From toys to balloon women and killer dresses, these are the best movies in theaters and on streaming platforms in early December.

By Joey Nolfi
December 06, 2019 at 12:43 PM EST

EW wants you to make good choices when going to the movies (or spending a night in Netflix-and-chilling) this weekend, and our new, recurring movie preview guide will keep you informed about the best new blockbusters, indie gems, sturdy holdovers, and fresh digital standouts up for your viewing pleasure (plus a bonus box office preview to wrap it all up).

This weekend, Hollywood is asking you to choose your fighter wisely: Felicity Jones as a sky-traveling balloon woman? Children’s toys come to life? Sad Adam Driver Singing Sondheim (yes, an official title)? A demonic, murderous dress hellbent on destroying your life? Which one will you choose to get you through the eclectic cinematic stretch ahead? From The Aeronauts and Marriage Story to Playmobil: The Movie, check out EW’s recommendations below for the best new movies to see in theaters and on streaming platforms now.

Wilson Webb/Netflix; OnAnimation Studios; Alison Cohen Rosa/Courtesy of Brainstorm Media; Amazon Studios

New wide releases in theaters

Playmobil: The Movie

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Jim Gaffigan, Gabriel Bateman, Adam Lambert, Kenan Thompson, Meghan Trainor, Daniel Radcliffe, Wendi McLendon-Covey
Directed by: Lino DiSalvo
Release type: Theatrical (wide)

The week’s sole new wide release is trying its damnedest to come for The LEGO Movie‘s wig. An all-star voice cast including Anya Taylor-Joy, Jim Gaffigan, Adam Lambert, Kenan Thompson, Meghan Trainor, and Daniel Radcliffe (!!!) is the latest to bring a line of iconic toys to life in this family adventure directed by Frozen animator Lino DiSalvo.

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New limited, indies, specialty, and streaming gems

The Aeronauts

Starring: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Tom Courtenay
Directed by: Tom Harper
Release type: Theatrical (limited), streaming (Dec. 20 on Amazon Prime Video)

The infamous Aeronauts trailer asks: Do women “belong in balloons?” Obviously, the answer is a resounding “yes, ma’am!” as expertly evidenced by director Tom Harper’s surprisingly thrilling, white-knuckle thriller set almost entirely inside the tiny wicker basket of an 1800s air balloon, of all things! Not only are stars Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne working their signature chemistry (first honed opposite each other in the Oscar-winning drama The Theory of Everything back in 2014), but Harper’s script (co-written with Jack Thorne) finds a refreshing, kinetic way into a dramatized version of famed scientist James Glaisher’s sky-high studies — complete with a feminist twist that inserts Jones’ Amelia Wren (a fictional character) into the real-life story. Thus, in Harper’s hands, what could have easily ended up as straight-laced historical retread morphs into an engrossing, timely aerial adventure with some of the most dazzling cinematography and special effects of the year.

“I kept thinking it was going one way, and it kept punching me in another direction,” Redmayne previously told EW of Harper Thorne’s script, which took inspiration from scores of actual pilots and scientists — both men and women — when devising the film’s brainy heroine, who helms Glaisher’s upward excursion into the sky. “They took expectations and kept knocking them around right to the end. The climax of the movie, when I read it, felt so visually outside of anything I’d ever imagined.”

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Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Starring: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel
Directed by: Céline Sciamma
Release type: Theatrical (limited)

Budding Oscar contender Portrait of a Lady on Fire set the early festival circuit ablaze with its moving tale about a painter who forms a fierce bond with the female subject of her latest painting. Director Céline Sciamma (helmer of the equally fantastic Girlhood and Water Lilies) continues to prove her cinematic might with an intimate tale of passion and identity, with moving performances by Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel guiding the way.

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In Fabric

Starring: Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill, Gwendoline Christie
Directed by: Peter Strickland
Release type: Theatrical (limited)

Feast your eyes upon a quirky, lavishly shot horror masterpiece that might be the first movie in history to make you afraid of the local JCPenney. Oscar-nominated Secrets & Lies actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste leads A24’s horror-comedy (from The Duke of Burgundy director Peter Strickland) as a woman whose life is dramatically (and horrifically) altered after she crosses paths with a demonic dress seemingly hellbent on destroying its owner (yes, really). It sounds ridiculous, but Strickland is a master of tone, and he’ll balance the film’s campiest moments with enough genuinely creepy moments to make In Fabric one of the most original, engaging, and surprising titles of the season.

