It used to be that Christmas was a dead zone, in terms of new movies. But ever since "Titanic" proved just how much money there is to be made during the holidays, studios have been saving some of their biggest and best releases for the very end of the year. These are the best movies to hit theaters on or right before December 25.
23. 'Tomorrow Never Dies' (1997)
Pierce Brosnan's second outing as James Bond had the guts to open opposite "Titanic" on Dec. 17, 1997. That would NEVER happen now, a Bond movie opening opposite James Cameron. The counter-programming move proved lucrative at the box office, but fans have shoulder shrugged this uneven sequel with one too many puns. Love that car chase in the parking garage though with Bond remote controlling his BMW. And Jonathan Price's media mogul baddie is a guilty pleasure.
22. 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' (2016)
"Star Wars" and "prequel" are words that don't always play well together. Luckily, the second "Star Wars" movie from Disney proved how much fertile ground there is in the era immediately before the original movie. This movie introduced a delightful but doomed new cast of characters and managed to make Darth Vader cool for the first time in 33 years.
21. 'Dreamgirls' (2006)
The holidays tend to be the time when studios drop their big musicals, but most of these projects pale in comparison to 2006's "Dreamgirls." It's not so much the story that carries the day here, but the strong lineup of performances and the dazzling lineup of musical numbers.
20. 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' (2008)
David Fincher's overlong and overly-sentimental movie delivers a story that doesn't quite live up to its unusual premise (a man is born as a frail senior citizen and slowly ages backward towards childhood), but it's a compelling watch regardless. It's also one of the most technically impressive movies of the past decade, with some truly Oscar-worthy makeup effects.
19. 'Ali' (2001)
While it doesn't capture the full scope of the legendary boxer's life, "Ali" is, on a technical level, an impressive biopic that helped cement Will Smith as a serious actor. Rarely has Smith so fully disappeared into a role, capturing the bravado and physicality of Muhammad Ali himself.
18. 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' (2011)
It's tough to imagine a director better qualified to bring Stieg Larsson's dramatic crime novels to life. Fincher's keen eye pairs nicely with a haunting soundtrack and a terrific performance from Rooney Mara. It's just a shame this cast and crew never tackled any of the sequels.
17. 'Sherlock Holmes' (2009)
Like Robin Hood and King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes is constantly being reinvented by Hollywood studios. This 2009 reboot rises above the pack mainly on the strength of Robert Downey, Jr.'s electric take on the master detective. The story isn't much to write home about, but it's a fun ride all the same.
16. 'The Talented Mr. Ripley' (1999)
This thriller may well be the most under-appreciated film Matt Damon has ever worked on. With a strong all-around cast (particularly Jude Law and Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a tense story about deception and a the desperate need so many people have for approval and acceptance, "The Talented Mr. Ripley" is a satisfyingly dark way to spend your holiday.
15. 'Star Wars: the Last Jedi' (2018)
If "The Force Awakens" showed that Disney knows how to make a good Star Wars movie, "The Last Jedi" proved that they also know how to push the franchise in bolder, riskier directions. The story of Rey and the Skywalker clan veers in unexpected territory here. But the end result of all that risk-taking is one of the most visually stunning and downright satisfying "Star Wars" movies since the original.
14. 'True Grit' (2010)
Who doesn't love a good Coen Brothers Western? The talented duo managed to completely outshine the 1969 original with their take on "True Grit," a film that features one of the greatest ensemble casts of any Coen Bros. effort to date.
13. 'Avatar' (2009)
Everyone loves to rag on "Avatar," but you don't shatter every box office record known to man without getting something right. This film introduced one of the most visually stunning and fully realized alien worlds we've ever seen in a movie. That's enough to make up for the "Dances With Space Wolves" storyline.
12. 'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle' (2017)
Even with Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black starring, we can't say we expected much from this "Jumanji" sequel/reboot. That's what made it such a pleasant holiday surprise. "Welcome to the Jungle" is a hilarious action romp that makes the most of its "high schoolers transform into action heroes" premise.
11. 'The Big Short' (2015)
It takes a very deft hand to craft an interesting, crowd-pleasing film out of a story steeped in financial numbers and technical jargon. That's the appeal of "The Big Short," a film that both breaks down the 2008 financial crisis into a digestible form and captures the human angle in the process.
10. 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King' (2003)
Its long length may test the strength of your bladder, but "Return of the King" is a fitting end to one of the great movie trilogies of all time. This sequel features some of the best action scenes and most emotional character moments of all the Middle-Earth films.
9. 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' (2015)
"The Force Awakens" sparked a whole new era of "Star Wars" movies, and began a trend of the franchise dropping at Christmas rather than early summer. While definitely guilty of playing to familiar tropes rather than blazing new ground, "The Force Awakens" showed fans that the franchise is in good hands at Disney.
8. 'As Good as It Gets' (1997)
It takes a pretty darned good film not to get completely swallowed up by the "Titanic" juggernaut in late 1997. "As Good as It Gets" remains one of the absolute best romantic comedies in a decade where that genre seemed to thrive. It certainly doesn't hurt that Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt make such an effective (and Oscar-winning) pair.
7. 'Cast Away' (2000)
Forget "Forrest Gump." "Cast Away" may well be the greatest collaboration between director Robert Zemeckis and star Tom Hanks. Easily one of the most gripping and uplifting stories of desert island survival, "Cast Away" shows Hanks' ability to carry an entire film on his gangly shoulders, with nothing but a mute volleyball companion for assistance.
6. 'Gangs of New York' (2002)
"Gangs of New York" might be most notable for reminding moviegoers what a cinematic tour de force Daniel Day Lewis is, but this 2002 historical drama also happens to be one of Martin Scorsese's best films of the 21st Century. It paints a lurid, sometimes frightening vision of mid-19th Century New York and captures a country on the brink of profound, destructive change.
5. 'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring' (2001)
The first entry in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy is also the best. It offers the most sweeping view of Middle Earth and the most interaction among the core cast of nine heroes. Watching this, any concerns fans may have had about Peter Jackson's ability to bring the novels to life were put to rest.
4. 'Jackie Brown' (1997)
Until that R-rated "Star Trek" movie becomes a reality, "Jackie Brown" is the only Quentin Tarantino film to be based on a preexisting work. And it shows just how much Tarantino's voice can add to familiar stories. It also proved that Pam Grier still had plenty to bring to the table.
3. 'The Wolf of Wall Street' (2013)
A new Martin Scorsese movie is about the best Christmas present any cinephile could ask for. Scorsese and frequent partner Leonardo DiCaprio deliver an uproariously entertaining look at the rise and fall of a master con artist. Plus, this was the movie that introduced the world to Margot Robbie, which may be its most lasting contribution to the film world.
2. 'Titanic' (1997)
"Titanic" may not have immediately set the box office ablaze when it hit theaters near Christmas 1997, but it grew into a cinematic phenomenon as the weeks and months passed. Even 20 years later, fans keep coming back to the tragic yet romantic tale of Jack and Rose. It's a great Christmas movie thematically, even if there's nothing overtly Christmas-y about it.
1. 'Django Unchained' (2012)
Tarantino proved he had a knack for the Western genre with this stylish throwback tale. It's not every Christmas movie that gives viewers great dialogue, violent shoot-outs and a deadly serious look at the evils of slavery.