With its confetti and noisemakers, its parties and resolutions, New Year’s Eve feels like a time when anything might happen. Hollywood has always loved using the last night of the year as a setting and a plot device, and there are dozens of films that take place partially or entirely on December 31st. No matter what you’re doing this New Year’s Eve, you can always tune into a movie that captures the excitement and possibilities of the occasion.
After the Thin Man (1936)
In this sequel to The Thin Man (1934), William Powell and Myrna Loy reunite as husband-and-wife detectives Nick and Nora Charles. When Nora’s cousin is accused of shooting her playboy husband just after midnight on New Year’s Eve, Nick and Nora come to her rescue and stylishly solve the crime with a supporting cast of gangsters, nightclub dancers, a family friend played by Jimmy Stewart and a few adorable dogs.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Aging silent-screen actress Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) is hosting a swanky New Year’s Eve party at her Hollywood mansion. However, she’s only invited one guest − the handsome screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden), whom she’s been gradually luring into her seductive web. Gillis tries to resist her clutches, but his decision during this pivotal sequence seals his fate.
The Apartment (1960)
In this classic comedy-drama directed by Billy Wilder, low-level office worker Jack Lemmon and beautiful young elevator operator Shirley MacLaine are mistreated and humiliated by their boss Fred MacMurray until they both hit bottom over the holiday season. In the film’s finale, the two join together on New Year’s Eve to turn over a new leaf.
Ocean’s 11 (1960)
Charming gambler Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) reunites with ten of his fellow World War II veterans (including Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin) to rob a string of Las Vegas casinos on New Year’s Eve. After all, when everyone is celebrating, who pays attention to what happens just after the clock strikes midnight? This heist film is the quintessential Rat Pack movie.
The Poseidon Adventure, (1972)
In this wildly successful disaster film, the luxury ocean-liner Poseidon is making its final voyage when it encounters a tsunami and capsizes just as its hundreds of passengers are ringing in the New Year. The movie follows a small band of characters struggling to survive the wreck, including Gene Hackman as a rebellious ex-minister, Ernest Borgnine as a rough-edged cop and Shelley Winters as a warm-hearted grandmother who helps to save the group.
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
This romantic comedy, written by Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner, helped define the ways people talked about dating, sex and romance in the 1990s. In the film’s finale, Harry (Billy Crystal) arrives at a New Year’s Eve party just in time for the countdown to midnight − and to declare his love for his longtime friend and off-and-on girlfriend Sally (Meg Ryan).
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
In the Coen Brothers’ homage to screwball comedies of the 1930s-40s, Tim Robbins plays Norville Barnes, an everyday hero who goes through a crisis on New Year’s Eve, 1958 when he realized he’s been set up by corrupt corporate boss Sidney Mussberger (Paul Newman). Thanks to some divine intervention, he’s able to regain his faith in himself and humanity and to reconcile with his girlfriend Amy Archer, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Strange Days (1995)
It’s New Year’s Eve, 1999 in Los Angeles. Ex-cop Lenny Nero, played by Ralph Fiennes, is a dealer in black-market virtual-reality recordings. When he and his ex-girlfriend Faith (Juliette Lewis) become accidentally involved in a high-profile murder, Lenny’s fearless friend Mace (Angela Bassett) helps him to escape danger and set the record straight. They find a moment of hope just after midnight, even in a world obsessed with sex, violence, and the dark side of technology.
200 Cigarettes (1999)
Martha Plimpton plays Monica, a New Yorker waiting for her guests to arrive at a New Year’s Eve party in 1981. She’s eventually joined by an ensemble cast of guests including Paul Rudd, Christina Ricci, Dave Chappelle, Janeane Garofalo and Courtney Love, to name just a few. In the meantime, these characters cross paths as friends and lovers in downtown Manhattan. The film is a nostalgic look back at New York’s post-punk era as well as a timeless tale of young people seizing the moment and finding their destinies.
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Renée Zellweger stars as a 30-something Londoner looking for love in this romantic comedy based on Helen Fielding’s novel. The movie opens with Bridget writing her New Year’s resolutions in her diary on January 1 and ends a year later, after she’s gone through ups and down in her relationships with suitors played by Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. The final scene reminds her (and us) that the New Year will always be a time for second chances and fresh starts.