With the holiday season in full swing, November certainly didn't disappoint in delivering the goods. Disney extended its record-setting year -- which was already sitting at a worldwide box office of $5.85 billion whe the month began -- with back-to-back hits in Marvel's Doctor Strange and animated adventure Moana. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. magically kicked off a prequel series setting in the world of Harry Potter with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, while Fox and Paramount had winners with Trolls and Arrival, respectively. Most impressively, all of last month's biggest hits received a warm critical reception, an unexpected turn of events after a summer filled with blockbusters that critics couldn't stand.
In any case, December has an equally intriguing number of releases in store for moviegoers. Ranging from the much-anticipated blockbusters to smaller prestige films vying for Oscar glory, the weeks ahead should offer no shortage of worthwhile films to check in the theater as 2016 comes to a close. So let's prepare to put on our dancing shoes, kickstart the Animus project and take the journey to a "galaxy far, far away."
Here are 10 films to check out in December 2016:
Jackie (Release Date: December 2)
It's been a long while since Natalie Portman has been in the awards conversation. The Thor and Star Wars actress picked up just about every statuette around for her mesmerizing turn in Darren Aronofsky's psychological thriller Black Swan in 2011. However, in the past few years, she made the leap from actor to writer/director (A Tale of Love and Darkness), worked with beloved filmmaker Terrence Malick (Knight of Cups) and headlined a rare woman-led Western (Jane Got a Gun).
For her next trick, Portman will play influential First Lady Jackie Kennedy in director Pablo Larraín's Jackie. The film follows Jackie during her final days as First Lady following the assassination of husband John F. Kennedy. Judging by the buzz coming out of the festival circuit, Portman will easily nab her third Oscar nomination, while Jackie itself is receiving praise for offering a fresh approach to the traditional biopic.
Check out the latest trailer for Jackie.
La La Land (Release Date: December 9)
Audiences are still reeling from the impressive 2014 release Whiplash, which led acclaimed character actor J.K. Simmons to Oscar gold and made writer/director Damien Chazelle one to watch. So when it was announced that his next project would be a throwback Hollywood musical reuniting Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad co-stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, you can bet the world was waiting for it with bated breath.
Thankfully, La La Land is almost here, and if the current buzz is any indication, the film may very well be the one to beat for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards. Its title is a reference to a nickname for Los Angeles, as the film follows two dreamers in actress Mia (Stone) and jazz musician Sebastian (Gosling) as they fall in love and try to balance their careers with the bond they share. This is certainly one to keep on your radar this month.
Check out the latest trailer for La La Land.
Collateral Beauty (Release Date: December 16)
Will Smith already starred as Deadshot in summer hit Suicide Squad, and now the actor returns for Collateral Beauty, the new drama from director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada). Smith stars as an advertising executive who aims to cope with personal tragedy by writing letters to Love, Time and Death. Yet, he's shocked when the embodiment of these very concepts pays him a visit, in the forms of Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore and Helen Mirren.
Boasting a gifted ensemble cast, Collateral Beauty seems to be positioned as an awards contender, given its heady subject matter. Whether or not the film's material lands in that way remains to be seen, but the film does mark a stark contrast to Smith's previous film. Moreover, its intriguing concept could prove to be a sharp antidote to more straightforward -- and less philosophical -- dramas.
Check out the latest trailer for Collateral Beauty.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Release Date: December 16)
Soon after Disney purchased Lucasfilm, we knew that an annual dose of Star Wars would be on the way. Now here comes Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to take the franchise into new territory as the first standalone entry in the series. The story (as if our readers don't already know) centers on the newly recruited Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and the team assembled by the Rebel Alliance to steal the plans to the Death Star.
Darth Vader has already been confirmed to appear in the film in some capacity, and fans are eager to discover how else this prequel to A New Hope will expand and build upon the current run of films. In addition, speculation has centered on what new light Rogue One may shine on the many questions left unanswered after last year's The Force Awakens. In any case, director Gareth Edwards' film will tide audiences over until Star Wars Episode VIII comes along.
Check out the latest trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Assassin's Creed (Release Date: December 21)
The last time director Justin Kurzel and stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard worked together, they brough a familiar story to life in a new way with last year's adaptation of William Shakespeare's seminal Macbeth. Now that trio is reuniting for another story with millions of fans the world over, but we very much doubt that Assassin's Creed will feature the use of iambic pentameter at any point.
Rather, this hotely anticipated big-screen version of the best-selling video game series sees Fassbender play criminal Callum Lynch, a descendant of an Assassin from 15th century Spain, who is recruited to participate in the Animus Project and relive his ancestor's memories. Rather than simply basing a script on an existing entry in the games, Kurzel's film crafts an entirely new story set in that world, and fans are eager to see if the finished project manages to deliver a rare video game film that actually works.
Check out the latest trailer for Assassin's Creed.
