Love it or dread it, New Year’s Eve (NYE) is fast approaching. If you decide to stay in and make it a New Year’s Eve movie marathon, what should you watch? What are the best films to watch on New Year’s Eve? Which movies actually help make some sense of this momentous time of year? What are the best movies ever about celebrations and love on New Year’s Eve (NYE)? Our round-up of exemplary movies with scenes set on New Year’s Eve. Grab some popcorn and read on.
What are the best New Year’s Eve movies and films of all time?
Some people live in fear of New Year’s Eve. After all, it can seem like a lot of pressure: resolutions, starting over, wanting to begin the New Year on the right foot. And after a month of eating food and opening presents, New Year’s can feel like an exhausting grand finale to an awful lot of holiday time.
Nevertheless, done properly we think New Year’s Eve can be one of the best holidays of the year. It’s a chance to look at the world through the lens of hope and possibility, rather than regret and exhaustion. It is a holiday that is as easily spent with friends as with family. It’s perfectly acceptable to spend it out dancing or curled up on the couch. It’s your call! How many holidays give you that kind of flexibility?
Thanks to the high drama portrayed on New Year’s Eve in lots of movies, the weight of one night (just like Valentine’s Day) can often suffocate the simple pleasures that would otherwise be available on a winter’s night.
In film, New Year’s Eve tends to be highly consequential: truths are laid bare. Life-altering decisions are made. Unlikely alliances form – and dissolve. Why should it be a surprise that we all expect that same level of eventfulness in our own lives on NYE?
Happily, just about all of us are off the hook when it comes to truly life-changing events on the last day of the year. For some it’s a genuinely romantic night. For others, it’s the perfect chance to hang out with friends and favorite people. Some folks are working – others are curled up on the couch, anxiously waiting for it all to end.
To get your head into the New Year’s Eve game, here’s our list of 12 exemplary movies that channel the best and the worst of humanity as seen on film on New Year’s Eve. Dramatic, grandiose, devastating, goofy, sweet and almost always over-the-top, here’s how the close of a year (or a decade) looks in the cinematic universe.
what are the best films to watch to mark New Year’s Eve?
Before there was Parasite (the movie many are calling the best of 2019), there was Snowpiercer. Bong Joon-ho’s dystopian masterpiece about the worst train ride you can possibly imagine. Like Parasite, Snowpiercer is about class. But it’s set in an apocalyptic future, in which all surviving people on planet earth ride around the world on a train.
It stars many big names, including Chris Evans, Ed Harris, Song Kang-ho, Octavia Spencer and Tilda Swinton. This is such a singular film that we suspect you will never forget it (and yes, technically the most pivotal scene of the film takes place on New Year’s). As a warning, the film is definitely one of the more violent and graphic you’ll find, pushing past certain boundaries in a way that other films might not dare. But if you can handle it, it’s a highly provocative take on the whole idea of New Year’s Eve.
In the days before Hamilton, there was Rent. This musical was so beloved that people would camp outside the theater for hours in the hopes of buying tickets. And in 2005, Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) adapted it into a film that stars most of the original cast.
If you know the song “Seasons of Love” then you’ll know that the story of these friends spans a full year, but it begins on Christmas, and the New Year’s scene is one of the most joyful in the film. In addition to the legendary songs, there is something eternally arresting about watching this group of people as they struggle to live with AIDS in New York City in 1989, and as they fall in and out of love with each other.
3. Phantom Thread
Nominated for multiple Oscars in 2017, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread has developed a group of devoted followers, all of whom return to this strange, prickly love story again and again.
Daniel Day Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a difficult fashion designer whose muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps), goes to elaborate and dangerous lengths to keep him under her care. The New Year’s scene is one of the most visually stunning in a film that is already at the top of its aesthetic game. This one is always worth a re-watch, and the holiday is the perfect excuse.
4. Fruitvale Station
The 2013 feature film Fruitvale Station recreates the tragic true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, and what happened to him on the last day of 2008. That morning, he wakes up and feels something in the air. He takes it as a sign to get a head start on his New Year’s resolutions: being a better son to his mother (whose birthday falls on New Year’s Eve), being a better partner to his girlfriend and being a better father to their 4-year old daughter. He crosses paths with a wide variety of people as the day unfolds – but it’s his final encounter of the day, with police officers at the Fruitvale BART station, that leads to a devastating outcome.
Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer are part of an extraordinary cast. Ryan Coogler both wrote and directed the movie – he went on to direct Black Panther, in which Michael B. Jordan also plays an essential role. This is a must-see. But have tissues close by.
5. Ocean’s Eleven
In the original 1960 version of Ocean’s Eleven, several “Rat Pack” stars get together to pull off a New Year’s Eve robbery at five Las Vegas casinos. Frank Sinatra is ringleader Danny Ocean. He calls on some of his World War II buddies — including characters played by Peter Lawford, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. – to help him with the complicated heist. Angie Dickinson is Ocean’s smokin’ hot wife and accomplice.
