The summer has traditionally been known as blockbuster season, with the fall and winter generally reserved for awards season films. But in the last few years, a shift has happened. Billion-dollar blockbusters are blowing up February and November, and the holiday season now just might be the best time of year for movie lovers. In the weeks leading up to Christmas and in the slow month of January, studios are releasing everything from big tentpoles to Oscar bait films to family-friendly flicks. There's something for everyone. Here's our 2017 holiday (and post-holiday) movie guide.
(Note: Some of these films are hitting theaters in limited release, then expanding. I've included them on the weekends of their nationwide expansion, but keep in mind they may hit theaters for you sooner if you're in a major city.)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Obviously the movie of the holiday season for most is Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The initial wave of reviews have been raving about it, as well as director Rian Johnson expanding the Star Wars universe in a significant and surprising way in Episode VIII. With Rey mastering her newfound Jedi powers with the help of a reluctant Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren falling even further under the evil spell of Supreme Leader Snoke, the two young Force users are being set up for an epic clash.
The first family-friendly film hits theaters with Ferdinand, starring the voice talents of John Cena and Kate McKinnon, among others. Cena stars as the titular character, a gentle bull who is mistaken for a vicious fighter. He sets off on an adventure to get back to his family with a ragtag crew of friends he makes along the way. It's a sweet movie with a great message about being true to yourself and what you believe in—perfect holiday viewing for the kids.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in just about anything is gold; him teaming up with Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and rising star Karen Gillan — in an action-comedy sequel to a beloved movie, releasing just in time for the holidays — is just about platinum. Big visuals, fun action sequences, and plenty of comedy mean Jumanji 2 will be an old-school popcorn flick that keeps us entertained. Sounds like a great time at the movies to me.
The Greatest Showman
Hugh Jackman is headlining his first movie musical since 2012's Les Misérables as famed showman and ringmaster P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman. It's already been nominated for three Golden Globes, including Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for Jackman, and it hasn't even hit theaters yet. With a strong supporting cast — including Zendaya, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, and Rebecca Ferguson — along with showstopping numbers and gorgeous set design, The Greatest Showman just might be the greatest sleeper hit of the holiday season.
Sometimes you just need a big dumb laugh at the movies to unwind, and Father Figures aims to fill that role. Owen Wilson and Ed Helms star as fraternal twins who learn their mother, played by Glenn Close, doesn't actually know who their dad is. The two set out in order to find their real father, and they have an assortment to chose from, including J.K. Simmons, Christopher Walken, and hilariously, Terry Bradshaw as himself, with Ving Rhames in a supporting role. Don't expect it to be for the kids, though — it's R-rated. Do expect lots of jokes about their mom having sex, though.
Pitch Perfect 3
The tagline for the movie is "Last Call Pitches" and indeed, it's the last call for the Pitch Perfect franchise. The little musical comedy that could has turned into a global hit movie series, and the Barden Bellas are set to reunite one last time in Pitch Perfect 3 to close out the trilogy. In the final film, they're competing on an overseas USO tour, and, as always, they are the underdogs to a bigger, badder group. The Bellas always manage to pull it off in the end, and this time should be no different. It will be bittersweet knowing this is the last time we'll see our scrappy songstresses sharing a stage together, however.
An uplifting dramedy about finding oneself in middle age in the vein of Ben Stiller's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Matt Damon stars as Paul Safranek, a normal suburban guy who realizes a lot of the problems in his life could be solved by shrinking himself. When his wife (Kristen Wiig) chickens out after he's undergone the procedure, he has an epiphany about what's truly important in life. It's Alexander Payne behind the camera, though, so expect this to have some biting social satire threaded throughout the feel-good elements.
David Ayer's Bright is the only movie on this list that you don't have to head to a theater to see, as it's joining the ranks of Netflix's ever-expanding library of original content. It has the potential to be truly memorable, with Ayer's gritty cop drama sensibilities grounding a world that expands into eye-popping fantasy. Will Smith will do what he does, but it's Joel Edgerton who looks to be the scene-stealer as his Orc patrol partner. If you've ever wanted to know what it might be like to live in a dirty, dystopian Los Angeles alongside Orcs and faeries and magical creatures, this movie is one to watch.
