2014 Holiday Movie Preview

Common Sense Media

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media reviewer

It’s that most wonderful time of the year again — not only because of family gatherings and holiday feasts but also because of the great movies hitting theaters. This fall, families with kids of all ages are in luck: There’s everything from animated adventures (Big Hero 6), funny penguins (Penguins of Madagascar), and singing orphans (Annie) to serious biographical dramas (The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Unbroken) and big-budget franchise sequels (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1; The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies).

We’ll have detailed ratings and reviews, plus suggestions for talking to your kids about what they see. Stay tuned for our full reviews, but, in the meantime, get the buzz on each holiday release so you know what movies will — and won’t — be on your wish list.



Big Hero 6 (Nov. 7)
Target Age: Young kids and tweens
What’s the Buzz? Disney and Marvel join forces for this animated superhero adventure based on the popular graphic novel. The family-friendly adaptation is set in the fictional futuristic city of “San Fransokyo,” where 14-year-old genius Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) is trying to get into a special robotics program at his older brother’s university. After tragedy strikes, Hiro teams up with his brother’s best friends and the health robot Baymax (Scott Adsit) to defeat a masked villain who’s stolen what Hiro loves most. Although a few parts are sad and a couple of characters die, this action-packed story is ideal for families with kids, tweens, and teens. <<Click for Full Review>>

Interstellar (Nov. 7)
Target Age: Older tweens and teens
What’s the Buzz? The latest film from director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy,Inception) has been compared to space epics such as Gravity and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Set in a future where drought has killed all the crops and people are slowly succumbing to starvation and sickness, Interstellar stars Matthew McConaughey as a devoted father who’s asked to join a small underground NASA crew on a life-or-death mission to travel through a wormhole in hopes of finding an inhabitable planet. Although there are a few deaths, the overriding father-child story is a good fit for mature tweens and their parents.<Click for Full Review>>

Jessabelle (Nov. 7)
Target Age: Teens
What’s the Buzz? This teen-targeted supernatural horror story from the producers ofParanormal Activity, Insidious, and Sinister follows Jessabelle (Sarah Snook), a grief-stricken young woman who moves into her father’s old Louisiana home after a car accident kills her fiancé and leaves her confined to a wheelchair. At her father’s mansion, Jessie discovers a gift from her dead mother and an unwelcome surprise: a murderous spirit that wants her dead. Expect jump-worthy frights and extreme creepiness, although not slasher-level gore, in this Southern-gothic scarefest. <<Click for Full Review>>

The Theory of Everything (Nov. 7)
Target Age: Teens
What’s the Buzz? Adapted from Jane Hawking’s memoir about her marriage to internationally renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything chronicles the former couple’s life together, from their early courtship at Cambridge and Hawking’s diagnosis of ALS to their marriage and the publishing of A Brief History of Time. Stars Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables) and Felicity Jones (Like Crazy) already have garnered critical praise for their portrayals, and teens interested in Hawking should be drawn in by the actors headlining the biographical drama.  <<Click for Full Review>>

Beyond the Lights (Nov. 14)
Target Age: Teens
What’s the Buzz? Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball) offers up another dramatic love story, this time about Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), an R&B superstar with a smothering stage “momster” (Minnie Driver) and a world-famous career. But fragile Noni wants to end it all until Kaz (Nate Parker), a young cop assigned to celebrity detail, literally helps her off the ledge. The two quickly fall in love — much to the horror of Noni’s mom and Kaz’s politically ambitious dad (Danny Glover). With such attractive stars and a soapy pop-culture storyline,Beyond the Lights should hit just the right note with teens looking for a swoony romance. <<Click for Full Review>>

Dumb and Dumber To (Nov. 14)
Target Age: Older teens
What’s the Buzz? After 20 years, lovable losers Lloyd (Jim Carrey) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) are back for another comic adventure. This time, the dim-witted duo reunites in search of Lloyd’s long-lost daughter, who could be his last chance at receiving a much-needed kidney transplant. As in the first film, there likely will be tons of innuendo-filled jokes, gross-out physical comedy, and humor that’s inappropriate for younger audiences. But if your older teen has already seen the original — or, more likely, you’re nostalgic for the ’90s movie and OK with your kids experiencing the often cringe-worthy silliness — this could be a must-see. <<Click for Full Review>>

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (Nov. 21)
Target Age: Older tweens and teens
What’s the Buzz? In the penultimate Hunger Games installment, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is taken to the secretive District 13, where she’s persuaded by President Coin (Julianne Moore) to join the revolution against the Capitol. Distraught over President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) capture of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss agrees to act as the Mockingjay if the District 13 rebels can rescue him. With a host of new characters and a more politicized storyline outside the now-destroyed Arena, Mockingjay may be just as violent as the previous films, albeit within the context of war rather than a reality-show competition. Readers of the final book will know to expect more socio-political commentary and strategy and a lot less romance. <<Click for Full Review>>

Penguins of Madagascar (Nov. 26)
Target Age: Young kids
What’s the Buzz? This feature-length take on the popular Nickelodeon TV show centers on Madagascar‘s four scheming, spying penguins: Skipper (voiced by Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (John DiMaggio), and Private (Christopher Knights). The covert birds join forces with an elite interspecies task force, the North Wind. Led by a wolf, Agent Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), the secret undercover group is dedicated to rescuing animals that can’t help themselves. Together, the penguins and the North Wind work together to defeat the evil Dr. Octavius Brine (John Malkovich) from destroying the world. Known for their humor and sight gags, the penguins will be exactly what younger kids (and perhaps their older siblings) will want to see over Thanksgiving weekend. <<Click for Full Review>>

