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Holiday movie preview: Heroines, hobbits and dinosaurs

Published: Thursday, Nov. 14 2013 5:30 p.m. MST

Martin Freeman plays Bilbo Baggins in New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayers fantasy adventure The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Mark Pokorny) Martin Freeman plays Bilbo Baggins in New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayers fantasy adventure The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Mark Pokorny)

For film lovers, the holiday movie season is the best time of the year. Along with a few large-scale tent-pole films that would be at home with the biggest summer releases, audiences are also treated to a huge variety of dramas, comedies, thrillers and animated films, giving people a perfect excuse to get out of the cold weather and into a movie theater.

Here’s a select look at the diverse lineup of movies coming out this holiday season.

Thor: The Dark World— Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as the Norse god of thunder in this sequel to 2011’s “Thor,” which sees the Avenger battling an ancient evil so powerful that he must recruit his half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in a last-ditch effort to save the nine worlds. Bigger scope, bolder action sequences and a more detailed sci-fi/fantasy universe make this one a must-see for Marvel fans, especially leading into 2015’s “Avengers 2: Age of Ultron.” Another major selling point? Not one, but two post-credits sequences, so make sure to stick around until the bitter end.

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), left, and P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), right, star in Disney's Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), left, and P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), right, star in Disney's "Saving Mr. Banks," releasing in U.S. theaters in December. (FranÇois Duhamel, Disney Enterprises)

Rating: PG-13

Release date: Nov. 8

The Book Thief— Based on the New York Times best-seller by Markus Zusak, “The Book Thief” follows a foster girl (Sophie Nélisse) in World War II-era Germany who steals the one thing she can’t resist — books — which she shares with those around her, including a Jewish fist-fighter hiding in her basement. Geoffrey Rush (“The King’s Speech”) and Emily Watson (“War Horse”) co-star in this adaptation from Emmy-winning director Brian Percival (“Downton Abbey”).

Rating: PG-13

Release date: Nov. 27

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire— The second installment in Suzanne Collins’ hugely popular young adult series about kids battling to the death. As rebellion threatens to break out in Panem, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are forced to compete yet again, this time to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the games, known as the Quarter Quell. The first Hunger Games movie was a hit with critics as well as with audiences, making this one of the most highly anticipated movies of the season. Due to the inherently violent nature of the subject matter, though, it might be too intense for many young audience members.

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) shows Disneyland to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) shows Disneyland to "Mary Poppins" author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) in Disney's "Saving Mr. Banks," releasing in U.S. theaters in December. (FranÇois Duhamel, Disney Enterprises)

Rating: PG-13

Release date: Nov. 22

Frozen— A modern twist on a lesser-known Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale called “The Snow Queen,” “Frozen” marks the 53rd feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series that began with 1937’s “Snow White.” Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars”) stars as Anna, one of two princesses in the Nordic land of Arendelle, which is magically plunged into an eternal winter by her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel). After a bit of a rough patch, “Tangled” proved that Disney still has that fairy dust when it comes to princess musicals. This should probably be at the top of the list of must-see movies for families with young kids.

Rating: PG

Angela Bassett plays Aretha and Jacob Latimore is Langston in Angela Bassett plays Aretha and Jacob Latimore is Langston in "Black Nativity." (Phil Bray)

Release date: Nov. 27

Black Nativity— A loose adaptation of the Langston Hughes play, this contemporary Christmas-themed musical boasts an impressive cast, including Academy Award winners Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson as well as Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett. Interwoven with a gospel-tinged retelling of the Nativity, the story follows a boy (Jacob Latimore) sent to spend Christmas with relatives in New York after he and his single-parent mother (Hudson) are evicted.

Rating: PG

Release date: Nov. 27

Khumba” (Dec. 6) — This crisply animated 3-D adventure movie for kids comes all the way from South Africa. It tells the story of a young zebra who becomes ostracized for being born with only half his stripes. In order to win over the rest of his herd, he goes on a quest across the Great Karoo. Along with Jake T. Austin as the titular character, “Khumba” features the vocal talents of seasoned thesps like Laurence Fishburne, Liam Neeson and Steve Buscemi, among others.

Jacob Latimore as Langston (center) in Jacob Latimore as Langston (center) in "Black Nativity." (Phil Bray)

Rating: Not yet rated

Relase date: Dec. 6

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug— Part 2 of Peter Jackson’s sprawling Hobbit trilogy, which has already made more than $1 billion in worldwide box-office sales. “The Desolation of Smaug” introduces Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and his companions to the titular dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch from “Star Trek: Into Darkness”). It also re-introduces a few faces that will be familiar to fans of Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings trilogy. Just like "The Two Towers," this middle film will likely be a little bit darker than its predecessor, which already had a fair share of intense moments. Because of that, parents might want to leave the little ones at home.

