Summer has traditionally been the season for heading out to the multiplex to enjoy big-ticket blockbusters in air-conditioned comfort. But what if it's too hot to even leave the house? Why not stay home, crank up the air conditioning, pour a frosty beverage and curl up with one of our 10 cold-weather features, specially selected to chill you out no matter how hot it gets outside.
"The Shining" (1980, 142 min.)
Stanley Kubrick had a reputation as one of our chilliest filmmakers long before he checked into the Overlook Hotel. But with this adaptation of Stephen King's quintessential haunted house novel, he took his icy reputation to a literal extreme. Jack Nicholson gives his most ferocious performance as a recovering alcoholic who takes a job as winter caretaker of the remote Overlook, with deadly consequences. When Nicholson meets his frozen fate, you may find yourself thinking 100-degree weather isn't so bad after all.
"The Thing" (1982, 109 min.)
Don't wait for this fall's remake of John Carpenter's frigid thriller, which is itself a remake of the 1951 creature feature "The Thing From Another World." It can't possibly chill you to the bone as effectively as this version set at an Antarctic research base. Kurt Russell and company must contend with an alien shape-shifter capable of looking exactly like any of them. Rob Bottin's visceral special effects may be too gruesome for the faint of heart, but it's the paranoia at the heart of the story that makes it a modern horror classic.
"Fargo" (1996, 98 min.)
From its ominous opening shot of a car slowly making its way through a snowbound wasteland to its climactic demonstration of the household wood-chipper's lethal capabilities, the Coen brothers' twisted tale of a kidnapping gone awry proves that film noir can survive in Minnesota's frozen tundra as well as it did in "Blood Simple's" sweltering Texas heat.
"Nanook of the North" (1922, 79 min.)
Robert J. Flaherty's film is considered the first feature-length documentary, although some contend it's actually the first mockumentary. Flaherty admittedly staged much of the action after accidentally destroying his original footage, but "Nanook" is still a valuable ethnographic document of the harsh living conditions and ingenious survival methods of the Inuit people of nearly a century ago. By the time it's over, you'll even know how to make your own igloo (if not how to keep it from melting in the August heat).
"March of the Penguins" (2005, 80 min.)
Morgan Freeman lends his gravitas to one of the most popular nature documentaries of all time, narrating director Luc Jacquet's look at the annual breeding rituals of the emperor penguin. Overly cutesy at times due to a tendency to invest these creatures with human emotions, "March" nonetheless delivers some of the most spectacular Antarctic footage ever to reach the screen.
"Encounters at the End of the World" (2007, 99 min.)
Early in this fascinating documentary about the quirky inhabitants of the McMurdo research station near the South Pole, director Werner Herzog assures us that "this will not be a film about fluffy penguins." Indeed, the one penguin scene in "Encounters" is a decidedly disturbing one, true to Herzog's longstanding philosophy that nature is not so much cute and cuddly as frightening and awe-inspiring. Still, it's the adventurous souls who chose to live and work in this Antarctic wasteland that stick with you; you may even end up feeling a little envious of their most unusual community.
"The Ice Storm" (1997, 112 min.)
Based on the novel by Rick Moody, Ang Lee's meditation on the counterculture hangover of the early 1970s uses its titular winter storm as an appropriately ominous effect. In 1973 suburban Connecticut, the sexual revolution has begun to sour, as the lax values of one generation (Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver) begin to infect the next (Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci). Frozen trees, iced-over roads and frosty familial relations all contribute to an eerie atmosphere portending a tragic conclusion.
"McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (1971, 120 min.)
Robert Altman never did anything in a straightforward manner, so it's not surprising that his take on the Western doesn't so much defy the conventions of the genre as ignore them altogether. Westerns aren't generally associated with cold weather and snow. However, in telling the story of the gambler McCabe (Warren Beatty), the madam Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie), and their doomed efforts to build a paradise out of a Pacific Northwest mining town, Altman and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond conjured up one of the most beguiling frozen landscapes in film history.
"The Gold Rush" (1925, 95 min.)
As you may have noticed by now, movies set in arctic climates tend to be grim affairs. There's no better way to lighten the mood than with one of Charlie Chaplin's classic comedies, in which Little Tramp seeks his fortune in the Yukon gold strike of the late 1800s, with both hilarious and poignant results. One classic scene follows another: Chaplin eats his own shoe, performs a magical dance routine with bread rolls on forks and demonstrates his mastery of physical comedy while teetering on the edge of an icy cliff.
"Never Cry Wolf" (1983, 105 min.)
The whole family will enjoy this Walt Disney wilderness adventure, a fictionalized take on the oft-disputed memoir by Canadian naturalist Farley Mowat. The geeky Charles Martin Smith makes for an amiable fish out of water as government researcher Tyler, dropped into the wilds of northern Canada to investigate whether wolves are causing the caribou population to die out. Director Carroll Ballard ("The Black Stallion") finds both the grandeur and the humor in Tyler's quest.