By Mike Murphy
December’s streaming schedule is loaded with big-name movies and highly anticipated series, providing a bit of dilemma for consumers on a budget.
Besides a slate of buzz-worthy series and likely Oscar contenders coming to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, the additions of Pixar’s “Soul” on Disney+, “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max and “The Stand” on CBS All Access may make splurging on an extra service or two worthwhile, at least for a month.
As this column has previously mentioned, consumers can take full advantage of cord-cutting by capitalizing on the ability to add and drop streaming services each month, and all it takes is good planning. Remember, a billing cycle starts when you sign up, not necessarily at the beginning of each month.
Consumers can also take advantage of deals for free streaming trials, as Disney /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -1.15% and Apple /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -1.37% in particular focus on building subscriber bases rather than growing revenue (for now, at least). You’re never going to get a better deal than free, and the offers won’t last forever.
While Netflix /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX -0.58% has eliminated its free trial period, CBS All Access still offers a 30-day free preview, for example. You can also get a year of Apple TV+ for free when you purchase a new Apple device (such as the iPhone 12), and Verizon /zigman2/quotes/204980236/composite VZ +0.60% offers a free bundle of Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ for some wireless customers.
Free and bundled possibilities aside, when it’s time to decide where your subscription dollars should go, What’s Worth Streaming is here to help. We rate each major streaming service every month as a “play,” “pause” or “stop,” similar to investment analysts’ ratings of buy, hold and sell, and pick the best content to help you make your monthly decisions.
Here’s a look at what’s coming to the various streaming services in December 2020, and what’s really worth the monthly subscription fee.
Disney+ is again a must-have, as it wraps up the second season of its smash hit “The Mandalorian” and will debut the new Pixar film, “Soul,” on Christmas Day, which — unlike “Mulan” earlier this year — will be available to subscribers for no additional fee.
Speaking of “Mulan,” it’ll be free for subscribers starting Dec. 4, for those who didn’t want to pay $30 back in September.
Pixar releases are always worth checking out, and “Soul” sounds like another winner. Pushed to streaming rather than a theatrical release due to the pandemic, the animated movie ponders nothing less than the meaning of life. Jamie Foxx gives voice to a middle-school band teacher whose true passion is jazz, and who has to race to reunite his soul and body after an untimely accident splits the two. Tina Fey, Questlove and Phylicia Rashad are among the all-star cast of voice talent.
Disney+ also surprise-dropped Taylor Swift’s intimate concert film, “Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions” just before Thanksgiving, featuring songs from her most recent album, “Folklore,” and the stories behind them. It’s very good.
The “Star Wars” spinoff “The Mandalorian” will have new episodes every Friday, wrapping up its spectacular second season Dec. 18. There’s also “High School Musical: The Musical: The Holiday Special” (Dec. 11); the fairy comedy “Godmothered” (Dec. 4), starring Isla Fisher and Jillian Bell; and the addition of 2018’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet” (Dec. 11).
Who’s Disney+ for? Families with kids, and hard-core “Star Wars” and Marvel fans. For those not in that group, its library can be lacking.
Play, pause or stop? Play. Of the handful of absolute must-sees in December, Disney+ has two in “The Mandalorian” and “Soul.”
Netflix enters December as loaded as Santa’s sleigh, with Oscar-caliber original movies, highly anticipated new series and holiday specials.
The best of the bunch may be the late Chadwick Boseman’s final film, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Dec. 18), which is expected to be a major Oscar contender. Based on the play by August Wilson, Viola Davis stars as the iconic blues singer Ma Rainey, with Boseman playing her band’s trumpeter. Early critics’ reviews have been overwhelmingly positive , with many saying it’s Boseman’s greatest performance.
That’s hardly all the star power Netflix will unleash. There’s also David Fincher’s “Mank” (Dec. 4), a black-and-white biopic of “Citizen Kane’s” alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman), which is also a likely Oscar contender; the George Clooney post-apocalyptic/sci-fi drama “The Midnight Sky” (Dec. 23); and Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of the Broadway musical hit “The Prom” (Dec. 11), starring Meryl Streep, James Corden and Nicole Kidman.
Among series, there’s the long-awaited “Selena: The Series” (Dec. 4), about the life of the late Tejano pop star Selena Quintanilla-Pérez ; the fourth and final season of the teen-witch drama “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” (Dec. 31); Season 4 of the foul-mouthed adolescent animated comedy “Big Mouth” (Dec. 4); and “Bridgerton” (Dec. 25), a highly anticipated romantic drama series set in Regency-era London,from superproducer Shonda Rhimes. It looks like a 19th-century version of “Gossip Girl,” and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
After a November deluge , Netflix still isn’t done with holiday fare, with more on tap for December, including “The Holiday Movies That Made Us” (Dec. 1), “Home for Christmas 2” (Dec. 18) and the third installment of “The Great British Baking Show: Holidays” (Dec. 3).
And if you feel FOMO kicking in, there’s still time to check out “The Queen’s Gambit,” the chess drama series that all your friends and family have already watched and raved about.
A word of warning: “The West Wing” is leaving Netflix on Dec. 24, and “The Office” departs on Dec. 31 for HBO Max and Peacock, respectively.
Who’s Netflix for? Fans of buzz-worthy original shows and movies.
Play, pause or stop? Play. Even in a highly competitive month, Netflix is defending its title as the king of streaming with a crush of quality additions. Plus, it has that massive library.
HBO Max may be making the biggest splash among streaming services this holiday season, dropping “Wonder Woman 1984” on Christmas Day, the same day as its theatrical release (which will be limited in the U.S., due to pandemic restrictions). But what’s bad for movie theaters is great for Max subscribers, who’ll get to see the superhero spectacular for no additional fee beyond the monthly subscription cost. The sequel to the 2017 blockbuster, which earned more than $820 million at the U.S. box office, is one of the most anticipated movies of the year, with director Patty Jenkins returning behind the camera and Gal Godot reprising her iconic role. “Wonder Woman” was not just a great superhero movie, but a great movie, period. The sequel should be a must-see and worth an HBO Max subscription, even if for just a month. Think of it this way: $14.99 is about the price of a single movie ticket in normal times. But heads up: “Wonder Woman 1984” will only be available on HBO Max for a month before it goes exclusively to theaters, then video-on-demand, though it should return to Max sometime in the spring.
There’s more on tap, with director Steven Soderbergh’s new comedy “Let Them All Talk” (Dec. 10), starring Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest; a special episode of the Zendaya-led teen drama “Euphoria” (Dec. 4, with a second special coming in January) that will bridge the first and second seasons; and “Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults” (Dec. 3), a four-part documentary series about the Heaven’s Gate cult that ended in mass suicide. There’s also a new batch of Looney Tunes cartoons (Dec. 3); “My Gift,” a Carrie Underwood musical Christmas special (Dec. 3); a “Haute Dog” holiday special (Dec. 10); and the Bee Gees documentary “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (Dec. 12), along with the season finales of “The Flight Attendant” (Dec. 17) and “His Dark Materials” (Dec. 28), and the addition of all seven seasons of “The West Wing” (Dec. 25).