Nov. 14--When it comes to the holiday movie season, certain old habits -- not to mention Hobbits -- die hard.
Since the premiere of the first "Lord of the Rings" movie 12 years ago, in 2001, almost a third of the holiday movie seasons since have been dominated by those half-pints from Middle Earth.
With more to come.
Following the three "LOTR" epics and the first "Hobbit" entry from last year, along comes the sophomore entry bearing a title ripe for parody, "The Desolation of Smaug."
Insert yours ... here.
Meanwhile, the other big franchise news is, of course, another mega-hyped sophomore entry, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" ... though some of us might be more eagerly anticipating the far more modest "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues."
Sequel-wise, that's about it, unless the latest Tyler Perry's Madea entry, "A Madea Christmas," counts. But we've lost count there, since Perry cranks out a new movie every other month these days, or so it seems.
Following are capsule previews of the big titles expected to occupy area multiplex screens between Thanksgiving weekend and year's end.
Several of the titles could be bumped to January, as often happens in the wake of the year-end onslaught ... so be patient.
Dallas Buyers Club (Nov. 22): Matthew McConaughey stars as real-life Texas cowboy Ron Woodruff, diagnosed in 1985 with AIDS and given a month to live. Shunned by friends and his own government, he takes medical matters into his own hands, both legally and illegally. Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto co-star.
Delivery Man (Nov. 22): Vince Vaughn (who else?) plays affable underachiever David Wozniak, whose anonymous
donations to a fertility clinic 20 years earlier resulted in 533 children. The movie follows his journey "to discover not only his true self but also the father that he could become."
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Nov. 22): In which Katniss Everdeen returns home after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark. Alas, winning means they must soon skedaddle: the 75th Games are just 'round the corner. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones, Woody Harrelson, Jena Malone, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amanda Plummer head the hunger-free cast.
Black Nativity (Nov. 27): A contemporary update of Langston Hughes' play, about a street-wise Baltimore teen (Jacob Latimore) who journeys to New York to spend Christmas with his estranged relatives, Rev. Cornell and Aretha Cobbs (Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett). Jennifer Hudson plays the boy's single mom. As the title suggests, a seasonal miracle or two is involved.
Frozen (Nov. 27): Disney's animated offering for the season, set in a kingdom hexed with eternal winter and following the odyssey of a plucky heroine (Kristen Bell) and the extreme mountain man (Jonathan Groff) who set out to end the Snow Queen's spell.
Homefront (Nov. 27): The one about the widowed ex-DEA agent (Jason Statham) who retires to a small town to raise his daughter, only to find the small town has larger problems than the big city. James Franco, Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder co-star. Written by Sly Stallone!
Oldboy (Nov. 27): Josh Brolin as an ad exec kidnapped and held hostage for 20 years. Why? That's what he's been wondering since being abruptly released. Elizabeth Olsen and Samuel L. Jackson co-star; Spike Lee directs.
Philhomena (Nov. 27): Oscar bait, with Judi Dench as an Irish woman who teams with a BBC reporter (Steve Coogan) to find the son she bore out of wedlock and unwillingly gave up for adoption in the U.S. years ago.
Out of the Furnace (Dec. 6): From the writer-director of "Crazy Heart," with Christian Bale as a hard-luck steelworker whose brother (Casey Affleck) returns from fighting in Iraq, gets lured into a ruthless crime ring, then mysteriously disappears. The cops can't crack the case, so older bro' takes matters in hand. Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker and Willem Dafoe co-star.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Dec. 13): The adventures of Bilbo Baggins continue apace, specifically his epic quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. With a little hindrance from the titular Smaug: one very scary dragon.
Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas (Dec. 13): In which Madea (Perry) heads to a small town in the country as part of a yuletide surprise. Co-starring ... Larry the Cable Guy? Yup.
