December streaming guide: Julia Roberts cyber thriller, Maestro, Chicken Run sequel and Ricky Gervais

Julia Roberts, 56, won an Academy Award for best actress playing the lead role in the biographical drama ,Erin Brockovich, in 2000.

Julia Roberts, 56, won an Academy Award for best actress playing the lead role in the biographical drama ,Erin Brockovich, in 2000. Photo: Netflix

The streaming giants are ending the year on a high with a stacked final month of content, including premiere movies, documentaries, football coverage, exclusive drama and acerbic UK comedian Ricky Gervais’ global tour for a Christmas Day treat.

Importantly, we get the return of Hollywood royalty – and some surprise behind-the-scenes presidential big guns – to the big screen.

Enter Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman, Notting Hill) with an apocalyptic cyber thriller, and Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born, American Sniper) who stars and directs Maestro, a biopic about legendary composer, Leonard Bernstein.

Roberts stars in Leave the World Behind, and the executive producers are none other than former US president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle’s production studio, Higher Ground.

They’ve been behind other projects including the 2021 Kevin Hart comedy, Fatherhood, the Rustin biopic about civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, and the 2019 Oscar-winning documentary, American Factory.

Based on the National Book Award-nominated suspense novel by author Rumaan Alam, this story is centred around a Brooklyn family of four who rent a holiday house on Long Island when two strangers arrive in the middle of the night with news about a “collapsing world” and their involvement in it.

As the couple – Roberts and US actor Ethan Hawke – drive out of the city towards their rental with their two kids (one is obsessed with watching Friends), they’re all on their phones. When they get to the rental, the power goes out. The strangers arrive.

Ricky Gervais famously upset the Golden Globes in 2020 in a 10-minute rant opening monologue. Photo: Netflix

Ricky Gervais: Armageddon: Netflix, December 25

Ricky Gervais has revealed his next stand-up special is coming to Netflix even earlier than the comic originally announced (mid-2024), with the new stand-up special dropping globally on Christmas Day.

It will be the British comedian’s – and star of heartwarming series, Afterlife – third major stand-up special following Humanity, released in 2018, and, more recently, SuperNature in 2022.

SuperNature received generally positive reviews but attracted widespread controversy for jokes on transgender issues, which also landed fellow Netflix comic Dave Chappelle in hot water.

Regardless, that special won the Best Stand-Up Show at the National Comedy Awards.

Gervais broke a number of records in the process of the Armageddon tour this year, including entering the Guinness World Records for the highest grossing stand-up show when he earned £1.4million ($AUD2.68m) for a date at the Hollywood Bowl.

Heist 88: Paramount+, December 1

Inspired by true events, Heist 88 is the story centred on
a criminal mastermind, Jeremy Horne (played by Courtney B Vance), who recruits four young bank employees to steal close to $US80m
in an assault on the US banking system.

The film takes place in a time before widespread computerisation and sophisticated cybersecurity that we know today.

Thriller 40: Paramount+, December 2

Forty years after the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller – the
best-selling album of all time worldwide – director Nelson
George takes fans back in time to experience the making of that
record-breaking album and the short films that redefined the music video format.

Featuring never-before-seen footage and exclusive interviews,
Thriller 40 chronicles Jackson’s rise to mega-stardom

Time (series 2): Binge, December 5

Bella Ramsey, Jodie Whittaker, Tamara Lawrance and Siobhan Finneran star in this three-part BAFTA-winning series, portraying life inside a woman’s prison.

The first series in 2021 starring Sean Bean received wide acclaim as a powerful, brutal prison drama.

Emirates FA Cup and Matildas: Paramount+, December 2–5

Clubs look to advance to the next stage of the iconic knockout tournament, including Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds’ Wrexham AFC.

After an incredible 2023, the Matildas will round out the
year when they take on Canada in a two-match series and the AFC Champions League continues (including Melbourne City going head-to-head with Zhejiang FC on December 12).

Paper Dolls: Paramount+, December 3

This eight-part exclusive new drama series takes you on journey through the rise and fall of the fictional manufactured reality TV girl-group HARLOW.

Strife: Binge, December 6

Starring Asher Keddie, Matt Day and Jonathan LaPaglia, Strife is inspired by Mia Freedman’s memoir, Work, Strife, Balance.

The eight-part series tells the story of a “modern, imperfect woman and publisher” named Evelyn Jones (Keddie) and her journey from lounge room blogger to becoming a force in women’s media.

The Doll Factory: SBS and SBS on Demand: December 7

The six-part thriller series is adapted from the bestselling novel of the same name by Elizabeth Macneal and stars Esmé Creed-Miles, Mirren Mack, Éanna Hardwicke and George Webster.

