, staying on the lighter side, there are also memorable snow moments in Harold Ramis's Groundhog Day (1993), Peter Farrelly's Dumb and Dumber (1994), Chris Koch's Snow Day (2000) and Mark Mylod's The Big White (2005).
Younger viewers will probably already know about the role that snow plays in the five films between Chris Wedge's Ice Age (2002) and Michael Thurmeier's Ice Age: Collision Course (2016). They may well also be familiar with Mumble the emperor penguin who longs to dance in George Miller's Happy Feet (2006) and the state of permanent winter imposed by Tilda Swinton in Andrew Adamson's lavish adaptation of C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005). But have they come across Hans Christian Andersen's own ice maiden, whose wicked ways are the subject of Martin Gates's The Snow Queen (1995) and The Snow Queen's Revenge (1996), Julian Gibbs's The Snow Queen (2005), and Vladlen Barbe and Maksim Sveshnikov's Snow Queen (2012)?
What's more, why not try your kids with Shirley Temple in Allan Dwan's take on Johanna Spyri's Heidi (1937), Jim Carrey in Mark Waters's Mr Popper's Penguins (2011), a trio of sled dog adventures comprising Brian Levant's Snow Dogs (2002), Frank Marshall's Eight Below (2006) and Robert Vince's Snow Buddies (2008), Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith's Penguins of Madagascar, and Roger Spottiswoode's baby polar bear odyssey, The Journey Home (both 2014)?
Into the Great White Open
One of the most memorable scenes in Tim Burton's enduringly enchanting Edward Scissorhands (1990) sees Winona Ryder enjoy the snow flurry created by Johnny Depp as he sculpts an ice angel. A much heavier snowstorm adds to the intensity of the finale of Joseph Ruben's Macaulay Culkin saga, The Good Son (1993), which was scripted by bestselling author Ian McEwan. A Rick Moody novel set in the 1970s provides the impetus for Ang Lee's The Ice Storm (1997), which sees the worst frost in 30 years hit the East Coast, as Kevin Kline's family and neighbours embark upon a fateful night of sexual exploration.
A chance meeting at an ice factory sends co-workers Cris Lankenau and Raul Castillo on a search for a missing girl in Aaron Katz's Mumblecore offering, Cold Weather (2010). Released the same year, Debra Granik's Winter's Bone made a star of Jennifer Lawrence, although the director made the conscious decision to delete the references to snow in Daniel Woodrell's source novel, as making the white blanket look authentic would have placed too great a strain on her budget.
Several war movies have made use of snowy conditions, including three set in Norway. Kirk Douglas leads a commando raid on a Nazi heavy water plant in Anthony Mann's The Heroes of Telemark (1965), while RAF pilots Rupert Grint and Lachlan Nieboer have to co-operate with their Luftwaffe counterparts in order to survive after coming down in a frozen wilderness in Peter Naess's Cross of Honour (2012). However, Gestapo officer Jonathan Rhys Myers shows Thomas Gullestad no mercy, as he is forced to shelter in the Arctic wastes after a failed coastal landing in Harald Zwart's The 12th Man (2017), which recreates the remarkable survival ordeal of national hero, Jan Baalsrud.
The short and brutal conflict between Finland and the Soviet Union is commemorated in Pekka Parikka's The Winter War (1989), while the most pitiless siege of the entire Second World War is restaged to devastating effect by Joseph Vilsmaer in Stalingrad (1993) and Jean-Jacques Annaud in Enemy At the Gates (2001). Wehrmacht soldier Clemens Forell's audacious escape from a Siberian Gulag is retold in Hardy Martins's As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me (2001), but the action is entirely fictional and unashamedly gung-ho in Ryan Little's Saints and Soldiers (2003), an account of the December 1944 campaign in Belgium's Ardennes Forest, which was followed by Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed (2012) and Saints and Soldiers: The Void (2014), which were respectively set in southern France and the Harz Mountains.
