Let's face it, nobody has a lot of extra money to spend this holiday season.
But even with the bloated ticket prices, the movies still offer a relatively cheap night out - but we want to be sure it will be worth it. I mean, that $20 could help buy an iPhone instead, right?
So, here are seven holiday releases worthy of a dip into the budget.
A note about what's not on this list: most of the awards movies. Studios are releasing most of the Oscar contenders in New York city and Los Angeles, only to make them qualify for award season. Those movies won't play anywhere else until mid-January, so I didn't include them here - even though, technically, they will be released during December.
- The setup: Misfit teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) falls for Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), who happens to be a vampire. Edward must choose between his love for Bella and the nature of his own beast.
- The nice: This flick has unexpectedly created the most buzz of any holiday movie. It has already made Pattinson a star, pre-release. Stewart has become the most promising actress of her generation.
- The naughty: Mixing the teenage love story and vampire genres could have us all waving wooden crosses at the movie screen.
- Bottom line: It's a romantic vampire movie made mostly for female audiences. It's up to you whether you want to drink that eggnog.
- The setup: Based on the true story of Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) and the stars launched by the Chess Records label, including Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles), Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer).
- The nice: A strong cast and potentially great story, and the few people who saw director Darnell Martin's "I Like it Like That" (including me) loved it.
- The naughty: Why do I still get nervous when I see Beyoncé in a movie trailer?
- Bottom line: The movies have never given blues musicians the attention they deserve, so I'm rooting for this one.
- The setup: British talk-show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) interviews Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) in a post-Watergate quest for the truth.
- The nice: Ron Howard directing a top-notch cast. Based on real events, this script is also a film version of a stage play.
- The naughty: This verbal matching of wits might not make a visually exciting film.
- Bottom line: It promises to be smartly written and well-acted. That's enough for me.
- The setup: Ben Thomas (Will Smith) tries to atone for a past sin by helping seven strangers.
- The nice: Supporting players Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson and Barry Pepper should help Smith carry the load.
- The naughty: It's a big concept concocted to tug at our hearts, which doesn't always pan out.
- Bottom line: Smith re-teams with "Pursuit of Happyness" director Gabriele Muccino. Expect more of the same.
‘The Tale of Despereaux'
- The setup: Big-eared, big-hearted Despereaux the misfit mouse goes on a sword-fighting adventure.
- The nice: The animation looks great. The voice cast is outstanding. Gary Ross' children's books offer plenty of great story material.
- The naughty: Are we ready for another movie about a French rat? Who knows if the movie will do the books justice.
- Bottom line: The most promising animated film of the season.
- The setup: Policeman Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) returns from the dead as The Spirit. He fights crime and encounters nymphomaniacs Silken Floss (Scarlet Johansson), Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) and Lorelei Rox (Jaime King).
- The nice: This movie is being sold on its yummy visuals and hot women. And that's about it.
- The naughty: I have yet to be impressed by Frank Miller's comics or his terribly written movies.
- Bottom line: Fans of "Sin City" should love it.
‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'
- The setup: Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born in his 80s and ages backward. His life becomes a snapshot of the 20th century and a testament to the idea that life can only be understood when we look back on it.
- The nice: Based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald story. Directed by David Fincher ("Zodiac"). Pitt is joined by Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Jason Flemyng and Taraji P. Henson.
- The naughty: The only grey lining to this silver cloud is that it might not meet such lofty expectations.
- Bottom line: This is a real one, folks. It promises to be enjoyable and interesting at the least, and could be a classic in the waiting.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.