IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'Potter' leads parade of holiday film franchises

It's going to be series business this holiday season at the movies. One of Hollywood's biggest franchises is nearing an end. Others are returning after long absences. Still more Yuletide releases are taking baby steps toward becoming their own brand of sequels."With any of these, it's the unwritten rule: it goes without saying that if it works well commercially, if there's a following, the sequel
/ Source: The Associated Press

It's going to be series business this holiday season at the movies. One of Hollywood's biggest franchises is nearing an end. Others are returning after long absences. Still more Yuletide releases are taking baby steps toward becoming their own brand of sequels.

"With any of these, it's the unwritten rule: it goes without saying that if it works well commercially, if there's a following, the sequel is almost inevitable," said Will Ferrell, who provides the voice of the title character in the animated comedy "Megamind," which opens Friday to help launch the busy holiday movie season.

Other returning series and franchise wannabes this November and December include "Little Fockers," reuniting the "Meet the Parents" gang; the C.S. Lewis fantasy "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"; "Yogi Bear," a big-screen take on the TV cartoon; "Gulliver's Travels," transplanting Jonathan Swift's classic to modern times; and the science-fiction followup "Tron: Legacy."

The finale sends Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) out on the road toward a last showdown with evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).

After spending the last decade — roughly half their lives — on the "Harry Potter" films, the young stars felt greater urgency to satisfy fans with a big finish, Radcliffe said.

"We owe it to them as much as to ourselves to do a fantastic job on these last films," Radcliffe said. "We know we've got this incredibly supportive fan base, and we know that huge amounts of people will see the films, and rather than frightening us, it just inspired us to make it the best we could."

Here's a look at other holiday highlights:

Family fare

"Megamind" casts Ferrell's bulbous-headed super-villain against superhero Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt).

"Low and behold, I come across the day where I actually defeat him and control the city," Ferrell said. "I have everything I always dreamed of, and I'm miserable."

Also featuring the voices of Tina Fey and Jonah Hill, "Megamind" forces its villain to join the good guys to stop a new menace that threatens the city.

Other family tales this season include "Yogi Bear," featuring the voices of Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake as the picnic-pilfering bear and his sidekick Boo Boo; and "The Nutcracker in 3D," with John Turturro and Elle Fanning in a new adaptation of Tchaikovsky's holiday favorite.

Long-time gone

Returning after a six-year absence are Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro in "Little Fockers," the third installment in the "Meet the Parents" comedy series.

What makes the uneasy relationship work between Stiller's male nurse and De Niro's intimidating, ex-spy father-in-law? Even De Niro isn't sure.

"You tell me," De Niro said. "Listen, if it works, I'm happy about it. I guess people connect with it in a certain way. The whole family thing. Anybody can relate to it, in-laws and so on. All the difficulties."

Back after a 28-year gap is a followup to "Tron," with Jeff Bridges reprising his role as a computer genius trapped in a deadly video-game virtual reality. "Tron: Legacy" features Garrett Hedlund as Bridges' son, on a search for his missing father.

Bridges also plays Rooster Cogburn, a role originated by John Wayne, for a new take on the "True Grit." Joel and Ethan Coen direct and Matt Damon co-stars in the Western about a dauntless girl who hires a tough marshal to track her father's killer.

Heroes in action

Russell Crowe is an average guy planning a prison break in "The Next Three Days," the latest from director Paul Haggis, who made 2005 Academy Awards champ "Crash."

Crowe plays a college instructor rooting out weaknesses in prison security so he can free his wife (Elizabeth Banks) for a murder she claims she didn't commit.

"There's a very small list of motivations that are greater than this," Crowe said. "The woman that he loves, who in his heart he knows is completely innocent of this situation. Is he going to stand by and watch her life drain away?"

Among other action tales: "Unstoppable" stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine as railroad workers racing to halt a runaway train loaded with toxins; "Faster" features Dwayne Johnson as an ex-con pursued by a retiring cop (Billy Bob Thornton) and a hitman; an extraterrestrial menace threatens to destroy humanity in "Skyline," as hypnotic lights appear over Los Angeles.

