Sparkly vampires and shirtless werewolves maintained a supernatural hold on the box office going into the Thanksgiving weekend, but from now until Christmas, the studios are banking on their prestige pictures — the movies that could pull in both big box office and a few gold statuettes during awards season.
Until a few years ago, the holidays were almost exclusively the province of Oscar hopefuls, and there is no shortage of prospects in 2012 — potential awards front-runners abound, including Ang Lee's “Life of Pi,” David O. Russell's “The Silver Linings Playbook” and Quentin Tarantino's “Django Unchained.” But now, some of the budget-busting mega-franchises that used to exclusively dominate summer are taking over the multiplexes at the end of the year, too, including a long-awaited return to Middle Earth.
What follows is a list of the big releases coming to theaters between now and Jan. 4 — yes, the prestige films are starting to spill over into next year. All dates are subject to change, just in case Peter Jackson decides to do some last minute tinkering on “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
North, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy and Sandman enlist Jack Frost to help them wage battle against Pitch the Nightmare King in “Rise of the Guardians,” a DreamWorks Animation film based on William Joyce's “The Guardians of Childhood” series. The voice talent for this epic holiday film includes Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine, Isla Fisher, Jude Law and Hugh Jackman.
Director Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) brings Yann Martel's best-selling literary novel to 3-D in “Life of Pi,” which chronicles the journey of a young man who survives a sea disaster and finds a bond with a fellow survivor, a Bengal tiger. Irrfan Khan, Suraj Sharma and Rafe Spall star in the film.
“Silver Linings Playbook,” written for the screen and directed by David O. Russell (“The Fighter”), stars Bradley Cooper as Pat, a young man desperate to reconnect with his estranged wife after being released from a psychiatric hospital. Jennifer Lawrence plays the mysterious woman who is willing to help him do it, for a favor in return. Robert De Niro, Julia Stiles and Chris Tucker co-star in this adaptation of the Matthew Quick novel.
Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”) and Josh Hutcherson (“The Hunger Games”) lead the cast of “Red Dawn,” a remake of the 1984 Cold War melodrama about teenagers fighting an invading Soviet army. This time, it's the North Korean forces that get a taste of Wolverine retribution, with Adrianne Palicki (“Friday Night Lights”) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (“Watchmen”) co-starring in this long-shelved feature.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” “Death Proof”) and Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”) star as an alcoholic couple dealing with the rock-bottom stages of their addictions in “Smashed.” The cast for this intimate variation on “Days of Wine and Roses” includes Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”), Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) and former Oklahoma City resident Megan Mullally.
Keira Knightley reunites with her director from “Atonement” and “Pride & Prejudice,” Joe Wright, for “Anna Karenina,” Leo Tolstoy's classic story about an aristocratic woman's tragic affair with a count. Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Matthew Macfadyen co-star.
Mob enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) investigates a heist that took place during a Mafia-run poker game in “Killing Them Softly.” Pitt's second collaboration with Andrew Dominik (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”), “Killing” includes performances from Mob-pedigreed actors including James Gandolfini and Vincent Curatola of “The Sopranos” and Ray Liotta of “Goodfellas.”
Director Marcus Dunstan follows up his 2009 thriller “The Collector” with “The Collection,” in which Arkin (Josh Stewart) is blackmailed into tracking down the villain from the original film and rescuing one of his fellow victims.
George, a former athlete played by Gerard Butler, tries to get his life back together by coaching his son's soccer team in “Playing for Keeps,” but soon finds the gorgeous mothers on the sidelines (Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer) are becoming a distraction. This is the first U.S. release from “The Pursuit of Happyness” director Gabriele Muccino since 2008's “Seven Pounds.”
Jane Lynch (“Glee”), Rob Schneider and two Baldwins (Stephen and William) lend their voices to “Dino Time,” in which three kids unexpectedly trip the levers on an egg-shaped machine and find themselves transported to the Jurassic period.
Director Peter Jackson's last journey to Middle Earth yielded “The Lord of the Rings,” a trilogy that earned the praise of fans and critics alike, won 17 Oscars and became one of the highest-grossing film series ever. So expectations are higher than the Lonely Mountain for Jackson's film version of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” especially since the filmmaker announced earlier this year that what was once a two-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's “LOTR” predecessor will now be a trilogy.