American Hustle (Dec. 18): More Christian Bale intensity, this time as a brilliant con man and Amy Adams as his partner, both forced to work for a wild FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) in a scheme involving New Jersey powerbrokers and the Mafia. Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner co-star; David O. ("Three Kings") Russell writes/directs.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Dec. 20): Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) rides again, from the '70s into the '80s, via the first 24-hour news channel. Also back: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate, David Koechner. Newbies include Harrison Ford, Nicole Kidman, Greg Kinnear, James Marsden and Kristen Wiig.
Inside Llewyn Davis (Dec. 20): The Coen Bros.' latest, following a week in the life of a young folk singer (Oscar Isaac) as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961, a la Coens. Carrie Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake and F. Murray Abraham co-star.
Saving Mr. Banks (Dec. 20): The story of the contentious partnership of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) in turning her book into Disney's greatest box office success, "Mary Poppins." Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti and Jason Schwartzman co-star.
Walking with Dinosaurs (Dec. 20): The "most realistic" dinosaur movie EVER, we're assured, in what sounds like a rehash of Disney's 1999 "Dinosaur," following the adventures of an underdog 'saur beating the odds.
47 Ronin (Dec. 25): For those wondering whatever happened to Keanu Reeves, here he comes ... as a Chinese warrior who comes to the aid of a band of 47 samurai out to avenge the murder of their master.
Believe (Dec. 25): ... it or not, yet another big screen documentary profile of ongoing pop music annoyance Justin Bieber. Go figure.
Grudge Match (Dec. 25): More shameless aging-action-icon antics from Messrs. Stallone (Sly) and De Niro (Robert), cast as two '80s ring rivals being re-matched by a promoter, all the better to settle some old scores. Alan Arkin, Kim Basinger and Kevin Hart co-star.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Dec. 25): James Thurber's fantasy-prone everyman (last played on screen by Danny Kaye in 1946) returns, in the form of Ben Stiller, who also directs. Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine and Sean Penn co-star.
The Wolf of Wall Street (Dec. 25): The season's big award-contender, with Martin Scorsese yet again directing Leonardo Di Caprio, this time in an adaptation of Jordan Belfort's memoir chronicling his Wall Street Waterloo, per a hard-partying lifestyle and tumultuous personal life. Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler and Rob Reiner co-star.
Ghosts of grosses past
As Hollywood rallies its Hobbits 'n' Hunger Games for a big end-of-year box office blast, here's a look at what the masses were flocking to in the 10-year increments preceding 2013 ... all the way back to the pre-talkie year of 1923.
1923:1. "The Ten Commandments"; 2. "The Covered Wagon"; 3. "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"; 4. "Safety Last"; 5. "Robin Hood."
1933: 1. "Queen Christina"; 2. "I'm No Angel"; 3. "King Kong"; 4. "42nd Street"; 5. "She Done Him Wrong"
1943: 1. "This Is the Army"; 2. "For Whom the Bell Tolls"; 3. "The Outlaw"; 4. "Song of Bernadette"; 5. "Stage Door Canteen"
1953: 1. "Peter Pan"; 2. "The Robe"; 3. "From Here to Eternity"; 4. "Shane"; 5. "How to Marry a Millionaire"
1963: 1. "Cleopatra"; 2. "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"; 3. "Tom Jones"; 4. "Irma La Douce"; 5. "The Sword in the Stone"
1973: 1. "The Sting"; 2. "The Exorcist"; 3. "American Graffiti"; 4. "Papillon"; 5. "The Way We Were"
1983: 1." Return of the Jedi"; 2. "Terms of Endearment"; 3. "Trading Places"; 4. "Wargames"; 5. "Superman III"
1993: 1. "Jurassic Park"; 2. "Mrs. Doubtfire"; 3. "The Fugitive"; 4. "The Firm"; 5. "Sleepless in Seattle"
2003: 1. "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King"; 2. "Finding Nemo"; 3. "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl"; 4. "The Matrix Reloaded"; 5. "Bruce Almighty"
SOURCES: The Hollywood Reporter and Variety
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