Often times, weather plays an integral role in films, whether it be that it helps to set the tone, has symbolic significance, or makes a kissing scene all the more steamy, like the passionate lip-lock between Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in "The Notebook" (2004), whose sexiness skyrocketed thanks to it taking place during a downpour. Sometimes the weather even takes on a life of its own, like in the film "Twister" (1996), in which the tornado acts as just as much of a protagonist as both Helen Hunt's and Bill Paxton's characters.

So now, with winter officially getting its frosty self under way, let's take a look at a few memorable films that are set in chilly climates.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Directed by David Lean. Starring Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Alec Guiness, and Tom Courtenay.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Boris Pasternak, "Doctor Zhivago" is the epic exploration of the Russian Revolution told in flashback through the eyes of the pensive title character. Yuri Zhivago (Sharif), a poet/physician, is married to Tonya (Chaplin), but he begins an affair with the beautiful Lara, played by Julie Christie. Zhivago's relationships with these two women, along with a band of other influential characters, including Strelnikov (Courtenay), a Boshevik general; Yevgraf (Guiness), Zhivago's evil half-brother; and Komarovsky (Steiger), Lara's former lover, serve as metaphors for the political strife that is seething all around him. Focused around the coupling of a doomed romance with harsh Russian winters, "Doctor Zhivago" delivers a chilling effect that cools both the soul and body.

The Shining (1980)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers.

This horror classic based on the best-selling Stephen King novel takes place in the picturesque mountains of Colorado, which would make for an ideal locale for vacationing skiers, but the infamous Overlook Hotel can't operate during the winter months because the snow-covered roads thwart access to the resort. Thus, Jack Torrance (Nicholson) is employed by the hotel as the winter caretaker. After settling into the hotel, however, Jack and his family start experiencing creepy and inexplicable happenings, and with every scene, Jack's character seems to grow more and more sadistic. The maddening effect of isolation that is evinced in "The Shining" is heightened by the extreme conditions of the shoulder-deep snow mounds, which make escaping from the Overlook virtually impossible. "The Shining" then becomes a battle of man versus nature, and in the end, it is only the environmental powers of snow and ice that can bring Jack down after he has been driven to insanity.

The Ice Storm (1997)

Directed by Ang Lee. Starring Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, and Elijah Wood.

Set during Thanksgiving weekend, 1973, in New Canaan, Connecticut, "The Ice Storm" concerns two archetypal, suburban families who appear to be living an idyllic lifestyle. Under the surface, however, deep-rooted malcontent is festering. One of the husbands is engaged in a vapid affair with the wife in the other family, while his teenage daughter gets her kicks by carrying on sexual experimentations with both of the sons in the other family. Then, tragedy strikes after a winter storm hits the town and everything is coated with ice, which serves as a metaphor for the frigidity of life in the 'burbs.

Fargo (1996)

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, and Peter Stormare.

This Academy Award winning film from the always innovative brainpower of the Coen brothers is in a cold weather class of its own. Set in the icy, town of Brainerd, Minnesota, "Fargo" tells the quirky tale of a pathetic car salesman who hires a clumsy twosome to kidnap his wife for a ransom. His plan goes horribly wrong, however, and leads to a series of violent homicides that must be investigated by the very pregnant Officer Marge Gunderson, played by Frances McDormand, whose polite luminosity justly earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. From the opening sequence of a car making a lonely trek through the vastness of frozen tundra to the scene where William H. Macy's character throws a hissy fit while trying to scrape ice off the windshield of his car, "Fargo" is unparalleled in its portrayal of the brutality of northern winters.

Story by Michaela Zanello

Starpulse contributing writer