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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - If moviegoers are expecting traditional family films in theaters this holiday season, they may be surprised. Hollywood filmmakers are releasing movies that feature epic battles with vampires, goblins, extremists and a few elves.
With blockbuster films like "The Hobbit," the final installment of "The Twilight Saga," and the big screen version of hit musical "Les Miserables," Hollywood is hoping for a strong end to 2012 after some disappointments in the summer.
The period encompassing the U.S. Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays is the second most popular time of year to go to the movies, following the summer months.
The holiday movie season kicks off Friday with "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2," which concludes the tale of a mortal girl in love with both a vampire and a werewolf.
On December 14, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson releases the first of his three "Hobbit" films, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy novel of the same name and featuring many of the same characters seen in his Oscar-winning "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
"As far as box office is concerned, there's 'Breaking Dawn' and 'The Hobbit' and then there's everything else," Fandango correspondent Dave Karger said.
"Those two films are in a class by themselves - the anticipation for them is off the charts. Both have humongous built-in audiences and mega-successful movies that came before them."
The North American box office has brought in some $9.1 billion so far this year - up 4.3 percent from 2011. Box office analyst Hollywood.com estimates that 2012 will close with domestic sales of $10.6 billion, up 3.7 percent from 2011, and on par with the all-time ticket sales record set in 2009.
"Hobbit" actor Andy Serkis, who plays the tortured creature Gollum, told Reuters the fantasy genre has become a "formidable form of storytelling."
"I think in times when politics is unsteady, the world economy is unsteady, when religion is unsteady, people are looking for some kind of haven or a way of viewing the world through basic, primal storytelling," he said.
What the 2012 holiday movie-going season conspicuously lacks are traditional holiday comedies and family fare.
Instead, the comedies skew much more adult, such as the R-rated Judd Apatow comedy "This is 40" (December 21) starring Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in a spin-off film from 2007 film "Knocked Up."
"It feels like somebody is leaving a lot of money on the table this holiday season," said Drew McWeeny, film editor at HitFix. "There are no warm, fuzzy family films. Normally things like that are staked out so carefully. I'm not sure what happened this year."
The season's only new animated film, is "The Rise of the Guardians," (November 21) based on a story by award-winning author William Joyce. In the movie, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny form an "Avengers"-style team known as The Guardians and battle an evil spirit named Pitch.
"Like all great fairytales, the movie is a metaphor for kids to interpret the world," said the film's executive producer, Guillermo Del Toro.
"It takes characters that could be considered childish and gives them a romantic new take, making them so grand that kids can believe in them again without feeling childish."
With the Academy Awards nominations scheduled for January 10 and the ceremony set for February 24, movie studios are trotting out their Oscar contenders.
This season's offerings contain lavish and grand ensembles like Ang Lee's uplifting tale of a young boy shipwrecked at sea with a Bengal tiger in "Life of Pi" (November 21); Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" (December 19) about the hunt for al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden; Quentin Tarantino's slave western "Django Unchained" (December 25); and Tom Hooper's adaptation of "Les Miserables" starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe in the tale of French 19th century class warfare.
Also generating Oscar buzz is David O. Russell's low-key "Silver Linings Playbook" (November 16), which stars Bradley Cooper as a former teacher with bipolar disorder struggling to put his life back together. Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro also star.
"'Silver Linings' has a really simple message that to get through life, to get any sort of happiness (you need) community, family, love," Cooper told Reuters. "That's the major theme of the movie - that we all need each other."
Family bonds are also the focus of "Hitchcock" (November 23), the story of the "Psycho" filmmaker's relationship with his wife, starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, and "The Impossible" (December 21), the real-life account of a family caught in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor.
Reporting By Zorianna Kit, Editing by Jill Serjeant and Stacey Joyce