As arbitrary as the Gregorian Calendar is (don’t get me started), as a culture, we have agreed upon almost globally that Dec. 31 at midnight is the marker of transition from the old into the new. So make your promises to yourself for how’ll you’ll do better this time, pick your poison if you’re not a teetotaler (seriously, kids, don’t mix your types of alcohol, make a plan), and get ready to pick what movies you’re going to show at the party.
It’s not like you come to We Got This Covered for meaningful kōans to modify your behavior in the future. Instead, we’re here to talk about what we’re watching, and I’m here to make suggestions for films to show for those who need a break from the shots and confetti (or the wallflowers who are questioning why they even go to these things).
There are plenty of “snuggle up and watch stuff at home while you wait till 11:55 to switch over to watch the ball drop” films, but every other “Best New Year’s Eve” film list has those down. This list is for the style of films that grab attention even over the revelatory din. So take notes and check your streaming services, because here we go!
Viewing Trading Places is a New Year’s tradition for many ever since this uproarious John Landis comedy came out in 1983. A case can certainly be made for it being Eddie Murphy’s best film. It follows him as a homeless guy and Dan Aykroyd as a wealthy guy who switch lives when two elderly MEGA-wealthy folks decide on a whim to exchange their circumstances and see what happens. And what happens is Murphy becomes a rich snob and Aykroyd does crazy homeless guy stuff. I still can’t watch him eating that salmon while picking pieces of his Santa beard off of it without gagging a little.
New Year’s Eve Relevance: The film’s third act takes place on a train filled with partygoers in costumes as Murphy, Aykroyd, and Jamie Lee Curtis try to pull off a scheme to get back at the old manipulators.
In 1995, Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes teamed up again (and why not, since White Men Can’t Jump was such a big hit) for this action-comedy flick where they play transit cops who work the subway in NYC. Disgruntled and in debt, they eventually decide to pull a heist on the titular subway car that hauls the revenue from the transit system. Things do not go exactly to plan. While it was decidedly not the hit that White Men Can’t Jump was, it nonetheless is a lot of fun, and hey: it’s got J-Lo as the love interest.
New Year’s Eve Relevance: The heist takes place on the holiday, and they walk out of the tunnels at the end just as the ball is beginning to drop.
This 1995 pitch-black anthology comedy had, as you might guess from the title, four segments each done by a different director ⏤ Allison Anders (Gas, Food, Lodging), Alexandre Rockwell (In The Soup), Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino ⏤ and were all loosely based on stories by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Tim Roth stars as a bellhop, and one might suspect it’s his first day on the job considering how wacky the situations and guests he has to deal with are (and it might even be his last). While the segments are uneven, some of them, especially Rodriguez’s section featuring Antonio Banderas, hit it out of the park.
New Year’s Eve Relevance: It all takes place in the hotel on New Year’s Eve with varying amounts of relevance in the separate stories.
Probably the ultimate New Year’s Eve horror movie (because New Year’s Evil just isn’t that good), this Stanley Kubrick/Stephen King classic still holds up as extra creepy and extra chilly. It features very extra acting by Jack Nicholson that ranks up there with the best crazy-guy performances of all time. It fits the party scenario well: as your ABV increases, Jack gets wackier and more dangerous. By midnight let’s just hope you’re not trying too aggressively to get that person out of the bathroom who has been in there too long.
New Year’s Eve Relevance: All the ghosts who are stuck in time during a party from 1921. It’s not an NYE party technically, but it sure looks like one. Also, it intersects the date at some point.
Most readers will probably be too young to remember the insanity of New Year’s Eve in 1999, but it was crazy. Y2K paranoia had gripped the world, and then absolutely nothing remarkable happened. But the 1995 sci-fi thriller directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), written by James Cameron, and starring Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, and Tom Sizemore predicted an end of the year that was going to go completely bonkers. Basically, it’s a murder mystery but centered around illegal VR tech that lets you experience exactly someone else’s memories; the story follows a former cop (Fiennes), now a supplier of black-market recordings for the tech, who is trying to find out who is killing people using it.
New Year’s Eve Relevance: It all takes place on the last two days of December 1999 as the world is getting set on fire by people who think the s**t is about to go down.
