Toss out the turkey and send Santa back up the chimney. The holiday movie season is upon Hollywood, ushered in by the vampires and werewolves of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1."
When the new "Twilight" romance debuts in theaters on Friday, it sets the tone for a blockbuster-filled season dominated by big name movie directors such as Steven Spielberg and David Fincher and high-profile film franchises like "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" (December 21) and "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" (December 16).
"The last six weeks of of the year play out almost like a mini-summer," said Entertainment Weekly movie writer Dave Karger. "Kids are out of school for holidays, and movies are on the brain a lot more than they were in September or October."
The period encompassing the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays make for the second-biggest moviegoing season of the year after summer. Things officially start November 18 with "Breaking Dawn" -- the first half of the fourth and final chapter of the mega-successful "Twilight" film series based on Stephenie Myers' novels. "Part 2" hits theaters in 2012.
"This one picks up at a place where you think, 'Where could this story go now?'" the film's star Kristen Stewart told Reuters. "I think lots of milestones are crammed in to it, and there's a very accelerated bit of life lived in this movie."
DIRECTORS TAKE SPOTLIGHT
"Breaking Dawn" is directed by Oscar winner Bill Condon, who is in high-profile company with several top filmmakers taking over the season: Steven Spielberg is a double threat, directing the performance-capture 3D film "The Adventures of Tin Tin" (December 21) and the period drama "War Horse" (December 25).
Joining them is Martin Scorsese with his first 3D effort, the children's period piece "Hugo" (November 23), and Cameron Crowe stages a comeback with the feel-good family film "We Bought a Zoo," starring Matt Damon (Dec 23).
And lest we forget, a year after David Fincher's "The Social Network" dominated the 2010 holiday season, the acclaimed director is back on December 21 with the highly-anticipated "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."
The film is an English language adaptation of Swedish author Stieg Larsson's first installment of his popular Millennium book series, which have already launched a franchise of Swedish films with a worldwide cult following.
"It's an awkward thing to make a movie from a book that has another movie that already exists," Fincher told Reuters. "But if I didn't feel that we could do something different, or that we could bring something to it, I wouldn't have done it."
Typical of the holidays, theaters are filled with plenty of family-friendly films aimed at satisfying multiple generations. There's animated fare such as "Happy Feet Two" (November 18) and "Arthur Christmas" (November 23), as well as the live-action CGI film "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked" (December 16).
Meanwhile, funnyman Jason Segel aims to revive a dormant franchise with the live-action musical comedy, "The Muppets," (November 23), that will see actual puppets in place animation or computer graphics.
"There's something very visceral about the idea that these puppets exists in the same world that we exist in," said Segel, who wrote, executive produced and stars in the film. "Nothing against those beautiful animated films, but you'll never meet Shrek. He lives in a computer. But you could meet Kermit and you could hug him and shake his hand."
OSCAR WATCH 2011
As the Academy Awards telecast draws closer to its February 26 curtain, the holidays also mark the time studios trot out their contenders. George Clooney is touted as among those to beat for best actor, playing a widowed father of two girls in filmmaker Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" (November 16).
Black-and-white silent film "The Artist" (November 23) has seemingly come out of left field to capture the eyes of Academy voters, but the pest picture race appears wide open for now.
Meanwhile, a big group of women find themselves competing for the best actress slot. On December 9, Charlize Theron stars as writer who tries to reclaim her married high school sweetheart in Jason Reitman's "Young Adult," and Tilda Swinton is turning heads as a distraught mother in "We Need to Talk About Kevin."
Glenn Close plays a woman passing herself off as man in order to work in the 19th century Ireland film "Albert Nobbs" (December 21), and Meryl Streep is the former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady" (December 30).
On November 23, Michelle Williams stars in "My Week with Marilyn" where she transforms in to the legendary Hollywood icon, yet tragic screen star, Marilyn Monroe.
"If I knew then what I know now about how many people have opinions about her, I don't know if I would have been brave enough to say yes to the role," Williams said.
"I'm certainly not going to please everyone. So I only felt bound by a responsibility to her, to my relationship with her, to my imagination of her. Not anybody else," she told Reuters.
And there is one key, possible contender on Academy Award watchers must-see list this season: the 911-themed family drama "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (December 25) starring Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, written by Eric Roth and directed by filmmaker Stephen Daldry.
"The trailer looks promising so it could potentially join the list," said Karger. "But no one has seen it yet."