Women and song

Mandy Moore lets her hair down as Rapunzel, the fairy-tale princess whose long locks are her ticket out of imprisonment in a tower, in Disney's animated musical "Tangled."

Christina Aguilera plays a waitress aiming to join the flashy musical revues at the club where she works in "Burlesque," which co-stars Cher, Stanley Tucci, Kristen Bell and Julianne Hough.

Gwyneth Paltrow's a country music star fresh out of rehab and trying to revive her career on tour with a rising singer (Garrett Hedlund) in "Country Strong," which also features Tim McGraw.

Class acts

Helen Mirren pulls a gender switch on Shakespeare in director Julie Taymor's adaptation of "The Tempest." Mirren plays the traditionally male sorcerer who lures old enemies for revenge and redemption on her secluded island.

The idea came to Mirren while watching a stage production of "The Tempest."

"I thought, my God, a woman could play this easily. You wouldn't have to change anything in this play, not any line, any relationship," said Mirren, who found Taymor equally enthused by the idea.

Mirren won an Oscar for "The Queen" as British monarch Elizabeth II, whose father, George VI, is the subject of "The King's Speech." The film stars Colin Firth as the reluctant monarch who fought an agonizing battle to overcome his stammer with help from a wily speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush).

Among other dramas: Director Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere" stars Stephen Dorff as a party-boy actor reassessing his life when his daughter (Elle Fanning) comes to visit; Mike Leigh's "Another Year" features Jim Broadbent leading an ensemble cast about British friends and relations struggling through hope and hard knocks; Sally Hawkins and Bob Hoskins star in "Made in Dagenham," about women fighting for equal pay at a British auto plant in the 1960s; Paul Giamatti has the title role in "Barney's Version," chronicling decades in the sordid life of a crabby TV producer.

Love and marriage

Reese Witherspoon lands in a love triangle in "How Do You Know," co-starring with Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson in the latest mix of comedy and drama from director James L. Brooks ("Terms of Endearment," "As Good as It Gets").

"Love & Other Drugs" casts Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway into difficult romantic straits involving an ambitious Viagra salesman and a woman struggling with disease.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play the beginnings and end of romance in "Blue Valentine," which traces the history of a married couple's crumbling relationship.

Professional problems

Career issues abound on screen: "Morning Glory" features Harrison Ford as a tough newsman and Diane Keaton as an ex-beauty queen who clash after their producer (Rachel McAdams) pairs them as morning TV hosts; "The Fighter" presents Christian Bale as troubled real-life boxer Dickie Eklund, who helped guide his half-brother Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) to triumph in the ring; Naomi Watts and Sean Penn star in "Fair Game," the story of CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose cover was blown by a Bush administration leak; "Black Swan" stars Natalie Portman as a ballerina whose dark side emerges amid competition with a new rival (Mila Kunis); "The Company Men" stars Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper and Kevin Costner in a tale of executives downsized out of a job.

Travelers and adventurers

"The Tourist" pairs Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in a thriller about a brokenhearted traveler swept up in danger with a mystery woman in Europe.

"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" returns some of the young Pevensie clan to C.S. Lewis' fantasy realm, where they embark on a maritime adventure with old pal Prince Caspian.

James Franco delivers virtually a one-man show in "127 Hours," the latest from "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle, who chronicles the remarkable survival story of a real-life climber trapped by a boulder that lands on his arm.

"Due Date," the new comedy from "The Hangover" director Todd Phillips, maps the nightmare road trip taken by an uptight expectant father (Robert Downey Jr.) and a calamity-prone actor (Zach Galifianakis).

Jack Black visits the little people in "Gulliver's Travels," playing a modern guy who washes up in a lost land where the citizens are only 3 inches tall.

Co-starring Jason Segel, Emily Blunt and Amanda Peet, the movie relies as often as possible on camera tricks that allowed Black and his tiny co-stars to perform simultaneously.

"I'm still looking at a speck, but the people I'm talking to are acting at the same time, like a hundred feet away from me," Black said. "It definitely made everything look cooler. Whenever you have actors acting at the same time, it's going to sound better and it's going to be more real."