Last month brought a pair of much-anticipated franchise films in the form of Spectre and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2, but while both managed to score at the box office, they failed to match the impact of their immediate predecessors. Rather, the biggest success stories of the month came from critical favorites The Peanuts Movie and Creed. The latter film in particular has been hailed as the best Rocky film since the 1976 original and is earning significant awards buzz as Oscar talk heats up.
As we enter the heart of the holiday season, theaters are only getting more jam-packed with high-profile fare. Quentin Tarantino, Ron Howard, David O. Russell, and Alejandro González Iñárritu all have new films coming out this month, and the world will finally be able to see the most anticipated film of the decade in J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens. Here are 10 films to check out in December 2015:
10 Krampus (Release Date: December 4)
Writer/director Michael Dougherty may not be a household name among mainstream audiences, but his Halloween themed horror/comedy Trick 'R Treat has ascended to the level of cult classic in recent years, making expectations for Krampus on par with the twisted sense of his first holiday effort. By the looks of it, the film could quite possibly deliver the goods.
The film centers on the titular mythological creature, who embodies the darker counterpart to Santa Claus. Rather than rewarding those who have been good, Krampus punishes non-believers, and one dysfunctional family -- played by the likes of Adam Scott, Toni Collette and David Koechner -- is visited by the demonic creature and his helpers. The film could prove to be a sleeper hit this month, as it offers a creepier take on traditional holiday fare.
Check out the latest trailer for Krampus.
9 In the Heart of the Sea (Release Date: December 11)
Director Ron Howard and star Chris Hemsworth -- who worked together on 2013 racing drama Rush -- re-team for In the Heart of the Sea, which aims to tell the true story that inspired Herman Melville's 1851 literary classic Moby Dick. The film also stars acclaimed performers Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, and Tom Holland (who will appear as Spider-Man in next year's Captain America: Civil War).
While Hemsworth's non-Marvel filmography hasn't proven to be as big a draw as his time as Thor, In the Heart of the Sea should prove to be a winning story of man versus nature. Such films have global appeal not only as spectacle but also as raw tales of survival in the face of adversity - and with a veteran filmmaker like Howard at the helm, chances are high that the film will effortlessly satisfy its core audience.
Check out the latest trailer for In the Heart of the Sea.
8 The Big Short (Release Date: December 11)
Thus far, director Adam McKay has made a name for himself with silly crowd-pleasers like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, The Other Guys, and Step Brothers. However, the filmmaker is taking a bold new step with The Big Short, his first directorial effort to incorporate dramatic elements as well as his only film to not star his producing partner, Will Ferrell.
Based on the 2010 book by Michael Lewis, the comedy/drama chronicles the financial crisis of 2007-2010 and the associated housing and credit bubble. With an ensemble cast led by A-listers like Christian Bale. Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt, The Big Short -- which is initially receiving a limited release -- could be the start of a new era for McKay's career and one of the most intriguing based-on-a-true-story tales of the season.
Check out the latest trailer for The Big Short.
7 Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens (Release Date: December 18)
At this point, there's not a whole lot more to say about Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens. The film is already a global phenomenon and is primed to blow away a ton of box office records when it finally arrives in theaters. It's also the culmination of the Disney's 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm and the first release in an entirely new era of Star Wars films, with legions of fans waiting with bated breath to hop onboard the Millennium Falcon.
Despite the massive marketing push the film is receiving, the core story still remains largely shrouded in mystery, most notably with the absence of Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker. However, most of the details that have been released indicate that director J.J. Abrams is re-launching the franchise in just the right way, balancing classic elements with exciting new additions and redeeming the Skywalker saga from the divisive prequel trilogy.
6 Sisters (Release Date: December 18)
Former Saturday Night Live co-stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have proven to be quite the inseparable pair. Now the stars of Baby Mama return as co-leads in Sisters, the new comedy from Pitch Perfect director Jason Moore. Fey and Poehler play two siblings who return to their childhood home to throw one final bash before the house goes up for sale.
The duo have proven their undeniable chemistry and their ability to transcend their material time and again. The real question is whether the film will live up to their considerable comedic talents - but with longtime SNL writer Paula Pell performing script duties, there is a solid foundation for something special. Neither Fey nor Poehler has established a true foothold as a big-screen star, and this release could help both bolster their respective film careers.
Check out the latest trailer for Sisters.