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The Wolf Hour

Starring: Naomi Watts, Jennifer Ehle, Emory Cohen, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Jeremy Bobb
Directed by: Alistair Banks Griffin
Release type: Theatrical (limited)

No need to fret after the cancellation of her never-aired Game of Thrones prequel: Naomi Watts is in top form in Alistair Banks Griffin’s moody thriller The Wolf Hour, which finally hits limited release today. The Oscar-nominated actress huffs, puffs, and blows it out of the water in her upcoming thriller The Wolf Hour, but for all of the dramatic snarling and animalistic tension she channels as an agoraphobic author, June Leigh, mercilessly hunted by a stalker while the blistering heat of summer in 1977 New York pushes her to a psychotic boiling point, the film is a remarkably human (and altogether twisted) thriller about internal passion and creative sacrifice that unfolds almost entirely inside Leigh’s cramped apartment.

“I love the grit and the grime! I love to go deep into the depths of one’s psyche,” Watts previously told EW of tackling the de-glammed role in the Rear Window-esque gem. “If that means exposing the gritty, grimy side, then so be it. I love it, warts and all!”

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Marriage Story

Starring: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Merritt Wever, Julie Hagerty, Azhy Robertson
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Release type: Theatrical (limited), streaming (Netflix)
EW grade: A- (read full review)

Get your tissues ready, because Oscar season is in full swing as Noah Baumbach unleashes his emotionally ruining divorce drama, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as a bitter, uncoupling pair fighting for custody of their young son. The film hits streaming Friday for the first time since its limited theatrical run earlier this year.

“I mean, as an actor you can’t dream up speeches that delicious! It’s just crazy amazing,” Laura Dern, who plays Johansson’s attorney in the film (and is getting enthusiastic Oscar buzz for it), previously told EW of her part. “But let me just say, I’ve never cried so hard as when I first read the script. It wasn’t just the emotion of reading the story, it was the perfection of the screenplay. [And] being a parent, I understood this unbelievably sad, broken moment.”

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The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Starring: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, Thora Birch
Directed by: Joe Talbot
Release type: Streaming (Amazon Prime Video)
EW grade: A (read full review)

Though it hit the festival circuit (and theaters) earlier this year, Joe Talbot’s engrossing visual masterpiece — about a young man searching for a sense of belonging in his progressive, actively evolving hometown — is finally available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. Watch one of the year’s best films as soon as possible, but not at the expense of your viewing experience: This one is best viewed on the biggest screen possible, not the cracked screen on your iPhone.

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Little Joe

Starring: Emily Beecham, Ben Whishaw
Directed by: Jessica Hausner
Release type: Theatrical (limited)

Following Portrait of a Lady on Fire, more Cannes excellence hits theaters this weekend in the form of Little Joe, a biting, fiercely original sci-fi gem (co-starring the dreamy Ben Whishaw!) which won star Emily Beecham the festival’s Best Actress award in May.

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Notable holdovers and expanding titles in theaters now

Knives Out

Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Release type: Theatrical (wide)
EW grade: B+ (read full review)

Director Rian Johnson carves out a delectable mystery with an impressive ensemble cast in this breakneck-paced gem about a detective investigating the curious circumstances surrounding the death of a wealthy, volatile family’s patriarch.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve done a movie where I got to wear nice clothes! I usually wear such boring s—,” star Chris Evans told EW of immersing himself into his role with the help of cashmere sweaters and other bougie garments. “The clothing, the hair, all of it helps tons [with getting into character].”

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Queen & Slim

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny, Flea, Indya Moore, Sturgill Simpson
Directed by: Melina Matsoukas
Release type: Theatrical (wide)
EW grade: B (read full review)

Billed by EW’s Darren Franich as an “old-fashioned road picture set in a brutally modern America,” music video helmer Melina Matsoukas’ feature debut boasts sleek style and timely themes to make it a rich, satisfying indulgence for your post-Thanksgiving viewing. 

