The Essential Holiday Movie Guide

Get the scoop on all the major winter blockbusters for kids and teens.
Get the scoop on all the major winter blockbusters for kids and teens.

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media reviewer

Winter brings all sorts of wonderful family treats: holiday decorations, shiny presents, and relatives from near and far. The season also brings some of the best movies of the year -- and kids, tweens, and teens are all in for some cinematic fun.

Look for animated fairy tales (Frozen) and epic adaptations (Ender's Game, The Hobbit), plus teen-friendly sports comedies (Grudge Match) and superhero flicks (Thor). We'll provide detailed ratings and reviews on everything you need to know, plus suggestions for talking to your kids about what they see. Stay tuned for our full reviews, but, in the meantime, find out the buzz on each winter release so you know what movies will -- and won't -- be on your wish list.


  • Free Birds (Nov. 1)
    Target Age: Young kids
    What's the Buzz? What could appeal more to young moviegoers than talking animals -- specifically, the pardoned Thanksgiving turkey? Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson play a pair of turkeys who travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving to try and get turkey off the menu and save their species from annual extermination. When they arrive in 1621, they discover their wild turkey ancestors are way smarter and braver than they imagined. There's romance, historical inaccuracies, hunting violence, and lots of fowl humor.

  • Ender's Game (Nov. 1)
    Target Age: Tweens and teens
    What's the Buzz? It took nearly 30 years to translate Orson Scott Card's futuristic sci-fi novel from page to screen, but the time is finally here. Hugo's Asa Butterfield stars as young protagonist Ender Wiggin, a military genius who's chosen by Colonel Hyram Graff (Harrison Ford) to be the next great commander of the international military fleet. There's bullying and combat against an alien enemy, but the movie also poses lots of thought-provoking questions and themes.

  • Last Vegas (Nov. 1)
    Target Age: Teens and adults
    What's the Buzz? Three of Hollywood's most esteemed actors -- Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline -- play old friends who reunite in Las Vegas for the bachelor party of their ladykiller pal (Michael Douglas). We all know that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but this comedy definitely has more of a Cocoon meets Wild Hogs feel than a Bachelor Party vibe -- but that doesn't mean there won't be a focus on sex in Sin City.

  • Thor: The Dark World (Nov. 8)
    Target Age: Tweens and teens
    What's the Buzz? Marvel's Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to the big screen for his first sequel. Set one year after The Avengers, the movie finds Thor facing a deadlier nemesis than even his angry (and now imprisoned) half-brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). The mysterious and power-hungry enemy, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) poses a threat to the Nine Realms and all of humanity. Like the other Marvel-based adventures, expect superhero action/violence and light romance between Thor and his girlfriend, Jane (Natalie Portman).

  • The Book Thief (Nov. 8)
    Target Age: Tweens and teens
    What's the Buzz? Based on Markus Zusak's haunting World War II novel, this emotional historical drama set in Nazi Germany follows 11-year-old Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse), the daughter of a Communist forced to give her up for adoption. Placed with childless foster parents (played by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson), Liesel finally finds family, friendship (with a young Jewish artist hiding in their basement), and the power of words. Like the book, the movie is heartbreaking at times, and there are many deaths.

  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Nov. 22)
    Target Age: Tweens and teens
    What's the Buzz? Get ready for more action, intrigue, and romance in the second installment of Suzanne Collins' dystopian trilogy. Catching Fire once again stars Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as District 12's Hunger Games winners Katniss and Peeta. Not only is ruthless President Snow (Donald Sutherland) monitoring everything the supposed couple does, but Katniss and Peeta must return to the Arena, this time to compete against 22 other former victors, some friendly and some decidedly out to kill. Meanwhile, insurrection brews across the Districts.

  • Delivery Man (Nov. 22)
    Target Age: Teens
    What's the Buzz? Funnyman Vince Vaughn plays yet another lovable loser in this unconventional parenting comedy. Vaughn's character is informed that his fertility clinic donations have resulted in 533 children, 142 of whom have filed a lawsuit to find their father, and he must decide whether to reveal himself to his newfound offspring or stay anonymous. Given the story line and Vaughn's penchant for mature humor, it's a safe bet that Delivery Man is for older teens and up.

  • Black Nativity (Nov. 27)
    Target Age: Tweens and teens
    What's the Buzz? Loosely based on Langston Hughes' celebration of Christmas and gospel music, Black Nativity is a musical retelling of the nativity story with an African-American cast. In this updated version, starring Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, and Forest Whitaker, the holiday musical follows a down-on-her-luck single mom (Hudson) who sends her adolescent son (Jacob Latimore) to stay with his grandparents, a pastor (Whitaker) and his wife (Bassett) who are putting on the Black Nativity at their church.