The Bavarian Alps provide the breathtaking setting for Brian G. Hutton's Where Eagles Dare (1968), which sends Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood to the snowbound Schloss Adler in order to rescue an American brigadier general crucial to the planning of D-Day. The script was adapted from his own novel by Alistair MacLean, whose bestsellers frequently included frozen locales, with the North Pole providing the backdrop for John Sturges's submarine espionage thriller, Ice Station Zebra (1968), and the inhospitable frontier awaiting Charles Bronson, as he tries to solve a string of murders in Tom Gries's Breakheart Pass (1975).
Felix Randau takes us back to the dawn of human civilisation in Iceman (2017) to speculate on how the corpse of a Neolithic man came to be frozen in the Ötztal Alps in the southern Tyrol some 5300 years ago. By contrast, anthropologist Timothy Hutton thaws out John Lone and forces him to acclimatise to modern society in Fred Schepisi's Iceman (1984). Sub-zero environs were also to the fore in such epics as Robert Zemeckis's Beowulf (2007) and Nil Gaup's The Last King (2016).
The Austrian Alps are seen to daunting effect in Andreas Prochaska's Sauerkraut Western, The Dark Valley (2014). But the American wilderness looks a picture in Ansco Color CinemaScope in Stanley Donen's musical, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954). However, the harshness of life on the frozen frontier is more readily evident in Sergio Corbucci's Spaghetti Western, The Great Silence (1968), and in such sprawling pioneering sagas as Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971), Sydney Pollack's Jeremiah Johnson (1972), Bruce Beresford's Black Robe (1991) and Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight (2015), which is set in a wintry Wyoming.
It's the Canadian tundra that Inuit Anthony Quinn and trapper Peter O'Toole have to endure in Nicholas Ray's The Savage Innocents (1959), which courted considerable controversy for its opening sequence depicting the slaughter of a polar bear. The Yukon territory was a favourite setting for two of Jack London's most beloved novels. In addition to live-action versions of The Call of the Wild (Ken Annakin, 1972 & Peter Svatek, 1997) and White Fang (Randal Kleiser, 1991), these timeless outdoor adventures were also adapted by animator Michael Sporn in 1992 and 1997 and they are available from Cinema Paradiso on a single disc.
Rescue attempts come close to disaster in Renny Harlin's Cliffhanger (1993) and Martin Campbell's Vertical Limit (2000), while law enforcement officers pursue villains across forbidding terrain in Peter R. Hunt's Death Hunt (1981), Scott Walker's The Frozen Ground (2013) and Taylor Sheridan's Wind River (2017).
Emile Hirsch recreates Christopher McCandless's daring bid to abandon the rat race for the great wide open in Sean Penn's Into the Wild (2007), which earned Hal Holbrook a Best Supporting Oscar nomination for his performance as army veteran Ron Franz. A more fanciful expedition into the snow-covered unknown is chronicled in Robert Stevenson's Vernesque adventure, The Island At the Top of the World (1974). However, the Norwegian-controlled Bouvet Island in Antartica proves to be the destination where industrialist Lance Henriksen and guide Sanaa Lathan run into all sorts of trouble in Paul W. S. Anderson's Alien vs Predator (2004), while the Hardangerjøkulen glacier near Finse stood in for the ice planet of Hoth in Irvin Kershner's Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Conditions are even more treacherous on Earth, as a New Ice Age hits hard in a pair of futuristic eco-warnings, Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and Jeff Renfroe's The Colony (2013).
Thrills and Chills
Snow has been sprinkled liberally over a number of big-screen pictures based on wintry bestsellers. Among them are Scott Hicks's interpretation of David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars (1999); both Niels Arden Oplev's 2009 and David Fincher's 2011 takes on Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; and Swede Tomas Alfredson's version of Norwegian noir specialist Jo Nesbø's The Snowman (2017).
A 1998 graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber prompted Dominic Sena to send US Marshall Kate Beckinsale to Antarctica for Whiteout (2009) and, speaking of comic-books, snow descends on Gotham City in Tim Burton's Batman Returns (1992), while the cold snap comes courtesy of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr Freeze in Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin (1997). A video game pitches Mark Wahlberg on to the banks of an icy river in John Moore's Max Payne, while agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) return from their long-running TV series and find themselves rummaging around at the dead of night in a snow-covered field in Chris Carter's X-Files: I Want to Believe (both 2008).