The sequel to the comedy classic, which came out five years earlier, wasn’t anywhere near the hit the original was, and critics accused it of largely sticking too religiously to the exact same formula. Over time it’s won a lot of fans, though, and there’s no denying that the demonic Vigo the Carpathian was just as, if not creepier, than Gozer the Gozerian. But recreating that lighting-in-a-bottle magic has proven (repeatedly) to be no easy task. Beginning with the Ghostbusters down and out as they’ve been sued for the property damage from the first film, they’ve been kicked out of the bustin’ business and now are getting by with side jobs. But, of course, it’s not long before the new supernatural threat is evident and they gotta strap on the proton packs again.
New Year’s Eve Relevance: The evil is literally defeated by the good will of New Yorkers singing “Auld Lang Syne” together. Also, if you time it just right (1:32:08), you can hear Venkman say “Happy New Year’s” precisely at midnight.
The Hudsucker Proxy
This 1994 screwball comedy by the Coen Brothers is usually not considered one of their best, but it has over time garnered a huge cult following. Of extra note is that the script was co-written by Sam Raimi (If you can find it, seek out his 1985 comedy horror film Crimewave that he co-wrote with them as well). Tim Robbins plays Norville, a wide-eyed recent college graduate determined to make it in the big city at Hudsucker Industries and get someone to pay attention to his idea for the Hula Hoop (“You know, for kids”). From there, it gets pretty surreal, and much to everyone’s surprise, the Hoop takes off, and Norville makes it big. Too big.
New Year’s Eve Relevance: Its final act takes place on New Year’s Eve, where a down-and-out Norville gets his Frank Capra moment as time freezes mid-suicide and Charles Durning as an angel sets everything right.
The Poseidon Adventure
Really any of the three adaptations of this 1969 novel will do, but I recommend the original 1972 version with Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, Roddy McDowell, Leslie Nielsen, and Red Buttons. What’s New Year’s Eve without the overturning of a huge luxury liner and the deaths of hundreds? Released during the big disaster movie trend of the ’70s, this tale of upside-down survival actually won two Oscars, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and more. It’s no Titanic, to be sure, but maybe you prefer your giant boat disaster films without so much romance. With Hackman as a ‘God helps them that help themselves” can-do action-reverend, there’s a ton of fun to be had.
New Year’s Eve Relevance: The ship gets hit by a tsunami and flips right in the middle of the New Year’s Eve party.
Many forget that there was an attempt to launch an American-produced Doctor Who TV series that began with this underrated (assuming you’re already a DW fan) television movie in 1996. Rather than rebooting it, the film starts with the seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), who is bringing his nemesis’ mortal remains back home in his time machine when he has to make an emergency stop in San Francisco on Dec. 30, 1999. Stuff happens, the Doc gets shot and “dies” and transforms into the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann (other than a mini-episode in 2013, his only time to play the character on film). Unfortunately, the Master regenerates too and turns into Eric Roberts, which, you know, hasn’t he suffered enough? Suffice it to say everything turns out well except for the fate of the American series to follow, which never materialized. For Whovians, though, it remains a solid chapter in the show’s long history.
New Year’s Eve Relevance: Midnight on New Year’s is the deadline to keep the Earth from being destroyed. The show actively begins a countdown at 1:21:17 if you want to sync it up.
The king-daddy of all New Year’s Eve party films, the totally insane Get Crazy is brought to you by the director of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and with much of the same manic energy, yet even more so. The story follows a legendary (fictional) theater prepping its annual New Year’s Eve concert with a slew of bands from all genres showing up to play. A villain is trying to sabotage everything (Ed Begley Jr.), and the stage manager (Daniel Stern) does his best to keep the chaos to a minimum while also trying to woo the visiting former manager (Gail Edwards). This is barely coherent madness but of the best kind featuring Malcolm McDowell as a Mick Jagger type superstar (complete with musical numbers), Lou Reed as a Bob Dylan spoof, a 15-member punk rock girl band with Lee Ving from the L.A. staple punk band Fear as essentially himself, tons of famous musician cameos, and no small amount of drug use. Recently made available on Blu-Ray after the missing original elements were located, this is a MUST-SEE party movie.
New Year’s Eve relevance: It’s all relevant. Check it out.