December 2nd - 4th-
Sneaking into 639 theaters and thus looking to make even less than Incarnate is Releasing's Freestyle Releasing's Believe. As you could probably tell from the title, this is another small faith-based film. There's plenty examples of movies from this genre doing great at the box office, but more examples of small faith-based films that sneak into a handful of theaters and picking up a few bucks before heading to DVD in order to appeal to a more niche Christian audience. This movie fits into that latter category. Believe is about a business owner who is looking to save the Christmas pageant in his small town.
On the Oscar front, best picture hopefuls such as Moonlight, Loving, Manchester by the Sea, Nocturnal Animals and Lion are the major Oscar contenders that either opened or played well in November that will continue to expand and play throughout December with awards season being upon us. Adding to that mix this weekend will be Jackie. The Critics Choice Awards nominations recently came out and Jackie was almost completely left off of that list outside an acting nomination for Natalie Portman. Fox Searchlight will hope that that's not a sign of things to come. The movie is about former First Lady Jackie Kennedy and how she handled things following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. Natalie Portman stars as Mrs. Kennedy and is getting a lot of overall praise for her role and will be looking for her third Oscar nomination. She previously won for Black Swan.
December 9th - 11th-
While Office Christmas Party will be the only wide release, five theaters this weekend will be graced by the presence of the best picture frontrunner in La La Land. An expansion will follow in the upcoming weeks as this looks to play very well throughout awards season following almost unanimously strong praise during a successful festival run. This is director Damien Chazelle's follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2014 film Whiplash, which received a best picture nomination and a best supporting actor win for J.K. Simmons. With La La Land, Chazelle hopes to bring back the magic of the Golden Age musical while implementing modern themes focused on following your dreams and the positive and negative consequences that come with that. The movie stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in the lead roles, who both do all of their own signing, dancing and performing. Stone plays an aspiring actress while Gosling plays an aspiring jazz musician. The two cross paths one day and start a relationship and have to figure out how to balance their very different lives.
December 16th - 18th-
There's only one movie directly challenged Rogue One this weekend and that will be Collateral Beauty. Before you scoff at Collateral Beauty for attempting this, note that last year Daddy's Home, Sisters, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and Joy all performed well during the holiday season despite the presence of The Force Awakens. So there's plenty of money to go around during the Christmas season. Collateral Beauty seems to be an interesting mix of It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. Will Smith plays a man that has gone through a major tragedy and retreats from life, writing letters to Love, Death and Time. He unexpectedly receives personal visitations from these three who come to knock a bit of sense into him, much like Ebenezer Scrooge or George Bailey in the aforementioned movies referenced. In addition to Will Smith, this movie also features Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Naomie Harris, Helen Mirren and Michael Peña.
December 21st - 25th-
Next up is the latest movie from an animation studio that is on fire right now. That's Illumination's Sing. At this point Illumination definitely deserves to be included in the conversation with the big boys of Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks when it comes to animation as they have now accomplished something that none of those other three have ever accomplished. Have three straight movies earn over $300 million at the domestic box office. Illumination's last three movies have all done that with Despicable Me 2, Minions and The Secret Life of Pets. With the phenomenal success of The Secret Life of Pets, Illumination proved that they are more than just a one trick pony with their Despicable Me franchise, so at this point until they experience a huge disappointment, it's hard to bet against them. The fact Sing is the only family-aimed movie to be released in December should only help it's case as its only direct competition will be the month-old Moana. The best way to describe Sing is that it is a fictional, animated version of American Idol but with animals instead of people. While this sounds strange, it also has a monster voice cast of actors and singers that includes Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth McFarlane, Scarlett Johannson, John C. Reilly, Teron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Leslie Jones, Jennifer Saunders and Jennifer Hudson.
The movie from December 21 that has the biggest uphill battle to climb will be the highly anticipated Assassin's Creed. Warcraft and Assassin's Creed were the two huge video games this year that essentially held the future of video game movies in their hands. If these two succeeded then more would surely follow. If they failed, then perhaps Hollywood would less enthusiastic about continually trying with this genre. It's hard to judge the success of Warcraft. It flopped miserably in the states and was panned by critics. Warcraft fans seemed to be the only people who liked the movie. But then you have China where the movie earned $220.8 million, which was more than The Force Awakens made over there by $100 million. The Assassin's Creed video game franchise is one of the most popular video game franchises out there. But will it translate? This will probably depend solely on reviews. If they are positive, this could be a hit. If they are negative, then this could be our Christmas flop. Working in the movies favor is a cast led by Michael Fassbender and Marion Collitard.
The one wide release deciding to join the party late this weekend by coming out on Friday the 23rd is Why Him? This is the second R-rated comedy of the month following Office Christmas Party. While there is enough space between the two movies for both of them to be a success, the disadvantage of Why Him? is that due to Office Christmas Party's Christmas theme it could still be playing fairly well this weekend and split fans of the genre. Why Him? is not Christmas-themed, but is about a father who is unhappy that his daughter has chosen to date a wild, party animal. This is Bryan Cranston vs. James Franco as Cranston plays the father while Franco plays the boyfriend. Franco is a comedy veteran at this point, which is an advantage for the movie. Sisters proved last year that a raunchy comedy during Christmas is good counter-programming for a Star Wars movie, so that's another potential advantage.
Three major limited release movies will also hit theaters right before Christmas. The goal with these movies is to officially submit their eligibility for awards season with a limited release, but due to a crowded market will wait till January to expand and shoot for box office success. I'll talk about these more in my January preview more in-depth since there's already been plenty to talk about here, but the first of these three is Silence. This is the latest film from Martin Scorsese and is about two Jesuit priests in the 16th century who travel to Japan to search for their mentor in a time where Christianity in Japan was outlawed. Patriot's Day is Peter Berg's latest film adaptation of a recent news story starring Mark Wahlberg, the first two being Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon. Patriot's Day is a movie about the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and the ensuing hunt to find the bombers. A Monster Calls was supposed to be released in October, but decided to do the festival run instead and thus postponed it's release to December, then again decided to go for a limited run first and expand later. It's about a tree monster who helps a young boy deal with his mom's terminal illness. A Monster Calls will expand January 6, Patriots Day on January 13 and Silence to be determined.
December 25th - January 1st-
Two more major limited releases will hit theaters this weekend. However, for these two movies their expansions will depend on how well they play in limited release as well as how many Oscar nominations they get, neither of which is guaranteed with these two. I'll talk briefly about both. The first is 20th Century Women. This is the story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California in the late 1970's. Those three women are played by Annette Benning, Elle Fanning and Gretta Gerwig. There's a good chance a gold trophy is heading Annette Benning's way for this role. One is certainly heading Elle Fanning's way in the future with all the major roles she's being cast in, but now is not the time. A bigger uphill climb will be in the future for Hidden Figures, our other major limited release. This is about a team of African-American women who provide NASA with important mathematical data to launch their first successful space missions. This seems to be bubbling under in several major categories, but could wind up with nothing on Oscar nomination morning. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and/or Janelle Monáe hope to play spoiler.