Harrowing saga "12 Years a Slave" and crime caper "American Hustle" are likely frontrunners at the Globes, which -- unlike the season-closing Oscars in March -- are split between dramas and musical/comedy films.
The race for glory features the strongest field in years, with other contenders including 3D space drama "Gravity," Somali piracy tale "Captain Phillips," and Martin Scorsese's scandal epic "The Wolf of Wall Street."
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.
Comedy stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will host the Globes for a second year, while a string of nominees including Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Leonardo DiCaprio and "Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence will be among those handing out prizes.
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 Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o and Michael Fassbender for "12 Years a Slave," and Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Lawrence for "American Hustle."
"Captain Phillips" starring Hanks in the true story 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.
In the drama race, "12 Years a Slave," based on a real story of a free black man abducted and sold into slavery in the 1840s, is up against "Captain Phillips," "Gravity," "Philomena" and "Rush."
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."
A trio of British actresses are vying for the drama award -- Emma Thompson in "Saving Mr Banks," Judi Dench for "Philomena" and Kate Winslet for "Labor Day" -- along with Cate Blanchett for "Blue Jasmine" and Bullock.
For best musical or comedy film the shortlist is "American Hustle," "Her," "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Nebraska" and "The Wolf of Wall Street" starring DiCaprio.
Best musical or comedy actor nominees include DiCaprio, Joaquin Phoenix for "Her" and Meryl Streep for "August: Osage County," as well as the "American Hustle" cast members.
Best director nominees are Alfonso Cuaron for "Gravity," David O. Russell for "American Hustle," Alexander Payne for "Nebraska," Paul Greengrass for "Captain Phillips" and Steve McQueen for "12 Years a Slave."
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."
On the television side, fans of "Breaking Bad" will be hoping it can beat rival nominees "Downton Abbey," "The Good Wife," "House of Cards" and "Masters of Sex."
The Globes are run by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), and voted on by barely 80 journalists -- in contrast to the Oscars, chosen by 6,000 members of the prestigious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
"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.