7 Movies That Make the Polar Vortex Look Easy

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After a week of brutal cold brought on by the polar vortex winter weather system that affected an estimated 120 million Americans — the most severely impacted being those in the Midwest — the blistering cold is finally starting to let up. With temperatures in the Midwest finally rising above zero — what should still be considered cold winter temperatures are now being seen as a warm spell. And with temperatures dropping as low as 15 degrees below zero in Chicago during the past week, and significantly colder temps with wind chill, who could blame Midwesterners?

But when it comes to the bitter cold, the characters in these seven films have something to say about the record lows experienced by many Americans over the past week. Come check out seven extremely cold films that make the recent polar vortex look easy by comparison.

The Grey

1. The Grey (2011)

Released in 2011, Joe Carnahan’s adventure-drama, The Grey, quietly did solid business at the box office while being generally well-received by critics. The Grey stars Liam Neeson and follows a group of oil-workers who are stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a place crash and are forced to survive the mercilessly cold weather while a pack of gray wolves hunts them.

Roger Ebert famously wrote in his three and half star review that the experience was so visceral that he found himself unable to sit through the next film he had planned to watch. “It was the first time I’ve ever walked out of a film because of the previous film. The way I was feeling in my gut, it just wouldn’t have been fair to the next film,” Ebert wrote.

Fargo, Cold, Freezing2. Fargo (1996)

One of the defining characteristics of the Coen brothers’ 1996 crime classic Fargo is its setting during a brutal winter in North Dakota and Minnesota. Starring Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, and Steve Buscemi, Fargo tells the story of a struggling car salesman whose get-rich-quick scheme snowballs out of control and the police chief who tries to solve and understand the motives for a string of bizarre crimes originating from the salesman’s plot.

Featuring an iconic depiction of desolate, snow-covered landscapes and constant reminders of the bitter cold that all the characters must deal with, Fargo is a classic depiction of the brutal winter in the Midwest.

Kurt Russell3. The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic, The Thing, wouldn’t be half as scary if it didn’t take place in the desolate and freezing Antarctic. Starring Kurt Russell and based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr., The Thing tells the story of a parasitic extraterrestrial life-form that has the ability to assimilate and perfectly imitate other organisms. For the members of an Antarctic research station, the race to weed out the life-form takes increasingly dangerous turns as surviving members of the station theorize that the organism means to freeze itself until a rescue team comes in the spring, making the cold the survivors’ worst enemy.

Doctor Zhivago

4. Doctor Zhivago (1965)

David Lean’s 1965 epic, Doctor Zhivago, is loosely based on the famous novel of the same name by Boris Pasternak and tells the story of the Russian Revolution through the eyes of poet and physician Yuri Zhivago.

Lean’s talent for visualizing epic stories is on full display in Doctor Zhivago as the director uses the harsh Russian winter as a metaphor for the contentious political landscape of the time. Along with  Lawrence of ArabiaBrief EncounterThe Bridge on the River Kwai, and A Passage to India, Doctor Zhivago is among the most critically acclaimed films of Lean’s career, and was the highest grossing film in the director’s career at $111 million — or nearly $1 billion when adjusted for inflation.

The Day After Tomorrow

5. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

A list of movies set in the cold wouldn’t be complete without Roland Emmerich’s 2004 sci-fi disaster film, The Day After Tomorrow, which depicts a catastrophic doomsday scenario resulting in a new ice age.

Starring Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, and Ian Holm, The Day After Tomorrow details the increasingly violent weather events that ultimately land Manhattan, and much of the Northern Hemisphere, in a deep freeze. Emmerich’s skill in visualizing large-scale disasters has probably never been more apparent than it is in this film, which ultimately earned $544 million at the box office despite mixed reviews from critics.

The Shining

6. The Shining (1980)

Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic, The Shining, is based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name and is often listed among the greatest horror films of all time, if not greatest films of all time period.

Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Danny Lloyd, The Shining tells the story of a writer who takes a job as the off-season caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel and the increasingly disturbing events that occur as the family is trapped inside the hotel during a snowstorm. Kubrick’s depiction of the brutal cold just outside the hotel only serves to further instill a sense of claustrophobia and entrapment in viewers, making it a truly visceral experience.

Snowpiercer

7. Snowpiercer (2014)

The newest film on this list, Snowpiercer hasn’t even been released in the United States but was recently picked up by The Weinstein Company for distribution in North America, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (the mini-studio has also been the recipient of notable controversy revolving around its decision to cut nearly twenty minutes out of the film). The film features a star-studded cast including Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Jamie Bell, Alison Pill, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, and Ed Harris.

Directed by South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho, the critically acclaimed director of Mother and The Host, Snowpiercer is based on French graphic novel Le Transperceneige and tells the story of a futuristic Earth in which a runaway experiment to stop global warming has caused an ice age and wiped out nearly all life on Earth. The only human survivors are those that inhabit the “Snowpiercer” — a massive train that travels around the world using a perpetual-motion engine. But when the poor inhabitants of the train stage a revolt against the elite at the front, a class war erupts over the control of train’s engine.

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