Muppets Most Wanted - Miss Piggy

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Noah - Russell Crowe

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Noah - Russell Crowe

Into the Woods


       Holiday hopes:Summer and the holiday season are Hollywood's two biggest times of the box office year. With summer having already come and gone without great fanfare, Hollywood's hopes for 2014 now rest on what Santa may deliver.

       While the fall's notable for bringing story driven dramas to theatres – like 20th Century Fox's PG-13 sci-fi action mystery "The Maze Runner, “opening Friday at about 3,500 locations and tracking strongly with under-25 men and women – it's not until the holidays roll around that Hollywood unveils heavy hitters capable of doing the kind of blockbuster business that can turn a year around.

       Directed by first time feature director Wes Ball, "Maze" stars Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario and Will Poulter. It's based on James Dashner's best-selling young adult dystopian novel.

       Looking ahead to some of the highest profile wide releases heading our way from Thanksgiving through New Year's, there's a likely hit that's rooted in another series of young adult best sellers – "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1"from Lionsgate and Color Force.

       Based on the book by Suzanne Collins, "M1" opens Nov. 21 to be in position so that its second weekend covers the long Thanksgiving holiday period from Wed., Nov. 26 through Sun., Nov. 30.

        "M1," which faces no new wide competition its first weekend, is directed by Francis Lawrence, director of the 2013 episode "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." Lawrence is also directing "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2,"which is scheduled to open Nov. 20, 2015 and conclude the franchise.

        "Hunger's" first two episodes grossed $832.7 million in domestic theatres. "The Hunger Games" opened Mar. 23, 2012 to $152.5 million and went on to do $408 million domestically. "Fire" opened Nov. 22, 2013 to $158.1 million and did $424.7 million domestically. Collins' trilogy of books is a literary blockbuster with over 65 million copies in print in just the U.S.

        Starring in "M1" are: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson (HaymitchAbernathy), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Julianne Moore (President Coin), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee), Jeffrey Wright (Beetee), Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair), Jena Malone (Johanna Mason), with Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman) and Donald Sutherland (President Snow).

       In the new episode, according to Lionsgate, we find Katniss in District 13 "after she literally shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta and a nation moved by her courage."

        "M1" is a safe bet to impact in a big way at the box office and that alone should help make up for some of the summer's less energetic performers.

       Here's a quick look at a few more holiday season films that also have the capacity to give 2014 a late-in-the-game box office boost.

       The dynamics of the holiday season are driven by seasonal distractions like shopping and partying that typically keep adult moviegoers very busy. Over Thanksgiving weekend, family moviegoing goes hand in hand with carving turkeys. Then the pre-Christmas crush sets in and people start juggling the holiday activities they must get through before they can celebrate again.

       It takes high profile product with broad playability to attract audiences' attention in early December and Fox could have just such a film in its 3D epic adventure "Exodus: Gods and Kings," opening Dec. 12. Directed by Ridley Scott ("Gladiator"), it stars Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton and Ben Kingsley.

       Fox describes "Exodus" as the story "of one man's daring courage to take on the might of an empire. Using state of the art visual effects and 3D immersion, Scott brings new life to the story of the defiant leader Moses (Bale) as he rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (Edgerton), setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues."

       While "Exodus" is an original film, it should benefit from being a familiar story to audiences worldwide, the same advantage that franchise episodes have.

       Wed., Dec. 17 will bring the concluding episode of the franchise "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" from Warner Bros., New Line Cinema, MGM and WingNut Films.

       Directed by Peter Jackson (the "Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" franchises), "Armies" stars Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage in the third chapter of the "Hobbit" series.

       The original, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," opened Dec. 14, 2012 to $84.6 million and went on to gross $303 million domestically. The next episode, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," opened Dec. 13, 2013 to $73.6 million and did $258.4 million domestically.

