13 New Year’s Eve Scenes We Love

By  · Published on December 31st, 2012

There are so many movies with New Year’s Eve scenes that we might be able to make a list of 2,013 of them. Especially if we separate each scene from movies completely set on the night, such as New Year’s Eve, 200 Cigarettes and the Assault on Precinct 13 remake. But we’re going to keep it simple and exclude 2000 of those to share only 13 favorite moments of movie characters ringing in the new year. None of them are from those three aforementioned films, by the way. And since we’ve obviously left a bunch of scenes out, at some point before you go out to party or get situated on your couch ready to watch the ball drop, do tell us which New Year’s Eve scenes you love.

Oh, and merry new year!

Ringing In 2002: About a Boy

This scene, perfect for anyone upset about not having a date on New Year’s Eve, seems in isolated form to be a sweet romantic meeting. Of course, it’s focused on a lie (one that I swear author Nick Hornby swiped from an episode of Growing Pains). It also has the humorously dated line that I’ve always want to obscurely say to someone named Rachel at a New Year’s Eve party: “Rachel, darling, East Coast or West Coast rap?”

Ringing In 1960: The Apartment

Also somewhat deceiving, this final scene from Billy Wilder appears to be a happy one for its two leads, and to a degree it probably is. But there’s no way that Baxter (Jack Lemmon) and Fran (Shirley MacLaine) are really romantically together in the end. Obviously, while she realizes that he’s a better New Year’s Eve date than Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), she still just sees Baxter as a buddy. When she replies to his profession of love with “shut up and deal,” it’s not a cute implication of endearment like “I know” or “Ditto” might be. She’s telling him to deal the cards and also to deal with her lack of reciprocation.

Ringing In 1980: Boogie Nights

Little Bill’s murder of his wife and lover followed by his suicide is not really a pleasant scene, but it is a great one nevertheless. Paul Thomas Anderson follows Bill (William H. Macy) in a single take through the house, with the background action of the film’s ensemble players perfectly blocked and the song “Do Your Thing” by Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band dominating the soundtrack. What a way to close out and say goodbye to the dark decade of the 1970s.

Ringing In 1989: Ghostbusters II

The end of the world is not often foreseen as coming on New Year’s Eve. Sure, there was the ridiculous Y2K worry with the arrival of 2000, but otherwise it just seems too neat to have the apocalypse happen with the close of the Gregorian calendar. But that’s the date Chloe Webb says the world will end in the first (and still only) Ghostbusters sequel. It doesn’t actually happen, but that’s just thanks to Peter, Ray, Egon, Winston and (let’s just pretend) Louis defeating Vigo the Carpathian with help from the Statue of Liberty and the drunken spirit of New Yorkers.

Ringing In 1959: The Godfather Part II

It’s a tense enough night in Havana for Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), who’s aware that Castro’s rebels will soon be taking over Cuba. Add to that the pressure of finding out his brother Fredo (John Cazale) is a traitor and then letting him know he knows. The scene may break your heart just as Fredo has broken Michael’s.

Ringing In 1899: The Gold Rush

Starting out as a sad fantasy sequence with Chaplin’s Tramp imagining how fun his New Year’s Eve dinner would be if the ladies he invited actually showed up, this scene gives us one of the most famous of all the silent comedy star’s routines: the dance of the rolls. Eventually he wakes up and is still alone, but can we really feel bad for someone who has such wonderfully inventive dreams?

Ringing In 1942: The Holiday Inn

Aren’t we all great dancers when we’re drunk? No, we’re all just more likely to dance when we’re drunk, confidently believing ourselves to be regular Fred Astaires. But the real Astaire is the only one who can dance like this while intoxicated – or pretending to be intoxicated, as it turns out.

Watch Fred Astaire’s Drunken New Years Eve Dance.wmv in Entertainment | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Ringing In 1959: The Hudsucker Proxy

Regarding that year, I’ve never really understood why the Coens set this movie – still one of my favorites – in the late 1950s instead of the 1930s of Capra and Sturges. I guess I’ll just let it be explained by the phrase “the future is now.” In any event, this magical moment is possibly the best scene involving a clock tower after Safety Last!, Back the Future and The Stranger.

Ringing In 1972: The Poseidon Adventure

Like those mentioned in the intro, here’s another film that entirely takes place on New Year’s Eve and could offer a number of scenes we love, but the most memorable is Shelley Winters’ demise after heroically displaying her Olympic swimming talents, pulling a guidance line through a submerged area and rescuing Gene Hackman in the process. The clip below is unfortunately lacking in audio, but it’s not a dialogue-heavy moment so it suffices.

Ringing In 1944: Radio Days

Who needs a date for New Year’s when they can sit home playing solitaire while listening to Diane Keaton sing on the radio? One thing that Woody Allen’s nostalgic film does is show the magic of the medium that could only be heard, not seen. Are you able to feel like you’re actually in Times Square when you watch the ball drop on TV? Not quite. But in the New Year’s Eve scenes in Radio Days, it does seem like the characters can feel immersed in the ritzy places broadcast through the radiowaves simply with the sounds of the music and the emcees and the dancing and drinking in the background.

Ringing In 1950: Sunset Blvd.

Everyone would love to attend a New Year’s Eve party at the mansion of a famous Hollywood actress, unless maybe they’re the only person invited and the actress is creepily infatuated with you. Actually, the party for two (not counting the butler and musicians) thrown by Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) still looks like an interesting time in this second great Billy Wilder New Year’s scene. Still, how can you be friends with Buster Keaton and not have him at your New Year’s Eve party (or go to whichever one he’s at)? He’s probably a lot of fun, in spite of his age and stone-faced expression.

Ringing In 1983: Trading Places

Merry New Year! Who wants some beef jerky? It’s quite ridiculous that Winthorp, Valentine and friends thought their plan of blackface and accents and cleavage could work, but nobody fools Clarence Beeks. He’s so badass he’ll rip out your eyes and piss on your brain. Fortunately, he’s ultimately foiled anyway and in a gag that’s straight out of another Billy Wilder classic, he shrugs and bears the fact that he’s going to be raped by a gorilla. Hey, on New Year’s Eve, nobody’s perfect.

Ringing In 1989: When Harry Met Sally

Finally, we have everyone’s favorite New Year’s Eve scene, when Harry and Sally finally get together forever (until she dies, if you accept Funny or Die’s “When Harry Met Sally 2” as canon). Personally, while I do love the movie and this ending, this scene specifically always frustrates me because of the fact that Meg Ryan has botoxed away that little crinkle above her nose. But if this moment teaches us anything it’s that admitting the imperfections of the things we love shows how much we really love them.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.