Entertainment has become dominated by extremes. Movie theaters roll out flashy, clamorous spectacle blockbusters, balanced by many TV options that promise engrossing, character-driven plots. And hardly ever the twain shall meet.
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to market new films and series, finding the good, true, and beautiful ones has become increasingly difficult. Stories that pay equal attention to character development, intriguing visual work, and historical and thematic depth are rare. Where they exist, they might be lost on one of a dozen major streamers or a limited theatrical run.
At its best, entertainment serves as a means to laugh, imagine, provide respite, and see the world through different eyes. Perhaps a few of these may fit the bill. With a focus on based-on-true-story titles and notable fiction adaptations — plus, throwing shade on a couple of tentpole franchises — here are 17 on-screen stories to keep an eye out for this holiday season.
Coming to Theaters
‘Devotion’ (Nov. 23)
If record box-office for “Top Gun: Maverick” is any indicator, moviegoers are revved up for air combat. That film’s co-star Glen Powell returns to the fighter jet cockpit in Korean War drama “Devotion” alongside Jonathan Majors, set to star soon as “Avengers” baddie Kang. While unlikely to be a Tom Cruise-level blockbuster, “Devotion” hopes to make up for it with a historical backdrop including the use of authentic aircraft.
‘The Fabelmans’ (Nov. 23)
Acclaimed director Steven Spielberg has given the world “Jurassic Park,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Schindler’s List,” “Lincoln,” “E.T.,” and countless other memorable films. Riffing on his formative years growing up in Arizona, “The Fabelmans” reportedly develops themes on the power of stories and why they’re worth the effort to tell. It debuted in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award.
‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ (Nov. 11)
Marvel’s past decade of pop culture dominance has taken hits lately, as recent franchise entries focus on confusing religious themes, feminist activism, mother-as-monster tropes, and computer-generated imagery over heroic storytelling. Still, don’t count out director Ryan Coogler, who’s determined to pay tribute to the late great Chadwick Boseman with a superhero adventure that deepens themes of his first outing in the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda.
‘Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon’ (Dec. 5)
The man in black and his haunting country-folk-rock songs return to the big screen in this documentary, with never-before-seen concert footage. Along with his son John Carter Cash and sister Joanne Cash, watch for creative personalities who knew Johnny Cash — such as Sheryl Crow, Tim McGraw, Alice Cooper, and others — to unveil why his music continues to resonate across generations.
‘A Man Called Otto’ (Dec. 25)
Known for dramedies like “Finding Neverland” and “Stranger Than Fiction,” director Marc Forster adapts an award-winning novel. He hopes to make us laugh and cry in this story of a curmudgeon shaken from his dour routine by a young family who moves in next door.
‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ (Dec. 16)
After decades of action blockbusters, no one in Hollywood bets against director James Cameron (“Titanic,” “Aliens”). Despite many having tepid views on futuristic culture-clash drama “Avatar,” the sequel looks to once again break new ground visually. Whether we’ll get a story that’s more than a rehash of “Pocahontas” and “Dances with Wolves,” better wait and see.
In Theaters and Streaming
‘Good Night Oppy’ (Nov. 4; streaming Nov. 23 on Prime Video)
Call it a real-life version of “WALL-E” (sort of). When NASA launched exploration rover Opportunity in July 2003, engineers expected it to last 90 days. Instead, its mission went on for 15 years, capturing never-before-seen Mars footage despite dust storms and treacherous craters. For this inspirational take on the mission, Amblin Entertainment and ILM collaborated to recreate dramatic scenes on the red planet.
‘The Chosen,’ Season 3 Premiere (Nov. 18; streaming later via The Chosen app)
A global phenomenon viewed by hundreds of millions, multi-season ensemble drama “The Chosen” depicting the life and ministry of Jesus Christ continues to shake up Hollywood with its crowdfunded strategy. After last year’s Christmas special earned $13.7 million in theaters, now the premiere episodes of Season 3 — with the introduction of Judas as the rabbi’s first-century ministry grows — will roll out first in theaters, then weeks later will stream on the free mobile app.
‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery’ (Nov. 23; streaming Dec. 23 on Netflix)
Three years after inventive murder mystery “Knives Out” shocked and thrilled audiences, capping off Christopher Plummer’s notable career prior to his passing, the sequel is afoot. Filmed in Greece, director Rian Johnson has assembled a surprising all-star cast, with Daniel Craig reprising his lead detective role, and the late Angela Lansbury appearing in her final role, for what promises to be a mind-bending ride.
‘5000 Blankets’ (Dec. 12; streaming later on Pure Flix)
Pure Flix, one of several niche streamers trying to win family market share from Disney Plus, has generated recent buzz with adventure flick “Legacy Peak” — and, now, an inspirational film based on a true story. When a boy’s father suffers an episode of schizophrenia and leaves home to live on the streets, young Philip becomes aware of his community’s homeless population. As they search for Philip Sr., he and his mom launch a compassionate mission.
Top Streaming Picks
‘The Crown,’ Season 5 (Nov. 9 on Netflix)
For six years, writer-producer Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon”) has defined prestige drama with this lavishly produced window into the trials and triumphs of Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family. Following her recent death, “The Crown” has found millions of new viewers — as well as new controversy, with season five set to dramatize the devastating Windsor Castle fire, multiple difficult royal divorces, and other key ’90s-era events.
‘Echo 3’ (Nov. 23 on Apple TV Plus)
For those who thrill to black-ops rather than biopics, the Oscar-winning creator behind “Zero Dark Thirty” has produced a 10-episode action series filmed on location in Colombia. Former military veterans played by Luke Evans (“Midway”) and Michiel Huisman (“The Red Sea Diving Resort”) must extract a kidnapped young scientist (Jessica Ann Collins), unaware they’re walking into a secret war. The first three episodes land on premiere date.
‘Disenchanted’ (Nov. 18 on Disney Plus)
When a naïve aspiring royal (Amy Adams) dropped into cynical New York City, the resulting comedy “Enchanted” featuring songs by Disney maestro Alan Menken delighted families with its charm. All the cast — including Adams, Patrick Dempsey, and Idina Menzel — have reunited 16 years later for a sequel filmed mostly in Ireland. But it’s anyone’s guess whether it can recapture the magic.
‘Say Hey, Willie Mays!’ (Nov. 8 on HBO Max)
Regarded by many as the greatest living baseball player, longtime home-run king Willie Mays, today 91, finally gets his due in “Say Hey, Willie Mays!” Reportedly covering his debut in the Negro leagues in 1947, his U.S. Army service, two decades of stardom in Major League Baseball, and later charity work advancing youth baseball, the film promises an extensive, unfiltered look at his notable life.
‘The Wingfeather Saga,’ Season 1 (Dec. 2 on Angel Studios app)
The biggest crowdfunded children’s entertainment project of all time, fantasy-adventure series “The Wingfeather Saga” will debut with six action-packed episodes. From a creative team that cites “Avatar: The Last Airbender” as inspiration, this story has equal measures light humor (talking swords and toothy cows), peril (dragons and child-snatchers), and a countercultural focus on the hero’s journey of a family working together rather than a lone “chosen one.”
‘Enola Holmes 2’ (Nov. 4 on Netflix)
Introducing Sherlock Holmes’ teenage sister, “Enola Holmes” became a massive hit as it, like the novel it’s based on, put a new spin on the Arthur Conan Doyle stories. With Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”) again breaking the fourth wall and Henry Cavill (“Man of Steel”) also returning as Sherlock, count on another smart, classy mystery.
‘Fire of Love’ (Nov. 11 on Disney Plus)
One of 30 National Geographic titles rolling out on Disney Plus in November, Sundance selection “Fire of Love” tells the story of French scientists Katia and Maurice Krafft, who met pursuing their passion of studying volcanoes. This acclaimed documentary, aiming to tell their love story as well, culls from more than 100 hours of their spectacular footage of volcanic eruptions.
Note that theatrical and streaming release dates are subject to change.