The Imitation Game (Nov. 28)
Target Age: Teens
What’s the Buzz? This historical biographical drama centers on Alan Turing (played by Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch), the English mathematician and cryptanalyst who’s considered both the godfather of computer science and the individual most responsible for breaking German codes during World War II. Starring a who’s who of English actors (Keira KnightleyMark StrongMatthew GoodeCharles Dance), the period film also touches on Turing’s realization that he wasn’t interested in women (at the time, homosexuality was a criminal offense). Because of the mature subject matter, the film looks best for teens who will understand the historical context. <Click for Full Review>>


Exodus: Gods and Kings (Dec. 12)
Target Age: Teens
What’s the Buzz? Director Ridley Scott is known to favor big historical adventures, so it’s no surprise that his latest epic retells one of the Bible’s grandest tales: that of Moses (Christian Bale) and his rebellion against the Egyptian Pharaoh Rhamses (Joel Edgerton) to free the Israelites from bondage. The movie chronicles Moses’ life from growing up as an adopted member of the Egyptian royal family to reclaiming his Hebrew roots and accepting his divine role to deliver his people out of slavery. The trailer promises action, drama, and violence. <<Click for Full Review>>

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Dec. 17)
Target Age: Teens
What’s the Buzz? It’s finally time for the conclusion of Peter Jackson‘s epic trilogy. With a lot of help from hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), the royal dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his band of brothers have roused the greedy, murderous dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), who responded by setting the nearby human village of Laketown on fire. Having reclaimed his fortune, Thorin must now decide whether to help the humans, and everyone — men, dwarves, elves — must prepare for the coming scourge of Orcs sent by Sauron to attack the Lonely Mountain. Anyone who’s seen the first two films will want to see the culminating chapter of Tolkien’s classic. <<Click for Full Review>>

Annie (Dec. 19)
Target Age: Young kids and tweens
What’s the Buzz? Starring Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx and Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis in the Daddy Warbucks and Annie roles respectively, this update of the beloved Broadway-show-turned-big-screen-musical still follows a charming young orphan who’s fostered by an initially reluctant but ultimately loving billionaire. In this case, Foxx isn’t a 1930s industrialist but rather a modern-day mogul with political aspirations. The era might have changed, but the spirit remains the same — especially in Annie’s scheming orphanage manager, Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). Expect this to be an easy whole-family holiday movie choice. <<Click for Full Review>>

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (Dec. 19)
Target Age: Young kids and tweens
What’s the Buzz? Ben Stiller returns for the third installment in the popular family-film franchise about museum exhibits that come to life every night. The first movie was set in New York’s Museum of Natural History, and the second took place in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.; now the museum crew is traveling to London’s British Museum to find a way to keep the magic working. Fans of the late Robin Williams will want to see him reprise his role as Teddy Roosevelt (this is his penultimate live-action film role). <<Click for Full Review>>

Song of the Sea (Dec. 19)
Target Age: Young kids and tweens
What’s the Buzz? Inspired by the ancient folklore of selkies (seals in water but humans on land), Song of the Sea is a hand-drawn film from Irish animator Tomm Moore, whose movie The Secret of Kells was nominated for an Oscar in 2010. It tells the story of Ben and his little sister, Saoirse, the last “seal child.” Together the siblings embark on an epic, magical journey to return to their home by the sea. The stills from the movie look gorgeous, and if Kells is any indication, this should be an ideal fit for older elementary school-age children ready for more than the typical big-budget Hollywood cartoon.<<Click for Full Review>>

Into the Woods (Dec. 25)
Target Age: Tweens and teens
What’s the Buzz? Movie-musical specialist Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) has adapted yet another Broadway favorite for the big screen with this Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine classic about famous fairy tale characters who want their wishes granted. With an all-star cast led byMeryl Streep as the Witch, Johnny Depp as the Wolf, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Chris Pine as Cinderella’s Prince, and Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife, the ensemble musical is sure to make fans of the genre happy. But parents should be cautious, as Sondheim’s take on fairy tales is a lot darker than Disney’s, and not every character lives or receives a happily-ever-after. <<Click for Full Review>>

Selma (Dec. 25)
Target Age: Teens
What’s the Buzz? Similar to Lincoln, Selma isn’t so much a biopic of a historical figure as a detailed accounting of a particular moment in a legendary man’s life. David Oyelowo (Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) stars as Martin Luther King Jr. during the three-month period in 1965 when he (already a Nobel Peace Prize winner) led a campaign to secure equal voting rights for African-Americans and organized a massive civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The historic march, which was televised, showed America the brutality of Southern segregationists and is considered the chief reason that President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) called for federal voting rights legislation. <<Click for Full Review>>

Unbroken (Dec. 25)
Target Age: Teens
What’s the Buzz? Angelina Jolie directs this adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s award-winning biography of Louis Zamperini, an Italian-American Olympic runner whose WWII bomber plane crashed into the Pacific in 1943. After surviving 47 days in shark-infested waters, Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) was captured by the Japanese and held as a POW for more than two years. The biopic-meets-war-drama should, like the book, be a testament to Zamperini (who died earlier this year at age 97), a man whose faith and will to live helped him stay alive. Expect an ultimately feel-good story that nevertheless doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war. <<Click for Full Review>>


Common Sense Media's Holiday Movie Preview for all ages.

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