        "Armies," Warner Bros. notes, is an epic conclusion (to) the adventures of Bilbo Baggins (Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage) and the Company of Dwarves. Having reclaimed their homeland from the Dragon Smaug, the Company has unwittingly unleashed a deadly force into the world. Enraged, Smaug rains his fiery wrath down upon the defenseless men, women and children of Lake-town.

       "Obsessed above all else with his reclaimed treasure, Thorin sacrifices friendship and honor to hoard it as Bilbo's frantic attempts to make him see reason drive the Hobbit towards a desperate and dangerous choice. But there are even greater dangers ahead. Unseen by any but the Wizard Gandalf (McKellen), the great enemy Sauron has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain.

       "As darkness converges on their escalating conflict, the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide – unite or be destroyed. Bilbo finds himself fighting for his life and the lives of his friends in the epic Battle of the Five Armies, as the future of Middle-earth hangs in the balance."

       Two days after "Hobbit" marches into multiplexes, Fox will unveil the latest episode in another very successful holiday season franchise -- "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb," directed by Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum" and "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian") and starring Robin Williams, Dan Stevens and Ben Stiller.

       The franchise's first two episodes grossed $428.1 million at domestic theatres. The new film's marketing tagline, "Their greatest adventure is about to begin," sums up the concept of this third chapter in which Larry (Stiller) begins an epic journey to "save the magic."

       "Tomb" is one of several high profile films designed to attract family moviegoers over the holidays.

       Columbia Pictures and Village Road Show Pictures musical comedy drama "Annie," opening Dec. 19, is a long time family appeal brand. Directed by Will Gluck ("Easy A"), it stars Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhane Wallis and Rose Byrne.

       This is moviegoers' first chance to see "Annie" on the big screen in many years. Hollywood's last "Annie" opened in limited release way back on May 21, 1982 and went wide June 18 with $5.3 million at 1,102 theatres, a big launch at the time. It did $57.1 million domestically, which was good money at the time.

       Here's how Columbia outlines "Annie's" story: "A Broadway classic that has delighted audiences for generations comes to the big screen with a new, contemporary vision...a modern telling that captures the magic of the classic characters and original show that won seven Tony Awards.

       "Academy Award nominee Quvenzhane Wallis ('Beasts of the Southern Wild') stars as Annie, a young, happy foster kid who's also tough enough to make her way on the streets of NewYorkin2014.Originallyleftbyher parents as a baby with the promise that they'd be back for her someday, it's been a hard knock life ever since with her mean foster mom Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz).

       "But everything's about to change when the hard-nosed tycoon and New York mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Foxx)–advised by his brilliant VP, Grace (Byrne)and his shrewd and scheming campaign advisor, Guy(Bobby Cannavale)–makes a thinly veiled campaign move and takes her in Stacks believes he's her guardian angel, but Annie's self-assured nature and bright, sun-will-come-out-tomorrow outlook on life just might mean it's the other way around."

       Moviegoing really heats up during the Christmas through New Year's week and among the titles opening then will be another high profile film with impressive theatrical roots – Disney's fantasy comedy "Into the Woods."

       Directed by Rob Marshall ("Chicago") and starring Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep and Chris Pine, "Woods" is based on the musical play by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine.

       Disney calls "Woods" a "modern twist on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales, intertwining the plots of a few choice stories and exploring the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests.

       "This humorous and heartfelt musical follows the classic tales of Cinderella (Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack and the Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone) and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) -- all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife (James Corden & Emily Blunt), their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch (Streep) who has put a curse on them."

       "Woods" premiered on Broadway Nov. 5, 1987 at the Martin Beck Theatre. It ran for 764 performances and won Tony Awards for best score, book and actress in a musical. It also received five Drama Desk awards, including best musical. The big-screen adaptation includes such songs from the stage production as "Children Will Listen," "Giants in the Sky," "On the Steps of the Palace," "No One Is Alone" and "Agony."

Bottom line: Hollywood has high hopes that Santa's bringing a happy holiday season at the box office.