Trains hurtling through frozen landscapes have provided the setting for a variety of pictures, including Andrei Konchalovsky's Runaway Train (1985) and Brad Anderson's Transsiberian (2008). However, the steam locomotive has ground to a snowy standstill to allow Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot to exercise his little grey cells in Sidney Lumet's 1974 and Kenneth Branagh's 2017 variations on Agatha Christie's ingenious whodunit, Murder on the Orient Express, the former of which landed Ingrid Bergman the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress opposite Albert Finney.
Joe Wright makes unsettling use of the Finnish countryside for the opening sequence of deer hunting with a bow and arrow in Hanna (2011). The scene switches to an icebound Canada for Matthew Hastings's Decoys (2004), Courtney Hunt's Frozen River (2008), which earned Melissa Leo the Academy Award for Best Actress, Evan Kelly's The Corridor (2010), and Stefan Ruzowitsky's Deadfall (2012). The 49th State provides the setting for Jay Roach's Mystery, Alaska (1999), while we're off to Wyoming for Jim Gillespie's D-Tox (2002), Colorado for Joe Chappelle's Phantoms (1998), Delaware for Gregory Jacobs's Wind Chill (2007) and New England for Adam Green's Frozen (2010). And, completing this chill-seeking Stateside tour, we land in a frosty Chicago for Andrew Davis's The Package (1989) before heading to Detroit for Jean-François Richet's Assault on Precinct 13 (2005).
There's only one place to start a survey of snow horrors and that's the Overlook Hotel, which is the scene for both Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980), with Jack Nicholson and Sissy Spacek, and Mick Garris's Stephen King's The Shining (1997), with Steven Weber and Rebecca De Mornay. The horror maestro also made fiendish use of a whiteout to trap author James Caan in the home of his biggest fan in Rob Reiner's adaptation of Misery (1990), which brought Kathy Bates the Oscar for Best Actress. Among the other King spin-offs with extra frosting are Craig R. Baxley's Storm of the Century (1999), which sees the residents of an island in Maine being terrorised by a humanoid demanding a sacrifice, and Lawrence Kasdan's Dreamcatcher (2003), which joins Morgan Freeman, Timothy Olyphant and Damian Lewis in fighting off an alien invasion while holed up during a Maine blizzard.
Remote and abandoned buildings may seem like a God-sent refuge from the elements. But horror aficionados are only too aware that that cabin in the woods, that old dark house or that deserted ski lodge are simply lying in wait for the unsuspecting to enter. So, you have been warned if you choose to rent Arthur Penn's Dead of Winter (1987), Larry Fessenden's Wendigo (2001), Marc Evans's My Little Eye (2002), Grey Huson's Shredder (2003), Declan O'Brien's Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings, Sonny Laguerre's Blood Runs Cold, or Johnny O'Reilly's The Weather Station (all 2011), as well as the triptych made up from Roar Urhaug's Cold Prey (2006), Mats Stenberg's Cold Prey: Resurrection (2008) and Mikkel Brænne Sandemose's Cold Prey 3 (2010).
They may not like daylight, but vampires aren't afraid of a bit of snow. Have you seen the forecast for Transylvania? Consequently, below zero scenes have abounded in pictures like Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), Stephen Sommers's Van Helsing (2004), Anders Banke's Frostbite (2006) and David Slade's 30 Days of Night (2007). The ghouls are after more than a quick bite in Trey Parker's Cannibal! The Musical (1993), which puts a toe-tapping twist on the crimes of Alferd Packer. The Sierra Nevadas provide the snow-capped background for Antonia Bird's Ravenous (1999), which pits Guy Pearce's isolated army unit against marauding flesh-eaters during the 1846-48 American-Mexican War, while the five American students heading into the Urals to make a documentary about an infamous murder of a group of 1950s hikers leave behind some decidedly unsavoury footage in Renny Harlin's The Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013).