The first installment will introduce unassuming hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is recruited for an epic quest to reclaim the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor from the wicked dragon Smaug. Along with returning stars Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Andy Serkis, “An Unexpected Journey” will feature Middle Earth newcomers Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Billy Connolly and Chickasha-born Lee Pace.
Based on Stephen Rebello's book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho'” and set during production of “The Master of Suspense's” groundbreaking film, “Hitchcock” relates the love story between the influential filmmaker (Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins) and his wife and creative partner Alma Reville (Oscar winner Helen Mirren). Scarlett Johansson, James D'Arcy, Jessica Biel and Toni Collette co-star.
Seth Rogen stars as an inventor who invites his mother, played by the multitalented Barbra Streisand, on a cross-country trek to peddle his new product and reunite her with an old flame in the comedy “The Guilt Trip.”
“Monsters, Inc. 3D” will bring back one of Pixar Animation Studios' most imaginative features and put the adventures of cerulean-furred champion scarer Sulley (voice of John Goodman), his one-eyed, big-mouthed buddy Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and a wayward human tot known as Boo (Mary Gibbs) in three dimensions. The rerelease of the 2001 favorite coincides with next June's long-awaited prequel, “Monsters University.”
In “Jack Reacher,” Tom Cruise takes on the role of novelist Lee Child's vigilante drifter, an ex-military policeman devoted to righting wrongs. Oscar-winning scribe Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) writes and directs the crime drama, based on “One Shot,” the ninth best-seller in Child's 17-book series. Cruise's casting has been criticized, since Reacher is described in the books as a 6-foot-5-inch-tall giant with blond hair and ice-blue eyes, which is pretty much the opposite of the movie star's physical appearance. Richard Jenkins, Rosamund Pike and Robert Duvall co-star.
Billed as the “sort-of sequel” to his 2007 blockbuster “Knocked Up,” the R-rated comedy “This Is 40” lets writer/director/producer Judd Apatow (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Funny People”) continue the story of longtime married couple Debbie (Leslie Mann, who played the sister of Katherine Heigl's Alison in “Knocked Up”) and Pete (Paul Rudd).
Academy Award nominee Andrew Adamson (“Shrek,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”) writes and directs and three-time Oscar winner James Cameron (“Titanic,” “Avatar”) executive produces “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D,” which showcases performances from some of the Canadian entertainment company's most sophisticated productions.
Auteur Quentin Tarantino indulges his love of spaghetti Westerns with “Django Unchained,” the tale of a freed slave (Jamie Foxx) who trains with a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to develop the skills to rescue his long-lost wife (Kerry Washington) from a sadistic plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). The stellar cast also includes Don Johnson, former Oklahoman Rex Linn and, of course, Samuel L. Jackson.
Director Tom Hooper follows up his Oscar-winning triumph “The King's Speech” with a big-screen adaptation of the smash musical “Les Miserables,” based on Victor Hugo's novel. In 19th century France, ex-prisoner Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has been running for decades from hard-nosed policeman Javert (Russell Crowe). Although Valjean assumes a new identity, his life truly changes when he promises an ill-fortuned factory worker (Anne Hathaway) that he will care for her daughter, Cossette (Amanda Seyfried).
Set in the generation gap, the comedy “Parental Guidance” stars Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as grandparents whose old-fashioned ways conflict with their three grandchildren's 21st-century sensibilities during an extended visit. Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott play the moppets' helicopter parents.
Both nominated but never victorious, Bill Murray and Laura Linney look to again contend for Oscar glory with their portrayals of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his cousin and confidant Margaret Suckley in “Hyde Park on Hudson.” The period comedy-drama is set in June 1939 as FDR and wife, Eleanor (Olivia Williams), are hosting the King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) at their upstate New York home.
In “Promised Land,” Matt Damon reunites with “Good Will Hunting” director Gus Van Sant to play a top corporate salesman sent with his partner (Frances McDormand) to a struggling small town to close the deal for his natural gas company's expansion plans. Damon, who won an Oscar for co-penning “Good Will Hunting,” wrote the drama's screenplay with co-star John Krasinski (“The Office”).
Leatherface again wields his killing-machine in “Texas Chainsaw 3D,” a sequel that continues the terror tale established in Tobe Hooper's 1974 horror classic, with an extra dimension to enhance the bloodletting.