Each winter brings with it an odd mix of tentpole films, Oscar leftovers, and cheap horror flicks dumped into the mix. But the upcoming movie season will be particularly strange because of one unavoidable juggernaut: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which promises to dominate the box office for weeks after its December 18 release. But there are still plenty of smaller gems and more dubious genre efforts to enjoy in the coming months as awards season kicks into high gear.
December begins with the self-aware horror film Krampus (December 4), from the director Michael Dougherty, whose last effort Trick ’r Treat is a Halloween gem with a small but devoted fandom. The “demon Santa” plot might seem silly, but the cast (Adam Scott, Toni Collette, and David Koechner) screams “cult hit.” That week also features Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq (December 4), an adaptation of Aristophanes’s Lysistrata set in Chicago that’s sure to provoke a range of strong reactions, and Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth (December 4), an old-guys-on-vacation comedy set in the Alps starring Harvey Keitel and Michael Caine (who’s receiving some Oscar buzz for his performance).
The month’s biggest gamble is Ron Howard’s epic whaling adventure In the Heart of the Sea (December 11), which sells itself as the true story that inspired Moby Dick and which stars Chris Hemsworth. Oceanic dramas are costly to produce but hardly big box-office draws (the film was originally supposed to come out last March), but there’s hope: Howard and Hemsworth’s last collaboration (Rush) marked a high point for both. A safer bet on the true-story front is Adam McKay’s The Big Short (December 11), a satirical, biting work about the men who predicted and profited off of the 2008 financial crisis. The film is also drawing significant awards buzz, particularly for its all-star cast (including Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling).
After that comes Star Wars: The Force Awakens (December 18), a release that’s prompting anticipation and fear in Hollywood. With ticket sales hitting a 20-year low in 2014 and theaters facing increased competition from home entertainment, the movie should provide welcome relief for the industry (even if most films are trying to give it a wide berth). Yes, there’s some counter-programming coming out the same week, including the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler comedy Sisters (December 18), which reverses the odd-couple personas the actresses took on in Baby Mama. But in terms of sales, The Force Awakens should dominate the box office for the rest of the season, and perhaps even merit awards consideration.