5 The Hateful Eight (Release Date: December 25)
Few filmmakers have as devoted a fanbase as Quentin Tarantino. With simply his involvement in a project, his movies tend to become instant event films, and The Hateful Eight -- a project once thought to be scrapped following a script leak -- is no exception. A stellar ensemble cast that includes a number of Tarantino mainstays (Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen) takes center stage in the director's purest Western yet.
While films like Kill Bill: Vol. 2 and Django Unchained incorporated Western tropes into their storytelling, The Hateful Eight promises to be Tarantino's unabashedly earnest tribute to the spaghetti Westerns he loves. The film even features a score by The Good, the Bad and the Ugly composer Ennio Morricone and will be released on high-resolution 70 mm film upon its initial release.
Check out the latest trailer for The Hateful Eight.
4 Concussion (Release Date: December 25)
Nearly a decade ago, Will Smith earned an Oscar nomination for his role as a struggling single father in The Pursuit of Happyness. Now he looks to be shooting for a similarly intense performance in writer/director Peter Landesman's Concussion. Smith plays Bennett Omalu, the doctor who battled with the NFL over the organization's efforts to keep his discoveries about brain damage suffered by players under wraps.
The film is based on Jeanne Marie Laskas' 2009 GQ exposé on the topic, and this film adaptation looks like it will do Omalu's story justice. In addition to Smith, the film features Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Albert Brooks, and a host of others. True stories tend to garner a ton of attention during awards season, and this one -- with the moral implications at its center -- could be one of the most buzz-worthy.
Check out the latest trailer for Concussion.
3 Daddy's Home (Release Date: December 25)
Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg wouldn't exactly be the first comedic duo to come to mind, but the actors who memorably played off of each other in Adam McKay's 2010 comedy The Other Guys are back this month with Daddy's Home. When his stepchildren's father (Wahlberg) comes back into their lives, Ferrell's mild-mannered executive faces off against him to win the kids' love.
Just as The Other Guys largely positioned Ferrell as the straight man to Wahlberg's loose cannon, Daddy's Home appears to be closely sticking to the same approach. The film comes from director Sean Anders (That's My Boy, Horrible Bosses 2) and could become one of the few comedies this month to really become a runaway success. The filmmaker behind Daddy's Home may still be emerging, but expect its stars to bring in moviegoers regardless.
2 Joy (Release Date: December 25)
After landing an Oscar win and a subsequent nomination for her collaborations with filmmaker David O. Russell, one can't really blame Jennifer Lawrence for teaming with the Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle director for a a third time. In Joy, Lawrence plays single mother/entrepreneur Joy Mangano, the woman behind inventions like the "Miracle Mop" and president of Ingenious Designs LLC., as she builds her business empire.
The film also reunites Lawrence with her Silver Linings Playbook co-stars Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, and the material's depiction of the American dream doggedly pursued by a firm and determined young woman sounds like something right up Russell's alley. His particular skill at seamlessly meshing together comedy and drama should serve Joy nicely. Given his status as an awards favorite, expect to hear more about the film in the coming weeks.
Check out the latest trailer for Joy.
1 The Revenant (Release Date: December 25)
Many were shocked when Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) walked away with both Best Director and Best Picture statuettes at this year's Academy Awards. However, the director isn't resting on that film's success. Rather, his new movie, The Revenant, appears to be even more ambitious than its predecessor, as its trailer hint at one of the most elaborate and visually stunning releases to hit this year.
Set in 1823 in the American wilderness, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as explorer Hugh Glass, who is left for dead after being attacked by a bear. On a perilous journey through the winter cold, he sets out on a quest for vengeance, principally against criminal John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). The Revenant first opens in limited release and expands in early 2016, but with the heavy buzz around the film and DiCaprio's performance, it may be worth hunting down.
Check out the latest trailer for The Revenant.
With star-studded comedies, period adventures, Oscar-caliber drama and a welcome return to a "galaxy far, far away", the final month of 2015 is among the most exciting. Next year will bring a ton of its own anticipated fare, but for now, moviegoers have plenty of highlights to check out in theaters before the New Year comes around.
Once again, here are the 10 films to check out in December:
December 4: Krampus
December 11: In the Heart of the Sea, The Big Short
December 18: Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens, Sisters
December 25: The Hateful Eight, Concussion, Daddy's Home, Joy, The Revenant