clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The biggest new movies arriving before the end of the year

Saving Earth is the hot holiday trend

George Clooney with beard from the movie Midnight Sky Image: Netflix via Polygon

In years past, December has been a whirlwind of movie activity, from Christmas-season blockbusters to much-anticipated critical hopefuls, right up until the last-minute awards-qualifying runs. But as with everything else about 2020, this December looks a bit different in the wake of the ongoing global pandemic. The limited re-opening of movie theaters is starting to recede again, Oscar eligibility has been pushed back two months, and studios are exploring new options for getting their movies out there.

The quantity, however, is more robust than ever, with around 30 new releases making their way to various types of screens before year’s end. This glut includes star turns from Chadwick Boseman, George Clooney, Meryl Streep (twice!), Tom Hanks, Tessa Thompson, Carey Mulligan, Gary Oldman, Jillian Bell, Gerard Butler, and Milla Jovovich, not to mention Wonder Woman. Here’s a quick and handy guide to what’s coming out before we finally tell 2020 to hit the bricks.

Godmothered (out now)

Isla Fisher as Mackenzie Walsh and Jillian Bell as Eleanor in godmothered Photo: K.C. Bailey

Disney has gotten so big that they produce their own knockoffs: In the absence of an Enchanted sequel, Godmothered follows a fairy godmother (Jillian Bell) confronted with harsh realities when she visits our world and gets assigned to make wishes come true for a harried single mom (Isla Fisher). Expect fairy-tale cliches to be winked at, and then dutifully fulfilled; hope that Bell and Fisher at least have an opportunity to show off their considerable comedy chops.

Out now on Disney Plus

Sound of Metal (out now)

Riz Ahmed shirtless and drumming in Sound of Metal Image: Amazon Prime Video

Riz Ahmed plays a drummer whose future with his bandmate/girlfriend (Olivia Cooke) is jeopardized when he experiences massive hearing loss. Unsure if he can afford pricey cochlear implants, he reluctantly spends time at a community for the deaf and attempts to come to terms with his situation. Ahmed, Cooke, and newcomer Paul Raci are all compelling in this affecting, intimate melodrama from first-time director Daris Marder. The film’s sound design and closed captioning work in unison to create an immediate, unique sensory experience.

Out now on Amazon Prime Video

Dear Santa (out now)

Dear Santa girl writing a letter Image: IFC Films

The director of Batkid Begins sets her sight on another kind of real-life wish fulfillment with this profile of the USPS “Operation Santa” program, which allows members of the public to adopt kids’ letters to Santa Claus and help families in need.

Out now on VOD

Black Bear (out now)

aubrey plaza clinging to a curtain in black bear Photo: Momentum Pictures

Aubrey Plaza was all over the internet over the past few weeks as Twitter’s preferred choice for Kristen Stewart’s heart in the Hulu original Happiest Season. In Black Bear, she features in an even more fraught pair of relationships, first as an inscrutable filmmaker coming between a not-so-happy couple and then as an actress manipulated by her partner/director. They’re both named Alison, but they’re not exactly the same person … or are there? Lawrence Michael Levine’s bifurcated film tells two psychologically unsettling stories, and while the movie sometimes feels as if it’s missing a third part, Plaza is brilliant in both halves as-is, showing off her considerable range.

Out now in select theaters and VOD

I’m Your Woman (out now)

FRANKIE FAISON and RACHEL BROSNAHAN star in I’M YOUR WOMAN and hold a gun in a scene Photo: Wilson Webb/Amazon Prime Video

Writer-director Julia Hart has come up with a feminist-minded twist on retro crime pictures: Instead of following a career criminal on a big job, I’m Your Woman stays with the wife (Rachel Brosnahan) who must flee her home when her law-breaking husband goes missing. In a story inspired by a few key scenes from Michael Mann’s Thief, she juggles her newly adopted baby, her lack of knowledge about her husband’s business, and her uncertainty about the mysterious handler (Arinzé Kene) in charge of hiding her. It’s a fascinating if sometimes uneven exercise in genre revisionism.