“With music videos, I really got to learn how music could be a character and I started to concentrate on the narrative and bringing stories into that space,” Matsoukas previously told EW of preparing to shoot the Lena Waithe-penned film, which follows a couple (Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith) on a first date that goes awry after a police officer pulls them over. “But with this film, I got to develop something that was from me, from my soul, from my gut,” Matsoukas said. “I could truly, genuinely own it.”

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Frozen 2

Starring: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Martha Plimpton
Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Release type: Theatrical (wide)
EW grade: B (read full review)

It only took six years for you to finally stop hearing “Let It Go” on repeat in the back of your mind, but, fear not, as the infectious earworm — as well as a fresh soundtrack of new jovial tunes — is poised to soundtrack your every waking thought as the Disney sequel Frozen 2 storms theaters this weekend. With a returning voice cast including Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell as sisters Elsa and Anna who, three years after the events of the first film, travel beyond the realm of Arendelle to discover the source of the former’s magical powers.

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Starring: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper, Tammy Blanchard
Directed by: Marielle Heller
Release type: Theatrical (wide)
EW grade: B+ (read full review)

Authenticity was key to Can You Ever Forgive Me? director Marielle Heller‘s latest film, a fantastical, often surrealist drama (that absolutely is not a biopic!) about a cynical journalist (Matthew Rhys) whose perspective on fatherhood radically alters after his publication sends him to Pittsburgh to profile legendary children’s host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Inspired by real-life writer Tom Junod’s experience in writing about Rogers, Heller wanted the audience’s experience in meeting Mister Rogers through Hanks’ portrayal to brim with authenticity; so she imported vintage Ikegami cameras to mimic the look and feel of Rogers’ beloved daytime TV show and raided the real-life icon’s tie collection (with permission from his wife, Joanne) for Hanks’ on-screen wardrobe.

“[He calls for] us to be our best selves, and I think that’s required of parents in order to be patient and see these little people we’re bringing into the world with compassion,” Heller previously told EW of her passionate connection to Rogers’ legacy — which partially inspired her, as a new parent herself, to make the film. “Mister Rogers helped break down those things in a way that, as a parent, you can gain a lot of compassion that translates beyond just your relationship with your children; it translates into your relationship with your partner or spouse, or relationships at work. I know it translated into how I wanted to make this movie, and the process by which we work creatively and how we treat the crew. I approached every decision with the movie as: ‘How would Fred approach this? How can we treat everybody with a level of emotional empathy and compassion that shows that we value everyone?’ That was his main message: Everyone is valued.”

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Dark Waters

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, Bill Pullman
Directed by: Todd Haynes
Release type: Theatrical (expanding to wide release)
EW grade: B- (read full review)

Erin Brockovich, Karen Silkwood, and the whistleblowers of cinema history welcome Mark Ruffalo’s Robert Bilott — a corporate lawyer railing against a chemical company over its long history of pollution — as acclaimed director Todd Haynes returns to the big screen this weekend with an adaptation of the real-life Bilott’s book Exposure.

“I’ve gotten to know Rob very well and have a tremendous amount of admiration for him and the work that he’s done,” Ruffalo says of the source material’s author in an exclusive interview excerpt published by EW. “[I want] to help have this information be disseminated out into the world. It’s really important. It’s been underreported and it touches all of our lives. It transcends politics and ideologies. It’s one place I think where we can meet communally.”

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Dec. 6 – 8 weekend box office preview:

Though it’s the week’s only new wide release, Playmobil doesn’t stand a chance at dethroning Frozen 2‘s juggernaut run throughout the holiday season. After setting box office records across its opening and sophomore frames, the Disney animated sequel should easily hold atop the domestic box office with another healthy gross in the cards. Strong word of mouth (and a decent showing over Thanksgiving week) will allow Knives Out to hold steady with a marginal drop to around $15-$18 million, and the same can be said for Tom Hanks’ crowd-pleasing holdover A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood as well, which should round out the top three with another $6.5-$8 million in its third week of release. Most of the week’s prestige/limited openers (particularly The Aeronauts, as it’s a visually driven spectacle meant to be seen on the big screen) should drum up healthy per-screen averages as well.

Check back on EW.com this Sunday for final weekend box office estimates. For now, here’s what the weekend numbers could look like:

1) Frozen 2 – $35 million

2) Knives Out – $15.5 million

3) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – $7.5 million

4) Ford v Ferrari – $7 million

5) Queen & Slim – $6.5 million

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