Robert De Niro's Creature ventures to the North Pole in a bid to hide from the world in Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994). But he's a pussycat compared to the monster stalking Peter Cushing in Val Guest's Hammer outing, The Abominable Snowman (1957). There are more footprints in the powder to worry about in Herb Wallerstein's Snowbeast (1977) and Paul Ziller's Yeti (2008).
Returning to the rampaging critters, there are werewolves on the loose in Grant Harvey's Ginger Snaps Back (2004) and Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood (2011), while the undead have a serious case of the munchies in Dominik Hartl's larkishly enjoyable Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies (2016). Baba Yaga menaces an innocent waif in a remote Russian village in Aleksandr Rou's Jack Frost (1964). But, while the title might be the same, the eponymous character is anything but benevolent in Michael Cooney's Jack Frost (1997).
A defrosted Amazon from the cave era runs amuck on a plane and in a busy ski resort in Nick Kinsella's Ice Queen (2005), while a prehistoric parasite is released from a melting polar ice cap in Mark A. Lewis's The Thaw (2009). More mutant and shape-shifting entities cause chaos in Larry Fessenden's The Last Winter (2006), Michael Emanuel's Maneater (2009), Anthony Woodley's Outpost 11 (2012), Marvin Kren's Blood Glacier (2014) and Hank Braxtan's Maneater (2015), which won't do much for the PR image of climate change.
Fifty Words for Snow
Before we explore our Top 10 Snow Movies, let's take a quick detour to look at some of the arthouse titles that might appeal at this time of year. As one might expect, snow features prominently in the various Scandinavian pictures available from Cinema Paradiso. Among them are Swede Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light (1963), in which the blanket of whiteness reinforces the bleak mood of rural pastor Gunnar Björnstrand, as he endures a crisis of faith. Compatriot Ruben Östlund unleashes a ferocious avalanche on Johannes Kuhnke and his luckless family in Force Majeure (2014), while Sofie Grabol plays a priest who uncovers sinister secrets in trying to help a parishioner in Dane Søren Kragh-Jacobsen's The Hour of the Lynx (2013).
Freezing conditions are par for the course in countless ScandiCrime offerings, so a good rule of thumb is to presume in advance that the countryside is going to be buried under four foot of snow. The same is true of the bleak comedies produced by peerless Finn Aki Kaurismäki and such Icelandic gems as Friðrik Þór Friðriksson's Cold Fever (1995), Dagur Kári's Nói Albinói (2003), Benedikt Erlingsson's Of Horses and Men (2013) and Grímur Hákonarson's Rams (2015). And a whitened landscape intensifies the atmosphere as a group of Norwegian students get more than they bargained for while investigating some suspicious bear killings in André Øvredal's Troll Hunter (2010) and as snow plough driver Stellan Skarsgård wreaks his revenge on those who caused his son's overdose death in Hans Petter Moland's In Order of Disappearance (2014).
Mother Russia is no stranger to snow, as is evident from such potent pictures Akira Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala (1975) and Aleksey Popogrebskiy's How I Ended This Summer (2010). There's also a pronounced chill in the air in Marketa Lazarová (1967), František Vlácil's compelling adaptation of a Vladislav Vancura novel charting a star-crossed romance in 13th-century Bohemia, which was voted the best Czech film of all time. Elsewhere across Europe, there's also a seasonal feel to Eric Rohmer's A Winter's Tale (1992), Mathieu Kassovitz's The Crimson Rivers (2000), Ursula Meier's Sister (2012) and Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep (2014).
Straying further afield, Chinese auteur Diao Yinan makes oppressive use of the wintry conditions in Heilongjiang Province, as he goes on the trail of a serial killer in Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014), which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Equally notable is Zacharias Kunuk's Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner (2001), which was the first feature to be made in the Inuit language, while fellow Canadians Guy Maddin provides a typically droll and astute snapshot of life in his hometown in My Winnipeg (2007) and Charles-Olivier Michaud examines how losing a colleague while covering a conflict in Eastern Europe impacts upon Canuck journalist Rhys Coiro in Snow and Ashes (2010).