For the next five weeks, Hollywood will be churning out movies faster than that guy at the North Pole makes stuffed bears, iPhones and whatever else kids on his "Good List" have asked for.
It's true: Between now and early January, well over a dozen major movies are set to arrive at a theatre near you and, with millions of box-office dollars at stake, Hollywood will be more than happy to provide you with a way to help fill your daylight-deprived nights. Between family friendly pictures and movies with an eye on awards season, here are 18 films you can check out over the holidays and into the new year. (Note: Opening dates are subject to change, and classifications will be available closer to release.)
THE GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST (FILMS SET IN FORMER TIMES)
Directed by Susanne Bier
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Ifans
Jennifer Lawrence has had no problem keeping busy in 2014. The Oscar-winning actress found time between her roles in X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 to star in this period drama alongside Bradley Cooper. Based on Ron Rash's best-selling novel, Lawrence and Cooper play a newlywed couple running a timber business in depression-era North Carolina. Considering that the last two films the duo appeared in together were American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, Serena will hit theatres with sky-high expectations.
(limited Dec. 12, wide Jan. 16)
Directed by Morten Tyldum
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode
One of the most buzzed-about movies of the year centres around Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), the British mathematician whose code-breaking helped the Allies win the Second World War. The Imitation Game took home the prestigious People's Choice Award at this year's TIFF, which had previously been won by 12 Years a Slave and Silver Linings Playbook, both of which went on to be nominated for the best-picture Oscar.
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Christian Bale, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, Joel Edgerton
Step aside, superheroes: 2014 may be best remembered as the year of the Bible, with movies such as Son of God and Noah marking a Hollywood comeback for biblical pictures. Just in time for awards season, Exodus stars Christian Bale as Moses and tells the story of how he liberated 600,000 Israelite slaves from Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton); this movie is sure to draw comparisons with 1956's The Ten Commandments.
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly
It wouldn't be the holiday season without a movie featuring hobbits, now would it? Peter Jackson wraps up his Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings odyssey that has been 13 years in the making with his final instalment of The Hobbit, which sees Bilbo & Co. fight the dragon Smaug, orcs and other enemies, all of which is said to culminate in an epic, 45-minute CGI-fuelled battle.
Directed by Rob Marshall
Starring Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine
Based on Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Tony Award-winning musical, Into the Woods is a fairy-tale mashup that intertwines the plots of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Rapunzel, among other popular Grimm Brothers stories. With Meryl Streep playing the Witch and Johnny Depp as the Big Bad Wolf alongside a cast that includes Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine, the Disney flick is a favourite to come out atop the holiday season's box office.
Directed by Angelina Jolie
Starring Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney, Domhnall Gleeson, Jack O'Connell
Unbroken sees Angelina Jolie take a break from starring in front of the camera to chronicle the life of Olympic distance runner Louis Zamperini who, during the Second World War, was taken captive by Japanese forces after his bomber crashed into the Pacific. After his film '71 was screened at TIFF last September, English actor Jack O'Connell's performance as Zamperini in the award-winning actress' sophomore offering generated some early Oscar buzz.
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro
Based on Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel of the same name, Inherent Vice is a crime-drama/comedy about Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a detective who finds himself in the middle of a kidnapping case. This is Paul Thomas Anderson's second consecutive movie starring Phoenix.
THE GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT (FILMS SET IN CURRENT TIMES)
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Gaby Hoffmann, Laura Dern
With fewer than a dozen credits to his name, Montreal-born director Jean-Marc Vallée is making quite a name for himself. His first film since the Oscar-nominated Dallas Buyers Club (2013) centres around Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) who, following a string of personal hardships and years of self-destructive behaviour, decides to go on 1,770-kilometre hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. The movie, which was also produced by Witherspoon, is based on Strayed's best-selling memoir.
