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Jake Johnson voices Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Sony Pictures Animation/Sony Pictures

Just as the holiday season delivers the promise of a better tomorrow, the film industry hopes that the next few weeks will produce enough blockbusters to make 2018 a record-breaking year. (Two weeks ago, the domestic box office hit the US$10-billion mark in record time; if tracking holds, the year could bust through the US$12-billion mark.)

To turn this cash-cow dream into a reality – and, you know, deliver high-quality entertainment for discerning audiences that will stand the test of time, I guess – Hollywood has inadvertently doubled-down on its seasonal offerings. From two comic-book extravaganzas to a pair of royal-intrigue period pieces to a duo of long-in-the-tooth franchise extensions, this winter’s slate is all about duelling cinematic enterprises.

To help you navigate the final stretch of the year, The Globe and Mail presents its guide to the holiday season’s biggest head-to-head battles. (All release dates subject to change.)

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Duelling Comic Book Extravaganzas

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The second Spidey movie of the year (if we’re counting Avengers: Infinity War, which we definitely are), this offering is at least unique in that it’s animated and falls outside the canon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – yet involves several other alternate universes full of Spider-Men. Confused? Yeah, that’s understandable, but given it’s produced by the Lego Movie brain trust of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Into the Spider-Verse should be a nicely meta, self-deprecating ride regardless of which continuity it falls under. (Dec. 14)

Aquaman

The one fond memory I have of HBO’s Entourage is realizing their big in-series movie would be Aquaman, directed by James Cameron and starring Vincent Chase. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) that conceit will forever remain trapped within Entourage’s Turtle-verse, while reality (or whatever this is we live in) offers James Wan’s Aquaman starring Jason “My Man!” Momoa. This iteration is completely Jeremy Piven-free, but it does feature giant sea horses fighting sharks. So let’s call it even? (Dec. 21)

Duelling Royal Court Dramas

The Favourite

To say that Yorgos Lanthimos is an acquired taste is as large an understatement as calling Donald Trump a polarizing figure. Yet the director behind The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (that’d be Lanthimos, not Trump; although, could you imagine???) is inching toward a broader swath of accessibility with The Favourite. Set at the height of Queen Anne’s 18th-century reign, Lanthimos’s film finds deeply dark comedy in the rivalry between two of Her Majesty’s subjects: Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone). (Dec. 7)

Mary Queen of Scots

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Director Josie Rourke’s historical drama pivots on the conflict between Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, but also offers a separate on-screen rivalry between the two performers inhabiting each role: Margot Robbie as the former and Saoirse Ronan as the latter. Both actors are coming fresh off Oscar nominations (I, Tonya for Robbie, Lady Bird for Ronan) and both are likely hoping their turns here can spark a return to the Dolby Theatre in February. Or maybe I’m just falling into the very trap the Mary Queen of Scots marketing team wants me to get stuck in? Well played, Focus Features. Well played. (Dec. 14)

Duelling Political Biopics with a Lot on Their Minds

Vice

While it’s a little early for a Trump biopic (just keep Alec Baldwin away from it, whoever inevitably takes such a thing on), the George W. Bush administration is far enough in the rear-view mirror for Adam McKay to look at the real power behind Mr. Mission Accomplished. Here, the director traces the outsized influence of vice-president Dick Cheney (a plus-sized Christian Bale), thus cementing McKay’s transition from making films about successful idiots (Anchorman, Talladega Nights) to films about successful super-villains (this, and 2015′s The Big Short). (Dec. 25)

On the Basis of Sex

It’s official: America has Ruth Bader Ginsburg fever! Well, certain, blue-tinted parts of the country, at least. Already this year, the documentary RBG has broken box office records (US$14-million-plus for a doc is unheard of), and now director Mimi Leder is putting a narrative spin on the story of the Supreme Court Justice’s early fight for equal rights. Rogue One’s Felicity Jones stars as Ginsburg circa her landmark 1972 case Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, while Armie Hammer plays her husband and law partner Martin Ginsburg. And somewhere at this very moment, Samuel Alito weeps softly. (Dec. 25)

Duelling Perhaps-Unnecessary Franchise Revivals

Bumblebee

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The world needs another Transformers movie like I need to make another Trump joke. Yet here we are in the year of our lord 2018, and somehow both things are absolutely necessary. Series mainstay Michael Bay takes a much-needed break (rest up and get a new eyeglass prescription, Michael!) as Travis Knight steps in to direct this 1980s-set prequel focused on everyone’s (someone’s?) favourite voice-less yellow robot thingamajigger. (Dec. 21)

Mary Poppins Returns

Disney has been experimenting with some truly wacky ideas this year. (Remember The Nutcracker and the Four Realms? Good, because no one else does.) But the studio’s most out-there gamble might be this half-century-later revisit of one of the most beloved films of all time. Emily Blunt bravely/foolishly picks up from where Julie Andrews left off, while Hamilton mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda tries on a cockney accent as lamplighter Jack. If all this sounds questionable, rest assured it’s in the hands of director Rob Marshall (Memoirs of a Geisha, Nine, Chicago, Into the Woods) ... wait, where is everyone going? (Dec. 25)

Duelling Oscar Bait

Roma

There are no cynical jokes to be made here: Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white movie is one of the finest films of the year, or perhaps any year. Shot entirely in Spanish and Mixtex and starring unknown performers, the drama about an upper-middle-class Mexico City family and the servant who watches over them entranced audiences this past fall as it made its way across the festival circuit. Starting Dec. 14, it will be available to savour over and over again for the largest audience possible, when it begins streaming globally on Netflix. But before that, anyone within travelling distance of Toronto’s TIFF Lightbox would be wise to catch Cuaron’s epic there starting Nov. 29, when the theatre will host special 4K Dolby Atmos screenings.

If Beale Street Could Talk

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Earlier this fall, the awards conversation (ugh, to even have to type those words!) was pivoting on this year’s renewed “rivalry” between La La Land’s Damien Chazelle and Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins. While the former’s First Man is a first-rate masterpiece, audiences didn’t quite sign up for the director’s ride to the moon and back, which leaves Jenkins’s new feature, If Beale Street Could Talk, as the default leader of that largely imagined competition. A small piece of advice: Approach Beale Street without any Moonlight or Oscar expectations, and simply allow Jenkins’s richly imagined visuals to wash over you. The director’s adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel – focusing on one woman’s bid to prove her jailed husband’s innocence before the birth of their son – is so beautiful its individual frames deserve permanent placement in museums across the world. (Dec. 25)

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