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2020 Holiday Season Movie Preview: 15 Films to Look Forward To

Epic biopics, stirring documentaries, sweeping dramas and heartwarming rom-coms

Viola Davis stars in the film Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Dolly Parton stars in Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square

Netflix (2)

Viola Davis (left) in "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom" and Dolly Parton in "Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square."

En español | Holiday season means movie season as much as it means balsam firs and hot chocolate. And while we may be used to previews in our beloved movie theaters announcing holiday releases, this year the crop is poised to land more on our small screens than big ones (with some exceptions). Either way, there are plenty of fine films with great stars and terrific directors lining up for our viewing excitement between now and New Year’s Day. Mark your calendars and settle in!

If you choose to visit a theater to see a film, read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus health and safety guide and consult AARP’s latest news on the coronavirus.

Mank (Nov. 13)

If you thought Gary Oldman was great as Winston Churchill, wait until you see him as the alcoholic gambler genius who wrote Citizen Kane. Some pundits predict this biopic filmed in Citizen Kane’s black-and-white style will win more Oscars than the original.

Coming to: Limited theaters, Netflix

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (Nov. 13)

You didn’t know Forest Whitaker started out as a singer? He joins Keegan-Michael Key, Phylicia Rashad and Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville in a musical about a toymaker who finds new hope in his kind and curious granddaughter.

Coming to: Limited theaters and Netflix

Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square (Nov. 22)

Scroogelike Christine Baranski (The Good Fight) tries to sell a town out from under the townsfolk, but angel Dolly fights back with 14 songs.

Coming to: Netflix

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Hillbilly Elegy (Nov. 24)

In Ron Howard’s adaptation of a hit memoir by conservative star J.D. Vance, a Yale Law student returns to his troubled Ohio hometown and reflects on the legacy of his mom (Amy Adams) and grandma (Glenn Close).

Coming to: Limited theaters and Netflix

The Christmas Chronicles: Part 2 (Nov. 25)

Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus (Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn) defend the North Pole from assault. Watch out for the gingerbread-cookie hand grenades.

Coming to: Netflix

Happiest Season (Nov. 25)

Kristen Stewart wants to propose to her girlfriend (Mackenzie Davis) at her family’s holiday party, only to discover that her parents (Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber) don’t know their daughter ain’t straight.

Coming to: Hulu

Nomadland (Dec. 4)

Frances McDormand triumphs as a woman who joins the growing population of Americans of retirement age who can’t or won’t retire, instead living in vans and RVs and hitting the road for seasonal work. Some of her costars are actual nomads telling their real-life stories in the film.

Coming to: Theaters

The Prom (Dec. 11)

After their Broadway musical about Eleanor Roosevelt flops, the vain, self-absorbed actors (Meryl Streep, James Corden, Kerry Washington) seek a good cause to redeem their reputations. So they invade Indiana, where they help a girl who wants to take her girlfriend to her high-school prom.

Coming to: Netflix

Wild Mountain Thyme (Dec. 11)

Another romantic fable from the writer of Cher’s movie Moonstruck, about an Irish girl (Emily Blunt), her neurotically elusive beloved (Jamie Dornan), his neurotic father (Christopher Walken), and their rich, shallow American nephew (Jon Hamm), who wants the family farm.

Coming to: Theaters and On Demand

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Dec. 18)

Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) star in August Wilson’s illustrious tale of Ma Rainey, the 1920s Mother of the Blues.

Coming to: Netflix

The Midnight Sky (Dec. 23)

George Clooney plays a scientist in the Arctic racing to prevent a group of astronauts from returning to Earth after an apocalyptic disaster.

Coming to: Select theaters and Netflix

One Night in Miami (Dec. 25)

Oscar- and Emmy-winning powerhouse actress Regina King, 49, flexes her muscles behind the camera as a feature film director — and it’s clear it will be the first of many. For her debut, she opts for a talky screen adaptation of Kemp Powers’ 2013 play, which imagines a fictional February night in Miami. That 1964 evening, boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), athlete Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and crooner Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) gather, party and discuss what it meant, and what the obligations were, to be a successful Black man in ‘60s America. With its standout cast, eye-popping period details in set design and costumes, King’s Oscar-bound movie is restrained only by a screenplay that doesn’t transcend the play’s didactic staginess and never fully opens out to reveal the kinetic connection when four towering legends converge four years before the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Coming to: Select theaters Dec. 25 and Amazon Prime Jan. 15

Wonder Woman 1984 (Dec. 25)

Gal Gadot is back as the Amazon warrior whose first film made $409 million.

Coming to: Theaters and HBO Max

News of the World (Dec. 25)

Wonder Woman 1984 may outgross it, but the prestige Christmas hit this year is bound to be this True Grit-like film about a Civil War veteran (Tom Hanks) who makes his living riding from town to town to bedazzle locals by reading aloud thrilling newspaper stories from all over America — they don’t get papers and most can’t read. He winds up stuck with the last thing he needs: a feral 10-year-old who lost her white parents in a Native American raid, and then her adoptive family. His job is to take her back to her family, whom she doesn’t remember — she wants to escape back to Kiowa country. Director Paul Greengrass’s Jason Bourne movies are jittery, but this one’s a stately, old-fashioned epic. There’s action, but what drives the story is the deep emotion.

Coming to: Theaters

Pieces of a Woman (Dec. 30)

Vanessa Kirby scored best actress at the 2020 Venice Film Festival for playing Martha, an expectant wife whose insistence on a home birth upends her hopeful life, her marriage to Boston working man Sean (Shia LaBeouf in full Method mode), and her relationship to her I-told-you-so mother (an affecting Ellen Burstyn, 88). The first act turns on her extended labor — a long, sweaty action sequence as breathless as any in The Bourne Identity. Directed with emotional honesty by Hungarian Kornél Mundruczó from a wrenching script by Kata Wéber, the film showcases The Crown actress who won a BAFTA for her early portrayal of Princess Margaret. An uncompromising star is born in a tragic childbirth drama of grief and redemption.

Coming to: Select theaters Dec. 30 and on Netflix Jan. 7

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Nov. 3, 2020. It has been updated with the latest announced release dates for films still scheduled in 2020.