It’s a classic crime caper that happens to channel some of the childlike, optimistic, jittery energy of the last night of the year. ‘Cause who knows what might happen when the clock strikes midnight? This is the perfect movie to watch on New Year’s Eve if you’re in the mood for a dry martini and a classic, enjoyable flick.
6. Are We There Yet?
Within the genre of family-friendly comedies, there is a special niche: comedies about children who do not want their divorced parents to find anyone new. Are We There Yet? is a very entertaining and New Year’s Eve-friendly take on the concept.
The film stars Ice Cube as Nick, a man who hates children. Unfortunately for him, he is out of luck on New Year’s Eve when the woman he likes, Suzanne, is forced to leave him in charge of her two young kids. Once they discover that he is pursuing their mother romantically, all matter of holiday hijinks ensue. If you want to start the New Year with laughter and a happy ending, you will love this film of adorable antics and a scrooge-turned-good-guy.
7. When Harry Met Sally…
In what is perhaps the best romantic comedy of all time, in When Harry Met Sally . . . Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal are Sally and Harry, two best friends who don’t seem to realize that they are meant to be together. Whether it’s Ryan and Crystal’s chemistry, or Nora Ephron’s incredible script, or the little interviews with older couples that are interspersed between scenes, the movie is a gem from start to finish.
And of course, the finish is none other what might just be the most iconic New Year’s Eve scene of all time – the kind that will give you all kinds of high hopes for your own romantic New Year’s.
8. Sleepless in Seattle
Why watch one Nora Ephron movie this New Year’s when instead you can make it a double feature? Sleepless in Seattle adopts an ever-so-slightly more serious tone, this time featuring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, he as a widower living in Seattle, and she as a woman in New York who falls for him when she hears him on the radio.
The movie could also easily be a choice for Valentine’s Day or for Christmas, but there is a touching scene that takes place on New Year’s Eve as well. And as with the other films on this list, the concept of two strangers officially meeting for the first time atop the Empire State Building has all the big feelings that are associated with a night as big as New Year’s Eve.
Classic Barry Levinson film Diner is about a group of high school friends who have reunited in their hometown of Baltimore for their friend’s wedding on New Years’ Eve. Through small moments of interaction between them, their girlfriends, and their families, you begin to get a feeling for these young men and their friendship.
It is a classic that we never tire of watching. There’s just something in the way the film balances the mundane and the special – this is just a group of friends, and yet, for the length of this movie, they are the center of the universe – makes it nostalgia-inducing and oddly soothing. It is also a great chance to see some big names, such as Kevin Bacon and Mickey Rourke, in one of their earliest films.
10. Peter’s Friends
If you are a fan of The Big Chill, you will like Peter’s Friends. In this under-appreciated film from Kenneth Branagh, Peter (Stephen Frye) invites his best friends from college to come to his house on New Year’s.
Once together, they are forced to reflect on the shifts in their relationships. They have to grapple with the changes that are to come. The film is serious without being overly maudlin, and there is great joy in watching an ensemble of actors of this caliber interact so seamlessly.
11. Trading Places
In the beloved comedy Trading Places, starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, two men’s lives are turned upside down when the employers of one of them decide to make a bet – about how it would go if the two of them swapped jobs, apartments and, well, everything.
The trope is a familiar one, but nobody plays it funnier than Murphy and Aykroyd. And even though the movie is outdated in some ways, it has a perspective on race and class in America that feels prescient more than thirty years after its release. And of course, the movie concludes on New Year’s, after they have figured out that they have been roped into somebody else’s scheme and decide to unite against the schemers.
12. Sunset Boulevard
If New Year’s Eve is a night that you want to feel glamorous, dramatic and dangerous in an old-fashioned noir kind of way – watch Sunset Boulevard. Joe Gillis (played by William Holden) is a struggling screenwriter. Spoiler Alert: at the beginning of the film he is found dead in a swimming pool. The film then goes back in time to show he got there, with Joe narrating the entire story from beyond the grave.
Somewhere between a thriller and a tragedy, the story is told with more nuance and complexity. Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson) is an aging, obsolete film star sliding into dementia who develops a complicated relationship with Joe (eventually she attempts to hold him captive in her house). Things take a turn on New Year’s Eve, when she reveals her feelings for him. The film is a masterpiece of its time and everyone should see it at least once.
Bonus Feature: New Year’s Eve
It shouldn’t come as a big shock that the movie New Year’s Eve is also a pretty good pick to add to this list. Directed by the great Garry Marshall, it fits in the same cinematic universe as his other vignette-laden holiday film, Valentine’s Day. Or like what Love, Actually is for the Christmas holiday season.
In other words, if you’re looking for the chance to watch almost every actor of all time celebrate the holiday on screen, then you will love this sweet romantic movie.
our picks for the best films for a New Year’s Eve movie marathon
That’s it – our favorite movies set on or around New Year’s Eve. Did we miss anything? And what’s your favorite?