The time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve can feel like a liminal space for a lot of reasons. One issue is figuring out what to watch: now that Christmas movies are off the schedule, what films will fill you with the holiday spirit?
The New Year’s movie is a more elusive genre compared to other holiday movies, with fewer films centered around the end of the year. But there are still some great choices that are about, or at least heavily feature, New Year’s celebrations that will get you in the mood before that countdown to midnight. Scroll on for our picks of the best movies to watch this New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve
Let’s start with the obvious. New Year’s Eve might not be Garry Marshall’s best film, nor the best movie on the list… but it is probably the most New Year’s Eve-y movie of all time. The film features several interconnected stories taking place in New York City before the ball drops in Times Square. New Year’s Eve does not remotely live up to the standard set by a similarly constructed holiday film (Love Actually), but it does boast a star-studded cast including Halle Berry, Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Katherine Heigl, Ashton Kutcher, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Hilary Swank, and Sofía Vergara, to name just a few.
200 Cigarettes is another group of separate New Year’s Eve tales that all come together, featuring a similarly impressive ensemble cast with Janeane Garofalo, Gaby Hoffmann, Kate Hudson, Courtney Love, Jay Mohr, Christina Ricci, Paul Rudd, and both Ben and Casey Affleck, among others. Set on NYE 1981, the characters are all making their way through New York City to a party thrown by Monica (Martha Plimpton) and having their own adventures on the journey – occasionally catching a ride from an eccentric cab driver played by Dave Chappelle.
High School Musical
High School Musical, of course, predominantly takes place during the school year. But it iconically kicks off at a New Year’s Party at a ski lodge where Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) first meet. They discover their incredible chemistry when called up to perform karaoke to the Start of Something New – not only foreshadowing the teens’ future relationship but a good omen for any new year!
A key plot point in the “New Year’s” genre of films is the two lovers coming together on the final day of the year, as is the case in the 1960 movie, The Apartment. Jack Lemmon stars as “Bud” Baxter, a corporate drone who tries to get ahead by letting his company’s managers use his apartment to conduct affairs. Unfortunately for him, one of those managers is sleeping with the very woman Bud is interested in, Fran (Shirley MacLaine). Fran and her married man have their own romantic troubles, which allows love to blossom between her and Bud (under rather dramatic circumstances). Bud is able to restore his reputation and get the girl by New Year’s Eve! The comedy ended up winning multiple Academy Awards and became an all-time classic as a result (and inspired the Broadway hit musical Promises, Promises).
Ocean’s Eleven (1960)
Ocean’s Eleven is to New Year’s what Die Hard is to Christmas: it’s not about the holiday, but that’s when the action takes place. The original 1960 version stars Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop, a group of army buddies who plan a heist to hit five Las Vegas casinos simultaneously. The military-style strikes may be successful, but the gang runs into trouble when one of their own dies and ex-mobster Duke Santos (Cesar Romero) decides to look into the robberies. Not only is it festive for the season, but fans of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy will also get a kick out of seeing where it all began.
Barry Levinson’s Diner is about a group of friends (played by Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Paul Reiser, Kevin Bacon, and Timothy Daly) preparing for the 1959 New Year’s Eve wedding of their friend Eddie (Steve Guttenberg). In that awkward week between Christmas and New Year’s, the guys get into trouble and stir up their own relationship drama – and the wedding is nearly called off when Eddie’s fiancé fails his football quiz. All’s well that ends well, though, and Eddie manages to make it down the aisle with his friends by his side before the year ends.
Somewhat heavier fare than most other entries on this list, Phantom Thread is as gorgeous and meticulous as the creations of its lead character, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis). A unique love story unfolds between Reynolds, a celebrated fashion designer, and Alma (Vicky Krieps), the woman who becomes his wife and muse. Critically acclaimed and hailed as one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s best works, this portrait of an artist also features a memorable New Year’s party for good measure.
An American in Paris
Speaking of memorable New Year’s parties, An American in Paris may have the most memorable end-of-year soirée in classic cinema. The raucous black and white party takes place amidst the romance of Lise (Leslie Caron) and Jerry (Gene Kelly), the titular American artist studying in France. Attending the party with his patron (Nina Foch), Jerry runs into Lise and her fiancé (Georges Guétary). Heartbroken to say goodbye to his love, Jerry imagines a future for them in Paris… and let’s just say, dreams come true. And what better way to ring in the New Year than an all-time classic musical?
Four Rooms is an interesting experiment, a collaboration amongst filmmakers Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino. The story follows a bellhop named Ted (Tim Roth) at the Hotel Mon Signor on his first night, which happens to be New Year’s Eve. He attends to four different rooms, encountering the unruly guests and wild happenings behind each door. These vignettes are each written and directed by one of the four filmmakers, with the added bonus of Tarantino starring as a famous director in the final installment.
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Bridget Jones’s Diary begins on January 1 with the titular heroine (played by Renée Zellweger) writing down her New Year’s resolutions. What follows is a Pride and Prejudice retelling for the modern era with an endlessly relatable protagonist. Caught between her womanizing boss Daniel (Hugh Grant) and the uptight Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), Bridget has a year of adventures, mishaps, and growth that lead her right into the arms of her true love.
When Harry Met Sally…
Not only is When Harry Met Sally… one of the best romantic comedies of all time, it probably has the best “lovers reunite at a New Year’s Eve bash” scene ever. Written by the icon Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner, the movie follows Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) as they try to determine whether men and women can ever be “just friends.” As the duo meet again and again over the years, their sparkling chemistry growing affection for one another leads to an enduring friendship that tests the limits of that central question. Auld Lang Syne has been used to cap off many a holiday film, but never better than the moment after the clock strikes midnight at the New Year’s party and Sally reminds us “it’s about old friends.”