Now in select theaters; coming to Prime Video on Dec. 11

Mank (out now)

Mank in close-ups with dizzying clock numbers around him Image: Netflix

Mank, David Fincher’s first new feature in six years has been playing in limited release for a few weeks, and arrives on Netflix just in time to grace some end-of-year lists. Some critics have rankled at the liberties Fincher has taken in telling the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), the Oscar-winning co-writer of Citizen Kane who, per this movie, came up with most of the good stuff before Orson Welles got his hands on the screenplay. But ultimately this black-and-white hybrid of digital technology and self-consciously retro stylings isn’t really about the making of Kane so much as one man’s attempt to both work within and exist outside of an oppressive system.

Out now on Netflix

Let Them All Talk (Dec. 10)

Meryl Streep and Lucas Hedges in Let them all talk in a cruise ship dining room Image: HBO Max

Steven Soderbergh’s glorious unretirement continues with a comedy-drama with a setting that has become surprisingly unlikely: a cruise ship. Meryl Streep reunites with her Laundromat director to play an author taking a trip with two friends (Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest) and her nephew (Lucas Hedges); the script is by acclaimed short story author Deborah Eisenberg.

Coming to HBO Max

Wild Mountain Thyme (Dec. 11)

Wild Mountain Thyme: Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan being romantic on a rainy pond bank Photo: Lionsgate

For Moonstruck director John Patrick Shanley’s third film, he adapts his play Outside Mullingar into a sorta-romantic dramedy starring Emily Blunt as Jamie Dornan as lifelong farmers and neighbors who seem destined to wind up together — if only they would actually make a move to that effect. This loopy material can only be made loopier by the addition of Christopher Walken, doing a charmingly barmy Irish accent.

Coming to VOD and select theaters

Wander Darkly (Dec. 11.)

Wander Darkly cast members Diego Luna and Sienna Miller snuggling Image: Lionsgate

Another Sundance selection finally getting a commercial release, Wander Darkly folds the past into the present when a couple (Sienna Miller and Diego Luna) hits a major turning point in their relationship. From the looks of the trailer, that turning point may involve the space between life and death, and their tripped-out memories may resemble something out of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Coming to VOD

On-Gaku: Our Sound (Dec. 11)

On-Gaku band jams out Image: GKids

Director Kenji Iwaisawa’s new animated project sounds a bit like the wonderful 2014 film We Are the Best! It’s about three young miscreants with almost no musical knowledge who decide on a whim to form a rock band. Iwaisawa animated almost all of the movie himself, adapting a manga by Hiroyuki Ohashi.

Coming to select theaters

Safety (Dec. 11)

Photo: Disney Plus

The Disney sports-movie tradition of the 2000s keeps on running with Safety, about a Clemson University football player (Jay Reeves) who raises his younger brother on campus when his home life becomes too unstable. Naturally, it’s based on a true story (and in the trailer looks a lot like a Clemson recruitment ad). The director is the versatile Reginald Hudlin, who made Marshall, Boomerang, and House Party, among others.

Coming to Disney Plus

Gunda (Dec. 11)

A mama pig nudges her baby pig in Gunda Image: Neon

The trailer for the G-rated Gunda opens with a hell of an effusive pull-quote from none other than Paul Thomas Anderson; the film’s executive producer is Joaquin Phoenix. A hard sell might be necessary for this black-and-white documentary from Viktor Kosakovskiy that follows the lives of several farm animals, sans narration or talking heads. Then again, it stars an adorable piglet, so maybe the sell is already complete.

Coming to select theaters

The Prom (Dec. 11)

Meryl Streep and James Corden sing in front of a giant song that says “Eleanor” in The Prom Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix

Ryan Murphy’s ultra-busy TV production schedule has kept him from directing many feature films in the past decade. He returns to the chair, and to Glee-style singing high-schoolers, for The Prom, an adaptation of a Broadway show about a bunch of theater folks (Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, and Andrew Rannells) descending upon a small Indiana town to help a young woman (Jo Ellen Pellman) who’s been told she can’t bring a same-sex date to her prom.

