Historical drama "12 Years a Slave" and crime caper "American Hustle" are among the top contenders at the Globes, the first big show of a season which climaxes with the Oscars on March 2.
But others hoping for gold include 3D space spectacular "Gravity," Somali piracy movie "Captain Phillips," bleak family drama "August: Osage County" and Martin Scorsese's three-hour financial scandal epic "The Wolf of Wall Street."
Frontrunners in the best drama actor field include Briton Chiwetel Ejiofor for the title role in "12 Years a Slave," which could also earn a best director Globe for his compatriot Steve McQueen.
For best actress in a drama, the smart money is on Australian Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen's latest "Blue Jasmine," although others tipped include Sandra Bullock for "Gravity" and Emma Thompson taking on Walt Disney in "Saving Mr Banks."
On the small screen -- increasingly important as big-screen stars and money migrate to television -- Netflix's pioneering "House of Cards" could win more gold, as could cult hit "Breaking Bad," after its finale in September.
Going into Sunday night's show in Beverly Hills, "12 Years a Slave" and "American Hustle" have the most nominations with seven nods each, followed by five for black and white road movie "Nebraska."
Both frontrunners garnered nods for their main actors, including Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o and Michael Fassbender for "12 Years a Slave," and Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence for "American Hustle."
"Captain Phillips" starring Tom Hanks in a real-life tale of a US cargo ship attacked by Somali hijackers, and "Gravity", with Bullock as an astronaut abandoned in space with George Clooney, won four nods apiece.
Nominees for best motion picture drama, announced last month, were "12 Years a Slave," "Captain Phillips," "Gravity," "Philomena" and "Rush."
But there was a snub for "Lee Daniels' The Butler," another historical epic that had been widely tipped for honors for star Oprah Winfrey.
Nominated for best drama actor are Ejiofor, Hanks, Idris Elba for "Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom," Matthew McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club" and Robert Redford for "All Is Lost."
Three Britons are up for best drama actress: Thompson, Judi Dench for "Philomena" -- about an Irish Catholic's search for her long-lost son -- and Kate Winslet for "Labor Day," as well as Blanchett and Bullock.
Nominees for best musical or comedy film are "American Hustle," "Her," "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Nebraska" and "The Wolf of Wall Street."
On the foreign film front, sexually explicit Cannes-winning French movie "Blue is the Warmest Color" is up against Iran's "The Past," Italy's "The Great Beauty," Denmark's "The Hunt" and animated Japanese film "The Wind Rises."
"American Hustle" and "12 Years a Slave" have had a series of boosts in recent weeks, winning nominations from the Producers Guild of America (PGA) and the Directors Guild of America (DGA). In the last 10 years, all but one of the winners of the DGA's top prize went on to win the best director Oscar.
"12 Years a Slave" also topped nominations for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, announced last month.
Best director nominees are Alfonso Cuaron for "Gravity," David O. Russell for "American Hustle," Alexander Payne for "Nebraska," Paul Greengrass for "Captain Phillips" and McQueen for "12 Years a Slave."
On the small screen, nominations for best TV drama have gone to "Breaking Bad," which appeared to be the frontrunner, as well as to "Downton Abbey," "The Good Wife," "House of Cards" and "Masters of Sex."