This is the only film on the list I'm putting under its limited release date, as it doesn't yet have a set date for rollout. The powerful and compelling Western is quietly getting some awards season buzz. Forever chameleon Christian Bale stars as Army captain Joseph J. Blocker, a man who agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through the dangerous lands of the unsettled West. The cast is incredibly strong with the likes of Bale, Rosamund Pike, Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons, and Timothée Chalamet. The latter is a heavy awards season contender after his talked-about turn in Call Me By Your Name (he was just nominated for a Golden Globe), and just goes to show the caliber of cast Hostiles is working with.
Phantom Thread is a true sendoff for the legendary Daniel Day-Lewis, who has said this will be his last film before retirement. Don't let the moody and slow-moving trailer fool you; this is some of the best work of DDL's career and one of his more memorable performances. A decade later, he and director Paul Thomas Anderson seem to have recaptured the same magic they had for 2007's There Will Be Blood, with critics calling it one of the best movies of the year. Day-Lewis is up against the above-mentioned Chalamet for a Best Actor Golden Globe, and with the Academy being what it is, we can guess that he might be taking home this year's Best Actor Oscar in his final bow. If you're a cinephile at all, you owe it to yourself to see this one.
Jessica Chastain has shown herself to be one of most versatile if underrated actresses of our age, and with Molly's Game, she takes it to a new level. The film is based on the true story of Molly Bloom, who was targeted by the FBI for running the most exclusive, high-stakes poker game in the world, attracting professional athletes, Hollywood celebrities, business tycoons, and Russian mobsters alike. Idris Elba, who needs to be in so many more things, plays her lawyer, Charlie Jaffey. While the tension is palpable, Molly's Game is still witty and full of great lines, just as you'd expect from Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut.
Insidious: The Last Key
Horror has done big business over the last decade, and the Insidious franchise has been a steady box office earner and solid entry for the genre. Following the events of 2015's Insidious: Chapter 3, The Last Key follows Dr. Elise Rainier as she returns to her childhood home to investigate the supernatural disturbances being reported there. Even though it's competing against big releases, Insidious fans should flock to theaters for the fourth installment of the franchise. If you're a horror lover in need of a fix over the holidays, you can't go wrong with this.
Steven Spielberg? Meryl Streep? Tom Hanks? The first time the three have worked together? In a period drama based on a true story? Come on. This one has "Oscar contender no-brainer" written all over it, and with good reason. Streep stars as Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post and the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and Hanks stars as editor Ben Bradlee. The story follows the two as they work to publish the Pentagon Papers and expose a decades-long government scandal. At a time in which the importance and integrity of the media is daily being undermined by those in power, The Post is a timely film about the necessity of a free and open press to balance out the power of the government.
Liam Neeson might be retiring from action movies, but at least he has gifted us with one last ride of him playing a gritty protagonist in a slightly absurd premise. This time, Neeson is businessman Michael McCauley, who gets caught up in a criminal conspiracy when a woman approaches him on his commute home and offers him what he thinks is a hypothetical challenge. Granted, Michael McCauley doesn't quite seem to be the same level of badass with a particular set of skills as Bryan Mills, but it's still Liam Neeson doing action and suspense. We're in.
Paddington 2 is the second purely kid-friendly movie on the list after Ferdinand. Following the surprise success of the first film, the second one continues the gentle British adventures of Paddington Bear. This time, Paddington wants to buy an antique book for his Aunt Lucy's hundredth birthday and performs a series of odd jobs to buy it. When the book is stolen, Paddington and his adopted family, the Browns, must track down the thief and get it back. It has the same sweet, silly sensibility of the first film, and the British export once again seems poised to delight kids and parents alike.
The fantastic Taraji P. Henson stars as Mary, a hitwoman working in Boston for a family of mobsters. When one of her missions goes awry, she crosses paths with a young boy and her life gets flipped upside-down. Proud Mary adds to the mini-trend of highly stylized action movies about female assassins or trained professionals, like Atomic Blonde and the upcoming Red Sparrow. This one looks sleek, stylish, and full of adrenaline-fueled action. After four seasons of playing the tough-as-nails Cookie Lyon on Empire, it's about time Henson got to unleash her badass on the big screen.
Are there any movies I've missed? Let me know in the comments.