Passengers (Release Date: December 21)
Separately, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt lead action-filled sci-fi franchises The Hunger Games and Guardians of the Galaxy, but together they're doing something that bears little resemblance to the worlds of Katniss Everdeen and Star-Lord. The latest from director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), Passengers puts its two charismatic stars in a romantic sci-fi thriller that is among the season's most mysterious releases.
Lawrence and Pratt star as two inhabitants of a spacecraft making a 120-year journey to a distant planet. However, a malfunction wakes them up decades earlier than planned, leaving the two to fend for themselves and discover just what went wrong. Trailers so far have teased a mystery surrounding the cause of their premature wake-up call, and considering that Jon Spaihts' script was selected for the Black List -- which ranks the best unproduced screenplays -- in 2007, we can't wait to find out the truth.
Check out the latest trailer for Passengers.
Silence (Release Date: December 23)
Whenever a filmmaker as legendary as Martin Scorsese takes on a project, it's inevitable that audiences will be interested to see how it pans out. After all, the director's last two projects -- 2013 dark comedy The Wolf of Wall Street and 2011 adventure drama Hugo -- were big awards contenders, with the former very nearly earning Leonardo DiCaprio his first Oscar before his 2016 victory for The Revenant.
Silence stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to 17th-century Japan to retrieve their mentor (Liam Neeson). The film looks to be an emotionally harrowing, deeply powerful portrait of religion and its role in history. Based on the 1966 novel by Shūsaku Endō, Silence is already being tapped as a potential awards contender and another winner for Scorsese.
Check out the latest trailer for Silence.
Fences (Release Date: December 25)
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprise their stage roles for this film adaptation of Fences, which follows a working-class married couple in 1950s Pittsburgh. Directed by Washington himself, the film -- based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1983 play -- has already gained rave reviews for its stark portrayal of a marriage in crisis. and is poised to become one of this year's top awards contenders, specifically for Viola Davis.
The actress -- who was previously Oscar-nominated for Doubt and The Help -- will be campaigning for Best Supporting Actress for her role as female lead Rose Maxson. This strategic decision is driven in part due to the incredible competition in the Best Actress race, which will likely be dominated by Natalie Portman and Emma Stone in Jackie and La La Land, respectively. Washington and Davis are both consummate professionals, but with no Oscars to her name just yet, expect the latter to triumph for this must-see drama.
Check out the latest trailer for Fences.
Hidden Figures (Release Date: December 25)
Films based on a true story are often hit and miss. Steer too closely into the facts, and the resulting film can wind up feeling dry and expository. Take too many liberties with the truth, and you're bound to be mired in controversy, diluting the seemingly worthwhile story your film is telling. Thankfully, Hidden Figures seems to be towing the line perfectly with a real-life tale of civil rights struggle in the 1960s.
Taraji P. Henson -- best known these days for her role as feisty Cookie Lyon on the Fox series Empire -- stars as Katherine Goble, one of the brightest creative minds at NASA during the space race. Along with friends and colleagues Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), Goble attempts to prove herself in a time when African-American women had an especially difficult battle to receive recognition.
Check out the latest trailer for Hidden Figures.
Live By Night (Release Date: December 25)
Ben Affleck has been a busy man this year. He has already played the DC Extended Universe version of the Dark Knight in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice -- a role he briefly reprised in Suicide Squad as well -- and starred as an autistic CPA in director Gavin O'Connor's The Accountant earlier this fall. Now, before Affleck assembles the Justice League next year, he returns to the director's chair for Live By Night.
Much like his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone, Live By Night is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River). Affleck writes, directs and stars as Joe Coughlin, the son of a Boston police captain who ultimately becomes a powerful gangster in Tampa, Florida during the 1920s and 1930s. From the period setting, strong source material and Affleck's previous directorial efforts, it's a good chance that Live By Night may be one of this season's biggest breakout hits.
Check out the latest trailer for Live By Night.
Just one month left in 2016, and December is a crowded one indeed. While Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is certain to be the month's biggest hit, there is still plenty of smaller and more intimate films out there for those looking to catch up on the studios' Oscar hopeful ahead of time. However, in additon to those listed here, the month has many other high-profile films either opening wide or hitting limited release ahead of larger roll-outs in January. These include R-rated comedy Office Christmas Party, Boston Massacre drama Patriots Day starring Mark Wahlberg and director Stephen Gaghan's crime adventure Gold. For more family-friendly fare, check out Illumination Entertainment's animated musical Sing or A Monster Calls, the critically acclaimed new fantasy drama from director J.A. Bayona. As it is plain to see, the wide variety of top-notch releases certainly promises to end the year with a bang.
Once again, here are the 10 films to check out in December:
December 2: Jackie
December 9: La La Land
December 16: Collateral Beauty, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
December 21: Assassin's Creed, Passengers
December 23: Silence
December 25: Fences, Hidden Figures, Live By Night