A period drama, Creed-Miles (Hanna) stars as Iris, a frustrated artist, who spends her days creating mourning dolls alongside her twin sister Rose, played by Mirren Mack (The Witcher: Blood Origin, The Nest).

By night, Iris secretly paints herself naked in the cellar, displaying a fantastical creativity that she is forced to subdue during the day. There also Silas, a taxidermist while Webster (Wedding Season, Masters of the Air) plays Louis, a painter and member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, searching for his next muse.

Revealed: Ben Roberts-Smith Truth On Trial: Stan, December 10

Explosive feature-length documentary Ben Roberts-Smith Truth On Trial follows Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters’s quest to uncover the truth behind rumours that Australia’s most decorated living soldier, Ben Roberts-Smith, committed war crimes in Afghanistan and is a war criminal.

It traces the origins of McKenzie and Masters’ groundbreaking and controversial reports in 2018 and the subsequent stories on 60 Minutes, to Roberts-Smith taking them to court in a defamation trial that ended in 2023.

Sports behind-the-scenes documentary series like The Test and Formula 1: Drive to Survive, including Under Pressure, make for compelling viewing. Photo: Netflix

Under Pressure: The US Women’s World Cup Team: Netflix, December 12

The all-access sports series will allow audiences to intimately follow the national team players and coaches and reveal an inside look at the most decorated team in soccer history.

Viewers will get a first-hand look at the pressure, the euphoria, the joy, and the hardships that these world-class athletes experience as they strive to capture their third World Cup title in a row.

The Lady and the Legend: Paramount+, December 13

The Lady and the Legend commemorates not only Tony Bennett’s
illustrious career but also his decade-long musical journey with
Lady Gaga.

The documentary is an intimate and unique portrayal of their collaboration and a realistic view of Bennett’s last days.

Definitely an eagerly anticipated sequel to Aardman’s hit film, Chicken Run. Photo: Netflix

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget: Netflix, December 15

From the Academy and BAFTA multi-award-winning Aardman (Creature Comforts, Wallace & Gromit, and Shaun the Sheep) comes Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget.

The original was the highest-grossing stop-motion animated film of all time and the sequel promises an equally clever production and plot as Ginger finds a peaceful island sanctuary for all the birds, far from the dangers of the human world. Until drama finds its way in.

The Family Plan: Apple TV+, December 15

Dan Morgan (Mark Wahlberg) loves his quiet suburban life as a devoted husband, father of three and successful car salesman. But that’s only half the story.

Decades earlier, he was an elite government assassin tasked with eliminating the world’s deadliest threats. When enemies from his past track him down, Dan packs his unsuspecting wife (Michelle Monaghan), angsty teen daughter, pro-gamer teen son and adorable 10-month-old baby into their minivan and takes off on an impromptu cross-country road trip to Las Vegas.

Reacher (season 2): Prime Video, December 15

The follow-up season begins when veteran military police investigator Jack Reacher (Alan Ritchson) receives a coded message that the members of his former US Army unit, the 110th MP Special Investigations, are being mysteriously and brutally murdered one by one.

“Pulled from his drifter lifestyle, Reacher reunites with three of his former teammates-turned-chosen family to investigate. Using his inimitable blend of smarts and size, Reacher will stop at nothing to uncover the truth and protect the members of his unit,” reads the official synopsis.

Finestkind: Paramount+, December 16

Starring Tommy Lee Jones and Jenna Ortega, Finestkind tells the story of two brothers (Ben Foster and Toby Wallace), raised in different worlds, who are reunited as adults over a fateful summer.

Set against the backdrop of commercial fishing, the story takes on primal stakes when desperate circumstances force the brothers to strike a deal with a violent Boston crime gang.

Bradley Cooper, who wrote directed and produced, as Leonard Bernsteinis. Photo: Netflix

Maestro: Netflix, December 20

Maestro is a towering and fearless love story chronicling the lifelong relationship between Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein. A love letter to life and art, Maestro at its core is an emotionally epic portrayal of family and love.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Disney+, December 20

Over eight episodes, Percy (Walker Scobell), Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries) and Grover (Aryan Simhadri) are put to the test on their adventure to restore order at Mount Olympus and save the world.

Rebel Moon: Netflix, December 22

Zack Snyder has reunited with Netflix for a new Star Wars-inspired sci-fi fantasy movie.

After crashing on a moon in the furthest reaches of the universe, Kora (Sofia Boutella), a stranger with a mysterious past, begins a new life among a peaceful settlement of farmers.

But she soon becomes their only hope for survival when the tyrannical Regent Balisarius (Fra Fee) and his cruel emissary, Admiral Noble (Ed Skrein), discover the farmers have unwittingly sold their crops to the Bloodaxes (Cleopatra Coleman and Ray Fisher) – leaders of a fierce group of insurgents hunted by the Motherworld.

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