  • Frozen (Nov. 27)
    Target Age: Young kids
    What's the Buzz? Just in time for Thanksgiving is Disney's latest animated feature, a loose retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen fairytale. Featuring the voices of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, and Jonathan Groff, the adventure chronicles how a beautiful young princess (Bell) along with a mountain man (Groff) and their reindeer sidekick travel across a frozen landscape to find the Snow Queen (Menzel), their only hope to save them from eternal winter. Frozen should be a cool family pick this holiday season.


  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Dec. 13)
    Target Age: Teens
    What's the Buzz? In this second installment of Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), now carrying the One Ring, continues to travel with Gandalf (Ian McKellen), dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and 12 other dwarves on their way to confront the mighty dragon Smaug in hopes of recovering their kingdom. During the epic journey, they pass through the Mirkwood, home of the wood elves, including Lord of the Rings heartthrob Legolas (Orlando Bloom). Expect plenty of fantasy action and violence.

  • Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas (Dec. 13)
    Target Age: Teens
    What's the Buzz? The seventh film in the Madea franchise is a holiday special. Writer/director/producer Perry stars as his larger-than-life Madea, who accompanies her best friend Eileen (Anna Maria Horsford from the '90s sitcom Amen) to visit relatives in a rural town for Christmas. While in the small town, Madea causes all sorts of Madea-size trouble as she makes sure everyone knows exactly what she thinks of them. Perry's movies tend to include some language and humor but always have a morality lesson.

  • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Dec. 20)
    Target Age: Older teens
    What's the Buzz? Everyone's favorite San Diego local news team returns nearly a decade after the cult comedy classic hit theaters in summer 2004. In the '80s-set sequel, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and his disbanded group of on-air pals, including Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Champ Kind (David Koechner), and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), reunite to work at a new 24-hour cable news channel in New York City. Like the original, the Ferrell-Adam McKay production will definitely feature some envelope-pushing humor, sexual jokes, and lots of physical comedy.

  • Saving Mr. Banks (Dec. 20)
    Target Age: Older tweens and teens
    What's the Buzz? Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) brings us the behind-the-scenes story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) convinced P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to adapt "Mary Poppins" into a live-action Disney musical. Mature fans of the legendary life-changing nanny may enjoy seeing a biographical dramedy about how the charismatic Disney himself had trouble persuading the proper Englishwoman to turn her beloved children's book into one of his colorful, big-budget musical productions.

  • Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie (Dec. 20)
    Target Age: Kids and tweens
    What's the Buzz? Based on the 1999 BBC miniseries that led to a live show, books, and an exhibit, Walking with Dinosaurs returns with a 3-D release that features computer-animated dinosaurs in live-action settings, making for an ultrarealistic look at how dinosaurs lived. Set in the Late Cretaceous period, the movie follows three Pachyrhinosauruses as they grow up outsmarting predators and working together to keep their herd safe. The movie should appeal to all budding paleontologists, but it might be too scary for early elementary schoolers.

  • Justin Bieber's Believe (Dec. 25)
    Target Age: Tweens and teens
    What's the Buzz? Director Jon M. Chu reteams with the teen phenom for his second behind-the-scenes concert documentary. Each Monday this fall leading up to the movie's Christmas Day release, Bieber is releasing a new single exclusively through iTunes to tease both the album and the documentary. Expect to purchase advance tickets for Beliebers, who naturally will want to see their favorite pop star's performances on the big screen. Tweens and teens over the Bieber craze will be OK taking a pass, though.

  • 47 Ronin (Dec. 25)
    Target Age: Older teens
    What's the Buzz? Keanu Reeves stars in this action-packed retelling of a famous samurai legend: the story of the 47 ronin. After a respected feudal lord is forced to commit ritual suicide, his death leaves his samurai leader-less. But the 47 ronin decide to avenge their lord and restore his honor by patiently waiting for an opportunity to kill those responsible for his death -- only, in this version, the ronin need help from a mystical "half breed" (Reeves) to defeat seemingly supernatural enemies.

  • Grudge Match (Dec. 25)
    Target Age: Teens
    What's the Buzz? Boxing-film legends Sylvester Stallone (Rocky) and Robert De Niro (Raging Bull) play long-retired boxing rivals who still can't stand each other 30 years after they last faced off. After throwing punches during a video-game recording, the two are asked to consider getting into the ring again to decide once and for all who's the better boxer. The sports comedy promises boxing and retirement humor, training montages, ringside trash-talking, and a feel-good lesson about discipline and perseverance.

  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Dec. 25)
    Target Age: Teens
    What's the Buzz? Director Ben Stiller plays the titular Walter Mitty in this modernization of James Thurber's 1939 short story. In this adaptation, Mitty is a milquetoast Life magazine photo editor who prefers to live in his imagination, daydreaming about the kind of man he wishes he could be to court his attractive coworker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). When the photo that's supposed to be the cover of the final issue of Life goes missing, Mitty finally gets the chance to go on a real epic adventure.

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