Must-See Holiday Movie Guide: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Wreck-It RalphWreck-It RalphBy Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media reviewer

If "great family movies" are at the top of your wish list this holiday season, you're in luck -- this fall, the multiplex will be packed with kid-friendly characters, from video game strongmen (Wreck-It Ralph) and hobbits (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) to James Bond (Skyfall) and even a Twilight vampire or two for teens. We'll provide detailed ratings and reviews on everything from violence to sexual content, plus conversation starters so you can talk to your kids about what you see. For now, find out what all the buzz is about so you can start making a list of which movies will be -- and won't! -- be on your family's movie agenda this season.


Now Playing and Coming Soon

Wreck-It Ralph (Nov. 2)
Target Age: Young Kids
What's the Buzz?: Leave it to Disney to come up with such an inventive idea: Wreck-It Ralph, a video game villain (voiced by John C. Reilly), is tired of always being the bad guy, so he decides to go where no one has gone before -- other video games -- to find a place he can be a hero. With its clever premise and all-star voice cast, this animated adventure will appeal to everyone from little kids to older gamers.


Lincoln (Nov. 9)
Target Age: Teens
What's the Buzz?: If legendary director Steven Spielberg and Academy Award-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis don't spell Oscar, nothing does. Unlike the classic black-and-white drama Young Mr. Lincoln, Spielberg's take (based on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography) follows the final four months in America's beloved 16th president's life. Considering the talent and source material, Lincoln should be both educational and entertaining.


Skyfall (Nov. 9)
Target Age: Teens
What's the Buzz?: James Bond returns for the 23rd official 007 film (star Daniel Craig's third outing as the dashing English spy), and it looks like a mind-blower of an installment in the iconic franchise. Directed by Sam Mendes, the latest Bond flick promises the same pulse-quickening action, high-tech gadgetry, beautiful bombshells, and gritty violence we've come to expect from the series.


The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 (Nov. 16)
Target Age: Tweens and Teens
What's the Buzz?: The time has finally come for Bella (Kristen Stewart) to take her place alongside husband Edward (Robert Pattinson) as a vampire. Although the Cullen clan just wants to marvel at their new hybrid vampire-human addition, little Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy), the Volturi plan to make them pay. The final film boasts more characters, love scenes, and action sequences, but it's the chance to see "Robsten" onscreen one last time that will pack the theaters.


Life of Pi
(Nov. 21)
Target Age: Tweens and Teens
What's the Buzz?: Although Yann Martel's bestselling novel -- on which Ang Lee's fantasy adventure is based -- is not a kids' book, the movie is rated PG. It follows a zookeeper's teen son who's the sole human survivor of a shipwreck -- along with a group of wild animals, including a Bengal tiger. Filled with religious themes and beautiful visuals, the movie should attract both fans of the book and curious tweens and teens, though the themes and tone may make it a better fit for older moviegoers.


Red Dawn (Nov. 21)
Target Age: Teens
What's the Buzz?: The original Red Dawn fit in with the anti-Communist zeitgeist of the end of the Cold War; the new version reimagines the foes not as "Red" Cubans and Russians but as North Koreans instead. Starring a cast of popular actors like Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers), Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), Josh Peck (Drake & Josh), and Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights), this patriotic action drama promises a fair bit of peril and violence, as well as some strong language.


Rise of the Guardians (Nov. 21)
Target Age: Young Kids and Tweens
What's the Buzz?: What do you get when you combine the powers of Santa Claus, Jack Frost, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Sandman? An Avengers-style consortium of immortal beings who want to keep children safe .. at least according to this animated adventure that pits the legendary team against the dark forces of evil. Based on William Joyce's Guardians of Childhood fantasy series, this is one of those slightly edgy animated films that should attract even kids who no longer "believe."


Hitchcock (Nov. 23)
Target Age: Teens
What's the Buzz?: Any teen who's seen and liked an Alfred Hitchcock thriller will be interested in Anthony Hopkins' take on the genius behind some of Hollywood's most memorable films. Starring Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and Helen Mirren as Hitchcock's wife, Alma Reville, this biopic follows the legendary director as he attempts to get the suspense novel Psycho adapted for the big screen -- against all odds.


Playing for Keeps (Dec. 7)
Target Age: Teens
What's the Buzz?: Family dramedies aren't as compelling to teens as paranormal romances and fantasy adventures are, but Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel (aka Mrs. Justin Timberlake) could be a draw. This feel-good story follows a hunky divorced dad (Butler) who hasn't had a stable job since he was a professional soccer player. Still pining for his ex (Biel), he coaches his son's soccer team -- a decision that changes his life. Expect a bit of racy stuff and some language.


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
(Dec. 14)
Target Age: Tweens and Teens
What's the Buzz?: Visionary director Peter Jackson created a new generation of J. R. R. Tolkien fans with his adaptations of the three Lord of the Rings books, and now he's back with the first in the three-part tale of The Hobbit. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) embarks on an epic quest with Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and a group of feisty dwarves that will change the course of Middle-earth. Expect the same kinds of peril, clashes, and monsters that marked the LOTR trilogy.


Monsters, Inc. (Dec. 19)
Target Age: Young Kids
What's the Buzz?: Pixar is re-releasing this popular animated buddy comedy in 3-D just in time for the holidays. It's also the perfect way to get audiences excited for the impending release of Monsters Inc. prequel Monsters University, which comes out next July. But before you see Sulley and Mike W. in college, check out the original that introduced us to our favorite monsters in the closet.


Jack Reacher (Dec. 21)
Target Age: Teens
What's the Buzz?: Tom Cruise stars as author Jim Grant's beloved literary hero Jack Reacher, a military police detective investigating the murder of five random people killed at a distance by six shots -- obviously the work of a trained sniper. Despite the PG-13 violence (as well as language and drug content), teens are likely to want to see Cruise do what he does best.


Les Miserables
(Dec. 25)
Target Age: Teens
What's the Buzz?: Although movie musicals aren't usually the favorite genre of younger audiences, Les Miz is one of the most popular Broadway musicals of all time. Plus, this gritty adaptation of the French Revolution tale stars A-listers Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway. And as an added bonus for teen girls, there's a swoony central love triangle that should keep romance fans happy amidst the tragic plot twists and violent battles.


Parental Guidance (Dec. 25)
Target Age: Tweens and Teens
What's the Buzz?: In the same spirit as the Meet the Parents series, this intergenerational comedy chronicles what happens when laid-back grandparents (Billy Crystal and Bette Midler) have to step in to babysit the three kids of their Type-A daughter (Marisa Tomei). Considering its Christmas release and generally kid-friendly content (a bit of rude humor is likely the iffiest stuff to watch out for), this is an obvious choice for an extended-family trip to the movies over the holiday break.


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