Jacob Latimore, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whitaker star in Jacob Latimore, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whitaker star in "Black Nativity." (Phil Bray)

Rating: PG-13

Release date: Dec. 13

Saving Mr. Banks— Tom Hanks already knocked it out of the park once this year playing a real-life character (“Captain Phillips”), but in “Saving Mr. Banks,” he portrays one of the most iconic figures in entertainment history — Walt Disney — in a story about the behind-the-scenes struggle that led to one of the studio’s most beloved films, “Mary Poppins.” Emma Thompson co-stars as “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers in a film that’s already receiving awards season buzz. A must-see for fans of Disney history.

Rating: PG-13

Release date: Dec. 13 limited, Dec. 20 wide

Tyrese Gibson plays Tyson and Jacob Latimore is Langston in Tyrese Gibson plays Tyson and Jacob Latimore is Langston in "Black Nativity." (Phil Bray)

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues— More than nine years after the original “Anchorman” hit theaters, SNL alum Will Ferrell returns as inept San Diego news anchor Ron Burgundy, this time alongside a ridiculously loaded cast that includes everyone from Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson to Jim Carrey and Nicole Kidman. It's probably not the kind of holiday movie that's for everyone, especially kids, seeing as the original wasn’t exactly light on sex-related humor.

Rating: Not yet rated

Elsa is the Snow Queen in Disney's Elsa is the Snow Queen in Disney's "Frozen." (©2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.)

Release date: Dec. 20

Walking with Dinosaurs 3D — A stunningly beautiful live-action/CGI hybrid, this family-friendly adventure from BBC Earth is set during the Late Cretaceous period 70 million years ago and follows Patchi, a pachyrhinosaur (think triceratops without the horns), on a journey to save his family. The cutting-edge 3-D animation meshes with the live-action landscapes of southern Alaska, creating something completely unlike anything else to hit theaters this holiday season. Highly recommended for families with an interest in natural history and science.

Rating: Not yet rated

Release date: Dec. 20

Hans and Anna are two characters in Disney's Hans and Anna are two characters in Disney's "Frozen." (Disney)

47 Ronin— First-time director Carl Erik Rinsch puts a fantasy spin on the real-life story of the 47 Ronin, a group of samurai in 18th-century Japan who avenged the murder of their master at the hands of a brutal Shogun. Despite the film’s troubled production, trailers make it look like it could be pretty fun for fans of stylized action a la "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "The Matrix." Alongside Keanu Reeves, who plays a half-British/half-Japanese swordsman named Kai, the film stars Hiroyuki Sanada (“The Last Samurai”), Tadanobu Asano (“Thor”) and Rinko Kikuchi (“Pacific Rim”).

Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and Sven are characters in Disney's Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and Sven are characters in Disney's "Frozen." (mgortz, Disney)

Rating: PG-13

Release date: Dec. 25

Grudge Match— The closest you’ll ever get to seeing Rocky Balboa duke it out with Jake “Raging Bull” LaMotta, this comedy stars Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro as former boxing rivals goaded into one last match 30 years after retirement. Not the movie most boxing fanatics probably wanted when they imagined Stallone and DeNiro going toe to toe in the ring, but at 67 and 70, respectively, it’s still seems pretty impressive.

Rating: PG-13

Release date: Dec. 25

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty— A remake of the classic 1947 film starring Danny Kaye — which was itself based on a 1939 short story by James Thurber — “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” stars Ben Stiller (who also directed) as an office worker with a penchant for daydreaming about incredible adventures who, one day, gets the opportunity to go on an incredible adventure of his own. Although the premise lends itself to off-the-wall comedy, it looks as though Stiller opts for a more artistic direction, going with something that feels less like “Tropic Thunder” and more like a Spike Jonze film. Kristen Wiig and Sean Penn co-star.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson is Peeta Mellark in Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson is Peeta Mellark in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close)

Rating: PG-13

Release date: Dec. 25

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” — British actor Idris Elba stars in this biopic of the iconic anti-apartheid revolutionary, chronicling Mandela’s early life up until he became the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Elba, who has long been relegated to supporting roles in films like “Pacific Rim” and “Thor: The Dark World,” has earned a lot of positive buzz for his performance opposite “Skyfall’s" Naomie Harris. "Long Walk to Freedom" offers a glimpse at a significant period in 20th-century history.

Rating: PG-13

Release date: Dec. 25

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Murray Close)

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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