December movie image

This holiday season, enjoy the gift of Oscar bait and superheroes in theaters and on your streaming devices. 

To read Part 1 of this series, click here.

Welcome back to the holiday film preview, this time with even more magic, mystery and, well, movies somehow related to Spider-Man. The rest of December features a slew of new releases both promising and pitiful, so let's dive right in to the best and the worst of the season. 

Rating Guide (1-5): 

Must-see: 🎅

Don't bother: 🧦

Mary, Queen of Scots

Release date: Dec. 7

Rating: 🎅🎅

Lady Bird's Saoirse Ronan and The Wolf of Wall Street's Margot Robbie wrestle for control as two famous 15th-century British monarchs, Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth I, respectively. Although the drama's plot might thrill history buffs, the performances are the true jewels in this crown. Both actresses have stolen many a scene, so seeing them bounce off of each other should elevate this film to the next level. 

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (Netflix)

Release Date: Dec. 7

Rating: 🎅🎅🎅

It’s the famous tale of man-cub raised by animals in the jungle. But, wait, hold on. Didn't we just see Jon Favreau’s intense-CGI version of this story two years ago? Do we really need another one so soon? Probably not. Fortunately, director Andy Serkis — the king of motion-capture acting — appears to have executed stunning visuals and given the story a darker and slightly more violent edge. This is Netflix’s latest effort to break into the world of epics, and it should be exciting enough to stream on a dull winter evening. 

Dumplin’ (Netflix)

Release Date: Dec. 7

Rating: 🎅

Based on the New York Times  bestselling novel by Julie Murphy, Jennifer Aniston stars as a former beauty pageant winner and mother whose teen daughter, Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald), is overweight. When Willowdean is finally fed up with thin girls making her feel bad about herself, she decides to compete in a beauty pageant as means of protest. Her actions unexpectedly inspire other plus-size girls to follow her lead and, together, the girls start a movement in their tiny Texas town. The film has a heartfelt message, so give it credit for attempting to make a positive statement, but for all the glamour and glitter of pageants, this film looks lackluster in its execution.

Mortal Engines

Release date: Dec. 14

Rating: 🧦🧦🧦

Apparently, the trend of dramatically dystopian young-adult novels and films isn't going anywhere. The newest investor is Peter Jackson (writer/director of The Lord of the Rings), who wrote this screenplay adaptation of Philip Reeve's novel series, featuring a post-nuclear war Earth in which cities are now built upon giant vehicles. This could be a great over-the-top adventure in the same vein as Pacific Rim or Mad Max: Fury Road, but instead it looks like just another City of Ember, Hunger Games or Divergent. In short, avoid this one like it's the end of the world. 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Release date: Dec. 14

Rating: 🎅🎅🎅🎅

Although the idea of superhero-film fatigue is just something contrarians spout to make themselves feel superior, it is true that the high quantity of such films has left the well of original ideas fairly dry. However, one enormous comic book element we haven't seen fully explored on the big screen is the multiverse. Cue Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, written by Phil Lord (21 Jump Street, Lego Movie) with performances by Shameik Moore as Miles Morales, Jake Johnson as a down-on-his-luck Peter Parker, Hailee Steinfeld as Spider-Gwen, John Mulaney as Spider-Ham, Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir and Chris Pine as cool Spider-Man. After five live-action Spider-Man films, this installment might be the freshest yet.

Roma (Netflix)

Release date: Dec. 14

Rating: 🎅🎅🎅🎅

Alfonso Cuarón, the Academy Award-winning director of the space epic Gravity, has turned to a much more intimate style of filmmaking for this film set in 1970s Mexico City. In a story that’s deeply personal to him, Cuarón delivers a love letter to the women who raised him. Drawing from his own experiences with social struggle and domestic conflict, he tells an honest tale of family while also painting a broader picture of Mexico. Look out for the buzz on this one as Oscar season approaches.

They Shall Not Grow Old

Release date: Dec. 17

Rating: 🎅🎅🎅

Peter Jackson shows up again, except this time he is directing a ground-breaking documentary. He has taken silent black-and-white footage of World War I, colorized the footage and added believable sound effects and dialogue. For history geeks, this is a true Christmas miracle.  

Mary Poppins Returns

Release date: Dec. 18

Rating: 🎅

Remember last month when that weird Nutcracker movie came and went, and no one cared? Well, here comes yet another unnecessary live-action Disney retelling/remake/sequel thing, except this time they might actually be doing something of note. From director Rob Marshall (Chicago), how could you possibly say no to the ever-charming duo of Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda? This movie does not need to exist, but it might be nice to watch anyway. 

Aquaman

Release date: Dec. 21

Rating: 🧦🎅

Remember what I said about superhero fatigue? Yeah, well, if any movies are giving that theory credence, it is the DC films. Brand name alone should warn you to be wary of this weird CGI-fueled LSD trip that's basically Black Panther in reverse. However, it is directed by James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Furious 7) and stars Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Djimon Hounsou, and ... wait, Julie Andrews. Mark this one as "wait-and-see."

Bumblebee

Release date: Dec. 21

Rating: 🎅🎅

Speaking of bad brands, remember how the Transformers movies were just about the worst thing ever? Turns out, remove Michael Bay from the picture, and suddenly things look a lot better. Coming from director Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings), this prequel is essentially a live-action remake of The Iron Giant starring Hailee Steinfeld as the human lead, Dylan O'Brien as the voice of Bumblebee and John Cena as a military guy who looks like John Cena. Transformers fans, cross your fingers. 

Bird Box (Netflix)

Release date: Dec. 21

Rating: 🎅🎅

A dream team duo of Sandra Bullock and Sarah Paulson play two women who find themselves in a waking nightmare. A mysterious entity appears and wreaks havoc on humankind by assuming the form of each individual's biggest fears. To avoid seeing the creatures, and thus avoid the terror, the women and two children blindfold themselves and attempt to navigate their way to a safe place. If you squint, this looks like a role reversal of John Krasinski's A Quiet Place with the humans effectively becoming blind, rather than the monsters. This concept isn’t quite as groundbreaking as that of A Quiet Place, but you can still expect it to deliver a tense family drama wrapped in a horror-thriller package.

Vice

Release date: Dec. 25

Rating: 🎅🎅🎅🎅🎅

Director Adam McKay is in the business of creating instant classics (Anchorman, Step Brothers, The Big Short). This time, he got Christian Bale to essentially become a clone of former vice-president Dick Cheney with Sam Rockwell as former president George W. Bush. Round off the cast with Alison PillAmy AdamsSteve Carell and Tyler Perry, and this should be a worthy successor to The Big Short. 

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