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange, Brie Larson, John Goodman
A remake of the 1974 crime drama that netted James Caan a Golden Globe nomination, The Gambler sees Mark Wahlberg play a literature professor whose gambling addiction runs him afoul of gangsters. The movie, which has been in development for several years, has at various times had Martin Scorsese, Todd Phillips and Leonardo DiCaprio's names rumoured to be attached to it. No pressure, Marky Mark.
Directed by Chris Rock
Starring Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld
Directing his first movie since 2007's I Think I Love My Wife, Chris Rock's Top Five made waves at this year's TIFF, fetching $12.5-million (U.S.) from Paramount after its September premiere. The story of a comedian trying to make it as a serious actor, some may view the comedy as a fictional autobiography, considering that the last movie Rock starred in was Grown Ups 2.
Directed by Will Gluck
Starring Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis, Rose Byrne, Cameron Diaz
Everyone knows that Batman, Superman and The Avengers are wildly successful franchises that originated in the pages of comic books, but what about Little Orphan Annie? Since first appearing as a comic strip in 1924, Annie has become a holiday-season staple as the young orphan's adventures have been adapted to the silver screen and Broadway stage on a number of occasions. This contemporary retelling takes place on the streets of New York and stars young Oscar-nominee Quvenzhané Wallis as the titular character alongside Jamie Foxx's Will Stacks (a.k.a. Daddy Warbucks).
Directed by Shawn Levy
Starring Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Rebel Wilson, Owen Wilson, Ben Kingsley
The third iteration of the Night at the Museum franchise takes Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Jedediah Smith (Owen Wilson) and company to London on a quest to save the magic that brings the inhabitants of the American Museum of Natural History to life. The first two movies grossed more than $400-million (U.S.) worldwide and this one should find success with the 13-and-under crowd while (hopefully) providing a few laughs for their accompanying adults. It also features one of Williams's last performances.
Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
Starring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park
Can Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg be responsible for a future war between the U.S. and North Korea? Maybe. As if you needed another reason to see the Vancouver duo's comedy about a pair of tabloid journalists who attempt to assassinate North Korea's Kim Jong-un after landing a rare interview with the dictator, that country's real-life UN ambassador recently accused the U.S. of sponsoring terrorism and committing an act of war by allowing the movie to go into production. Talk about box-office gold.
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Jake McDorman, Luke Grimes
Bradley Cooper stars as Chris Kyle – a U.S. Navy Seal whose more than 160 confirmed kills garnered him the reputation of the most lethal sniper in U.S. history – in this Clint Eastwood-directed biopic based on Kyle's best-selling autobiography of the same name.
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Christoph Waltz, Amy Adams, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman
Can Tim Burton actually be making a movie about normal people? In his first film since 2012's Frankenweenie, Burton takes a break from the fantastical in this biopic drama about the life and success of American painter Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) and her relationship with her husband Walter (Christoph Waltz), who took credit for her famous big-eyed-child paintings.
THE GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS YET TO COME (FILMS OUT IN EARLY JANUARY)
Directed by Tom Harper
Starring Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Leilah de Meza
One of the first offerings of the new year is a follow-up to 2012's period-horror movie The Woman in Black, which starred Daniel Radcliffe in his first post-Harry Potter role. Set 40 years after the events of its predecessor, the Radcliffe-less sequel follows a group of schoolchildren and their teacher as they seek refuge in the haunted Eel Marsh House during the Second World War. As you may have predicted, the titular Woman in Black does not take kindly to her new roommates and begins to torment them in the most frightening ways she can think of.
Directed by Olivier Megaton
Starring Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Forest Whitaker
Is there any 21st-century action star more bad-ass than Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills? Considering how the former CIA operative/super-soldier has killed 51 people in the franchise's first two movies (not to mention injuring several dozen others), the answer is probably not – and while you may not publicly admit to seeing the trilogy's finale, you will. Don't worry, we promise not to tell.
Directed by Ava DuVernay
Starring David Oyelowo, Giovanni Ribisi, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey
Taking place in 1965, this historical drama centres around Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo), the dangerous struggle he faced to secure equal voting rights for Americans of all races, and the epic Alabama march from Selma to Montgomery.