Coming to Netflix

Songbird (Dec. 11)

Sofia Carson gasps in horror with.a security camera feed behind her in Songbird Image: STXfilms

Songbird has been somewhat mischaracterized as the “Michael Bay pandemic movie.” While Bay produces and seems to have infused the movie with his vaguely libertarian-conservative politics, the actual director-cowriter of this pandemic-set (and pandemic-shot) thriller is Adam Mason, an Englishmen with experience in music videos and low-budget feature. Regardless of Bay’s input levels, a dystopian future where a young man with COVID immunity (KJ Apa) races to save his girlfriend (Sofia Carson) from a government-mandated “quarantine camp” is bound to start some arguments.

Greenland (Dec. 18)

Gerard Butler in a car with his family gasping at meteors raining down from the sky in Greenland Image: STXfilms

If it seemed impossible to believe that Gerard Butler would have to save the president’s life three times in the [Blank] Has Fallen series, just imagine him navigating his way through a second geostorm! Technically, Greenland — from Ric Roman Waugh, the director of the threequel Angel Has Fallen — doesn’t feature a proper geostorm (for that matter, neither did Geostorm), but isn’t a deadly meteor shower nearly as good? Butler, racing to bring his family to safety in a Greenland bunker, will have to find out.

Coming to VOD

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Dec. 18)

Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Photo: David Lee/Netflix

A film that should have been cause for celebration takes on a bittersweet tone as this adaptation of the August Wilson play stars the late Chadwick Boseman in his final role—alongside Viola Davis, no less. Davis plays legendary blueswoman Ma Rainey, while Boseman plays ambitious session trumpeter Levee; they both clash with various band members and managers over the course of an afternoon recording session. Reviews from the film’s early theatrical release have been glowing, especially with regards to the pair of acting titans at its center.

Coming to Netflix

Monster Hunter (Dec. 18)

greater rathalos breathing fire in the monster hunter movie Image: Screen Gems

Sony was one of the first studios to move most of their theatrical lineup into 2021 at the onset of the pandemic, but they’re planning to be one of the only big studios with an exclusive theatrical release this Christmas (if theaters stay open that long, anyway). Monster Hunter reteams game-to-film engineer Paul W.S. Anderson with Milla Jovovich in another monster-heavy game adaptation following their Resident Evil series. We’ll see if Monster Hunter: Regeneration, Monster Hunter: Sublimation, and more follow throughout the 2020s.

Coming to select theaters

The Father (Dec. 18)

Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins sit in a living room in The Father Photo: Lionsgate

In the rich tradition of releasing Amour around the holidays comes The Father, a drama about a father (Anthony Hopkins) and daughter (Olivia Colman) coping with the father’s dementia. Author Florian Zeller really lucked out, getting two of the United Kingdom’s best living actors to star in his first film as a director, adapted from his own play; the lure of seeing Hopkins and Colman play opposite each other might even overcome the stark bleakness of the subject matter.

Coming to select theaters

Another Round (Dec. 18)

a crowd cheers on mads mikkelsen as he drinks from a bottle Photo: Screen International

The latest from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg sounds like an action-free version of Drunken Master II: A group of friends led by Mads Mikkelsen decide to spend as much time as possible slightly drunk, not to improve their fighting skills but the whole of their middle-aged lives.

Coming to VOD

Fatale (Dec. 18)

Fatale: Hilary Swank smilse at Michael Ealy at a bar Photo: Scott Everett White/Lionsgate

Prolific junk-thriller auteur Deon Taylor (The Intruder; Black & Blue; Traffik) returns with his spin on Fatal Attraction, where the sexy stalker (Hilary Swank) bedeviling a weak-willed man (Michael Ealy) also happens to be a police officer. We’ve got to hand it to Fatale: that’s a solid hook for some ludicrous pulp.

Coming to theaters

Skylines (Dec. 18)

Skylines:  An alien tentacles grab a woman’s forehead Image: Vertical Entertainment

How did a low-budget, critically maligned alien-invasion flop inspire a full-on trilogy? Anyone with a few streaming subscriptions can try to catch up; the original Skyline is on HBO Max, while Beyond Skyline (which is more directly related to this new threequel) is on Netflix. Even this series’ detractors seem to agree that the level of special effects they employ at relatively low budgets is pretty impressive.

