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Holiday Movie Preview Guide 2023

Get the inside track on these critic-approved films coming to screens this season


spinner image Eddie Murphy stars in "Candy Cane Lane," Timothée Chalamet stars as Willy Wonka in "Wonka" and Fantasia Barrino stars in "The Color Purple."
(Left to right) Eddie Murphy in "Candy Cane Lane," Timothée Chalamet in "Wonka" and Fantasia Barrino in "The Color Purple."
Claudette Barius/Prime Video; Jaap Buittendijk/Warner Bros. Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures

Holiday season means movie season as much as it means balsam firs and hot chocolate. Hollywood rolls out the big flicks it’s betting the ranch on, so there’s more than a Santa’s sackful of promising films with great stars and directors between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, including Eddie Murphy’s first Christmas comedy, Julia Roberts’ tech-apocalypse epic, George Clooney’s heroic 1936 Olympics biopic and the haunting Holocaust drama The Zone of Interest. Mark your calendars and settle in!

Maestro (In select theaters Nov. 22, on Netflix Dec. 20)

Bradley Cooper dazzlingly embodies conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein, and Carey Mulligan is even better as his Broadway star wife. From their first magical flirtation to their big fight scene (as a giant Snoopy from the Thanksgiving parade passes by their fab Manhattan apartment window), they capture two lives well — if tumultuously — lived.

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May December (in select theaters, on Netflix Dec. 1)

Gracie (Julianne Moore, 62), was jailed for sex with young Joe (Charles Melton, 32). Now they’re married and about to send their teens off to college, and TV star Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) is going to play Gracie in a movie, so they let her live with and study them way too intimately.

Leave the World Behind (in limited theaters, on Netflix Dec. 8)

Producers Barack and Michelle Obama present a thriller about a couple (Julia Roberts, 57, and Ethan Hawke, 53), their ritzy Airbnb host (Mahershala Ali) and a doomsday prepper (Kevin Bacon, 65) whose paranoia seems appropriate as a cyberattack devastates America. They’re on their own — but will they turn on each other?

Candy Cane Lane (on Prime Video Dec. 1)

Eddie Murphy, 62, plays a Southern California dad so determined to win his neighborhood’s holiday home decoration contest, he makes a deal with an elf whose magic spell brings the 12 days of Christmas to life. Result? Chaos and comedy.

Poor Things (in theaters Dec. 8)

In a bizarre update of Frankenstein, a mad scientist (Willem Dafoe, 68) reanimates a dead woman (Emma Stone), at first with a grownup’s body and the brain of a baby.

The Zone of Interest (in theaters Dec. 8)

The year’s most-buzzed-about foreign actress, Sandra Hüller, plays the “Queen of Auschwitz,” the wife of Nazi commander Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), who tends to her kids in an Edenic garden lit by the crematoria yards away.

American Fiction (in theaters Dec. 15)

In a barbed comedy that’s also a heartwarming drama, curmudgeonly professor and author Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright, 58) writes a book satirizing every urban gangsta stereotype he hates. He’s aghast when it becomes a bestseller with a zillion-dollar movie deal, as he struggles to find a nursing home for his mom (Leslie Uggams, 80), who has dementia.

Wonka (in theaters Dec. 15)

Hugh Grant, 63, plays a singing Oompa Loompa who indignantly tells Willy Wonka (Timothée Chalamet), “I will have you know that I am a perfectly respectable size for an Oompa Loompa!"

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Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (in theaters Dec. 22)

Aquaman (Jason Momoa) seeks to save the Kingdom of Atlantis, with plenty of help from his mama (Nicole Kidman, 56).             

Freud’s Last Session (in theaters Dec. 22)

The film’s 1939 debate between atheist Sigmund Freud (Anthony Hopkins, 85) and Christian Chronicles of Narnia creator C.S. Lewis (Downton Abbey’s Matthew Goode) never happened, but it illuminates the men’s private lives and ideas.

The Color Purple (in theaters Dec. 25)

An adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the Pulitzer-winning novel by Alice Walker, 79, about rural Southern African Americans in the early 20th century, it’s made stars Taraji P. Henson, 53, Danielle Brooks and Fantasia Barrino all front-runners for Oscar nominations.

Ferrari (in theaters Dec. 25)

Miami Vice producer Michael Mann, 80, presents a biopic about Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) in 1957, when he almost lost his company, drivers died in his race cars, and he tried to keep his mistress’s child a secret from his wife and business partner (Penélope Cruz) after their own son had died.

The Boys in the Boat (in theaters Dec. 25)

George Clooney, 62, directs a Chariots of Fire–like film about the Berlin Olympics in 1936, when an upset victory by Seattle’s working-class rowing team, like Jesse Owens' four gold medals in track and field, humiliated Hitler.

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