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The best movies to see this holiday season

Encanto, West Side Story, Matrix: Revelations, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and more.

Dana Canedy (Chante Adams) and Charles Monroe King (Michael B. Jordan) in "A Journal for Jordan."
Dana Canedy (Chante Adams) and Charles Monroe King (Michael B. Jordan) in "A Journal for Jordan."Read moreDavid Lee SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT

With vaccination rates rising, movies have finally found some stable footing, and analysts now expect worldwide revenues to top $20 billion this year, up 80% from a dismal, locked-down 2020.

Comcast’s F9: The Fast Saga brought folks back to theaters and made $550 million globally, bested recently by the new James Bond installment No Time to Die ($560 million). In North America, box office numbers have been slower to recover, but that’s changing. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, one of the first blockbusters to be released solely in theaters, leads domestic tickets sales with $224 million.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife went with an exclusive theatrical release Nov. 19 and actually exceeded expectations for its opening weekend ($46 million), a welcome sign for a still-wary industry. Audience tastes remain fickle: Will Smith got some of the best reviews of his career for King Richard, which opened opposite Ghostbusters, but did disappointing business ($5.7 million, perhaps affected by simultaneous release on HBO Max).

Clearly, though, there is growing confidence among exhibitors and studios that audiences will support a decent theatrical run, and this is reflected in the busy upcoming slate of holiday movies.

That includes two Bradley Cooper films. He has a supporting role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s new SoCal period piece Licorice Pizza (Dec. 11) and a starring role in Nightmare Alley (Dec. 17) opposite Cate Blanchett. Denzel Washington directs Michael B. Jordan in A Journal for Jordan, due Christmas Day, based on the true story of a slain soldier who leaves a written legacy for his son.

Also on the schedule are Steven Spielberg’s reboot of the musical West Side Story, a new Spider-Man, and a new Matrix.

Here’s a look at the upcoming holiday slate, with the caveat that COVID-19 is still out there, and all dates, which have changed a lot already, are subject to further change.

House of Gucci

Scandal and murder rock the famous house of high fashion in 1995. Starring expensive clothes, Lady Gaga as the family’s so-called “Black Widow,” and Adam Driver as Empire heir Maurizio Gucci. With Salma Hayek, Jared Leto. Directed by Ridley Scott. In theaters now.


New Disney animated feature set in Colombia, where a community of magical beings scrambles to adapt after abruptly losing their powers. Lots of songs, with lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Featuring the voices of Diane Guerrero and Stephanie Beatriz. In theaters now, streaming on Disney+ Dec. 24.

The Humans

Stephen Karam adapts his Tony-award winning play for the screen, starring Richard Jenkins, Amy Schumer, and Steven Yuen as members of a family gathering in Manhattan for Thanksgiving dinner, where the revelation of buried secrets makes for a fraught evening. In theaters now.

The Souvenir Part II

Sequel to Joanna Hogg’s intriguing and startling semiautobiographical account of her affair with a complicated older man while in film school. Again starring Honor Swinton Byrne, whose character here revisits the relationship by making a movie that mixes fantasy and reality. In theaters now.


A Marine veteran (Riz Ahmed) grabs his two children and tries to outrun an alien parasite that is trying to destroy life on Earth. With Octavia Spencer. In theaters Dec. 3. Streaming on Amazon Prime Dec. 10.

The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion adapts the Thomas Savage Old West saga for the big screen, the story of brothers (Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons) in conflict over a woman (Kirsten Dunst). Streaming on Netflix Dec. 1.

West Side Story

Steven Spielberg updates the legendary 1961 musical, adding a role for original star Rita Moreno as a shop owner who employs Tony (Ansel Elgort), a young man engaged in a forbidden love affair with Maria (Rachel Zegler). In theaters Dec. 10.

Being the Ricardos

Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem star as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in this drama from writer-director Aaron Sorkin that delves into the marriage and career of the famous Hollywood couple. Opening at the Landmark Ritz on Dec. 10.

Licorice Pizza

Paul Thomas Anderson’s comic, fictionalized memoir of growing up in the San Fernando Valley, built around a teen boy (Cooper Hoffman) with a crush on an older girl (Alana Haim), and the showbiz types (Bradley Cooper as a debauched producer) who populate the area. Opening at the Landmark Ritz on Dec. 11.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

When the identity of Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is revealed, he must enlist the aid of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to set things right. Costarring Zendaya. In theaters Dec. 17.

Nightmare Alley

Bradley Cooper in a remake (directed by Guillermo del Toro) of the 1947 Tyrone Power film about a manipulative carnival hustler who hooks up with a psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) who just may outdo him in the deviousness department. In theaters Dec. 17.

The Matrix Resurrections

Two decades after the events of the last installment, Neo (Keanu Reeves) is living a memory-wiped life in San Francisco, until Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) gives him a blue pill and it all starts to come back. With Carrie-Anne Moss. Directed by Lana Wachowski. In theaters and HBOMax Dec. 22.

Don’t Look Up

In this new comedy from Adam McKay, two scientists (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence) discover that an asteroid is about to strike Earth but have a hard time attracting the public’s attention. On Netflix Christmas Eve.

A Journal for Jordan

A sergeant (Michael B. Jordan) keeps a journal while deployed in Iraq, writings that become a treasure for his son back home. With Chanté Adams. In theaters Christmas Day.