Coming to VOD

Sylvie’s Love (Dec. 23)

TESSA THOMPSON as SYLVIE PARKER and NNAMDI ASOMUGHA as ROBERT HALLOWAY in SLYVIE’S LOVE Photo: Nicola Goode/Amazon Prime Video

In a period romance with shades of La La Land, a jazzman (Nnamdi Asomugha) and aspiring TV producers (Tessa Thompson) fall in love in 1957 Harlem, only to be pulled apart by work, and reunited later. Reviews from Sundance largely swooned over writer-director Eugene Ashe’s second feature.

Coming to VOD

The Midnight Sky (Dec. 23)

Felicity Jones floats in space in a space suit in The Midnight Sky Image: Netflix

George Clooney returns to feature films, pulling double duty as actor and director of this sci-fi drama, about a scientist (Clooney) attempting to stop the crew of a spaceship from landing on a ravaged, post-apocalyptic Earth. The ship is crewed up with Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, and David Oyelowo, and if nothing else, this represents a change of pace for Clooney, who usually directs movies set in some form of the past.

Coming to Netflix

News of the World (Dec. 25)

Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel) and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) in “News of the World,” co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass. Photo Credit: Bruce Talamon/Universal Pictures

O captain our captain! Tom Hanks captains up again after Saving Private Ryan, Captain Phillips and Greyhound; here he’s a Civil War vet transporting a girl (Helena Zengel) across the American west and back to her family. Phillips director Paul Greengrass returns, presumably because he has experience captaining the captain.

Coming to select theaters

Wonder Woman (Dec. 25)

Wonder Woman 1984: Diana runs in front of the capitol in Washington DC Photo: Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures

After a half-dozen release date changes that, for once, seem to have nothing to do with the quality of the movie itself, Wonder Woman’s second big-screen adventure (it’s fine not to count Justice League) finally arrives … on a bunch of small screens. Warner Bros. is starting off its year of simultaneous HBO Max and theatrical premieres with arguably their biggest title, reuniting Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, and director Patty Jenkins.

Coming to HBO Max and select theaters

Promising Young Woman (Dec. 25)

Carrie Mulligan in promising young woman sucking on a candy cane Image: Focus Features

Former Killing Eve showrunner Emerald Fennell makes her feature debut with this dark-comic revenge thriller, about Cassie (Carey Mulligan), a woman with a mysterious past and a menacing double life. Fennell’s material has attracted an eclectic all-star cast that includes Alison Brie, Adam Brody, Sam Richardson, Laverne Cox, Max Greenfield, Molly Shannon, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jennifer Coolidge, and Connie Britton.

Coming to select theaters

One Night in Miami (Dec. 25)

A bunch of men sit at a bar lifting up their drinks in One Night in Miami Photo: Patti Perret/Amazon Prime Video

A movie about Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Muhammed Ali (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) meeting up in a hotel sounds like the beginning of a complicated joke, but it’s actually a one-act play by Kemp Powers fictionalizing a real evening the four massive cultural figures spent together in 1964. Regina King has made the movie version her feature directorial debut after nearly a decade of TV directing gigs.

Coming to select theaters; Prime Video on Jan. 15

Soul (Dec. 25)

a bunch of floaty shaped souls from soul Image: Pixar

After COVID-19 kneecapped the release of Onward, Disney and Pixar are sending their second original 2020 project straight to streaming at no extra charge. Inside Out’s Pete Docter returns to the metaphysical realm with an adventure about a music teacher and aspiring musician (Jamie Foxx) who suffers a terrible accident and gets sent to a world where souls find their purpose before attaching themselves to human bodies. Though it’s not out until Christmas, early reviews have been some of Pixar’s best in recent years.

Coming to Disney Plus

The Truffle Hunters (Dec. 25)

a dog sits on the dinner table Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

This documentary about a group of older men searching for truffles in Northern Italy hit the film-festival jackpot in a strange year. After premiering at Sundance, it was selected for the Cannes, Toronto, and New York film festivals (and screened virtually at the latter two, to positive notices). In our review from earlier this year, we likened the movie to a live-action Pixar film.

Coming to select theaters