December 4

Macbeth

What it is: A lavish adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy of the same name, with Michael Fassbender playing the titular Scottish king, opposite Marion Cotillard as his scheming wife.

Why you should care: Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's best-known and best-loved plays, but there hasn't been a conventional big-screen version since Roman Polanski's 1971 adaptation. Director Justin Kurzel has certainly pulled out all the visual stops, delivering a stylish and bloody period drama that brings Shakespeare's text to gritty life. And it's hard to think of many other modern Hollywood actors who would be better-suited to playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth — particularly Marion Cotillard, who brings intelligence, danger, and sensuality to every role she plays.

What else is coming out: Krampus, a horror/comedy about a feuding family whose Christmas is interrupted by the titular demon; Chi-Raq, Spike Lee's ambitious, modernized retelling of Aristophanes' Lysistrata, which places the story in a gang war in Chicago's South Side; Youth, a character piece about an aging composer (Michael Caine) who reflects on his life at a resort in the Swiss Alps; The World of Kanako, a Japanese thriller about a former detective (Koji Yakusho) who falls back on his old skills in an effort to find his missing daughter; Life, a biopic about the real-life friendship between actor James Dean (Dan DeHaan) and photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson); The Wannabe, a drama about a would-be gangster (Vincent Piazza) who attempts to ingratiate himself with John Gotti; MI-5, a spy thriller based on a British TV series you probably haven't seen; Christmas Eve, a heartwarmer about a bunch of people who get stuck on elevators together on Christmas Eve; The Letters, a Christian-themed inspirational drama about the life of Mother Teresa (Juliette Stevenson); Every Thing Will Be Fine, a turgid melodrama about a driver (James Franco) who accidentally strikes and kills a kid.

December 11

In the Heart of the Sea

What it is: A seafaring epic based on the true story of the 1820 shipwrecking of the Essex by a whale, which later served as a key inspiration for Herman Melville's legendary novel Moby-Dick.

Why you should care: It's been a while since Hollywoood has visited the watery part of the world, and In the Heart of the Sea offers a unique and harrowing period survival tale with a top-notch ensemble cast: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, and Ben Whishaw as the young Herman Melville. It's a fascinating story with an impressive pedigree — Nathaniel Philbrick's book of the same name won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2000 — and Ron Howard's adaptation aims to capture the story in every detail.

What else is coming out: Don Verdean, a quirky comedy about an archaeologist (Sam Rockwell) who attempts to drum up interest in a flagging church ministry by producing hoaxed religious relics; The Dark Horse, a based-on-a-true-story drama about a troubled man (Cliff Curtis) who dedicates himself to training low-income students for a chess championship; Close Range, an action flick with a plot so flimsy that it's basically just an excuse to show off the martial arts talents of star Scott Adkins.

December 18

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

What it is: The latest in a series of period dramas about a multigenerational family quarrel happening in the midst of a sprawling civil war.

Why you should care: Okay, okay, it's Star Wars. What else do you need to know? Today, George Lucas' prequel trilogy isn't exactly held in high regard, but the passing of the torch to Disney really does seem like a fresh start for the galaxy far, far away. The new Star Wars sequel aims to please longtime fans by returning to classic characters like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), while charting a larger course for Star Wars' future with fresh young talent like Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. For director J.J. Abrams — an admitted lifelong Star Wars fan — The Force Awakens has clearly been a labor of love, and every new trailer has only increased the sense that the Star Wars franchise has finally roared back to life.

What else is coming out: Sisters, the long-awaited big-screen reunion of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, playing sisters who throw one last party before they sell the home where they spent their childhoods; Son of Saul, a World War II-set Hungarian drama about a concentration camp worker (Geza Rohrig) who attempts to find a rabbi to give a proper burial to a deceased Jewish child; Extraction, a thriller about a government agent (Kellan Lutz) trying to rescue his kidnapped spy dad (Bruce Willis).

December 23

The Big Short

What it is: A dramatic adaptation of the Michael Lewis nonfiction book of the same name, which chronicles the events leading to the 2008 U.S. financial crisis.

Why you should care: At a time when every Hollywood studio is lining up to release its star-studded Oscar contenders, The Big Short may have the most stacked cast of all: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt play the film's quartet of leading men, alongside supporting performances by actors like Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei, and Rafe Spall. Frequent Will Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay might seem like an odd choice to direct this kind of dense, crunchy material, but a close look at his filmography reveals an intriguing vein of passion for the subject — most notably in the credits for his 2010 comedy The Other Guys, which were packed with information about the way large, amorphous financial institutions impact the average American. And early critical responses to The Big Short have been extremely positive, with many critics praising how vigorously and thoroughly the film criticizes the financial institutions responsible for the crisis.

What else is coming out: 45 Years, a drama about a long-married couple (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) whose lives are shaken up by an unexpected discovery from the past; Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, a candy-colored piece of garbage you should refuse to inflict upon your children.

December 25

Joy

What it is: A film based on the true story of Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence), who gained fame and fortune by inventing more than 100 products — many of which became bestsellers after appearing on platforms like the Home Shopping Network.

Why you should care: Did you like Silver Linings Playbook or American Hustle? Joy is director David O. Russell's third consecutive collaboration with stars Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro. Trailers for Joy have focused less on the story and more on the thematic and emotional beats, so it's hard to get a sense of the film's overarching narrative structure — but Lawrence looks as magnetic as ever in the title role.

What else is coming out: Concussion, the based-on-a-true story tale of an immigrant doctor (Will Smith) who took on the NFL about the dangers of football-related brain trauma; Point Break, the "re-imagining" of the 1991 surfing bank robber flick that absolutely nobody was asking for; Daddy's Home, a thuddingly generic comedy about the feud between a cool dad (Mark Wahlberg) and the milquetoast stepdad who replaced him (Will Ferrell).