Made-for-TV Christmas movies have a special place in my heart, because they were the proof that my mother had one. Don’t get me wrong, my mother is an incredibly caring and devoted person, but her Vulcan-like tendencies lead to me believe, falsely, that she was devoid of softer emotions. Then came the Hallmark Channel, and Lifetime, and ABC Family and the deluge of sappy movies that, surprisingly, my mom loved. As long as they were fairly free of Jesus propaganda, we watched them. ALL of them. And now that I’m a mom (with a lot of free time), I’ve been filling the days with hours of mushy Christmas joy.
Therefore, in the spirit of the season, I have taken it upon myself to review ten sappy Christmas movies currently available on either Netflix, Hulu, or Freeform (formerly ABC Family).
All of these movie were made for TV, revolve around the holidays (generally Christmas), and are the kind of mindless, emotional, feel-good shmaltz that we all need around the holidays. But viewer beware…not all sappy Christmas movies are created equal.
Movies are ranked on a scale of 0-10, with a 10 being the best you can hope for in a made-for-tv Christmas movie (we’re not talking Oscar-worthy, people!). Oh, and spoilers ahead.
Key: N = Netflix, H = Hulu, F = Freeform
Premise: Business bitch Melody “Mel” Gerard goes home to her small town to convince the city to build a big box store. While there, she hits her head and wakes up in an alternate reality where she never left home, and is married to her college sweetheart. What shenanigans will she get into now???
Pros: I can think of literally nothing positive to say about this movie.
Cons: This NOT a Christmas movie; it’s a Thanksgiving movie, just to be clear. While that still is clearly a “holiday” movie, I definitely felt lied to. All the characters are terribly unlikable, and I found myself rooting for exactly no one. The message of the movie appears to be: ditch your personal ambitions and just get married already. Nope.
Christmas Crush (N)
Premise: Georgia’s life isn’t what she thought it would be. Ten (?) years after being voted “Most Likely To Succeed,” she reluctantly returns home to her high school reunion and decides that the man-child she dumped on prom night would be the perfect solution to all her problems.
Pros: Jonathan Bennett is a treasure and he deserves better than this crap. He is the only redeeming part of this whole movie and his character is treated like shit the whole time. (That’s not a pro, I’m just saying, it’s true.)
Cons: Every character is so immature, to the point where no one acts like a real human. Maybe this would have been believable if it had been set in high school, but that’s only because people believe exaggerated stereotypes about teenagers. (For the record, I work with teens and they don’t even act like that in real life.) Worst of all, it’s only vaguely Christmassy. There are some Christmas musical numbers (???), but they use the shittiest, weirdest, off-brand Christmas music, so it’s not even worth it.
Holiday Engagement (H/N)
Premise: Hillary gets dumped by her insufferable lawyer fiance right before Thanksgiving. Instead of doing the sane thing and just telling her family, she hires an actor to play the man they’ve never met. Spoiler alert: they fall in love.
Pros: The premise, in its idea of an online dating-style connection, is semi-believable (but then I remember it was made in 2011, not 2006 and my doubt creep backs in). It revolves around Thanksgiving, but is still pretty heavy on the Christmas imagery.
Cons: No one in this movie is likable, particularly the mom. She is awful and NO ONE calls her on it. I hated her from the moment she first opened her stupid, judgey mouth. Like seriously, fuck you, Meredith. Also, not enough Haylie Duff.
Christmas Belle (N)
Premise: Isabella (“Belle”) is a business-savvy young appraiser, sent to catalog the estate of the reclusive and brooding Hunter Lowell. Hunter, inexplicably young and rich, and his dog Beast (get it??????), prove to be tough customers at first. After the death of his fiancé, Hunter hates happiness. But this Cali girl loves Christmas, and she’s going to teach him how to love again through the power of…trees? And lights? Yeah that.
Pros: Belle is fairly likable. As far as main characters go, sappy Christmas movies usually start out with everyone being fairly unlikable, so as to achieve a recognizable arch, but Belle is pretty cool from the start. Not perfect (see below), but I don’t hate her, so that’s something.
Cons: Let’s start at the obvious; wannabe boyfriend, Tony, is a straight-up stalker and never gets properly called on his shit. At one point Belle threatens to punch him, then DOESN’T punch him. WTF? Hunter has unresolved anger management issues, a la this movie’s Beauty and the Beast inspiration. At the end we’re just supposed to forget that he fucking verbally attacks her multiple times throughout the film. Okay, but no. Lastly, in classic Christmas movie fashion, we have a highly unrealistic timeline. These people go from strangers to engaged in a matter of days. It’s so bad, even the characters in the movie acknowledge it. You don’t HAVE to get engaged to keep dating someone, people. This isn’t The Bachelor!
Back to Christmas (N)
Premise: A sad, lonely woman, who wants no one to know she’s sad and lonely, meets a weird fairy (???) in a diner and wakes up at the exact moment she screwed up her sad, lonely life. Given the chance to do the previous Christmas over again, she gladly tries to not be fucking awful and then fails.
Pros: This movie is pretty Christmassy. The main character loves Christmas and many of its scenes revolve around Christmassy activities.
Cons: This movie has serious white people problems. The whole conflict is that she wanted a proposal, didn’t get one, then broke up with her boyfriend. At Christmas, can’t we think of more meaningful dilemmas? The biggest issue: you NO MEMORY of your relationship for the last year!?! How is that a happy ending? WTF? Also, the weird fairy and magic. It was weird.
Christmas Cupid (F)
Premise: A dead celebutante helps her workaholic publicist find love a la A Christmas Carol. I would say more, but…that’s really it.
Pros: For a movie about a dead girl, it’s actually pretty fun. It was made for Freeform, so it’s fairly well-produced, but also kind of predictable – which I consider a good thing. It’s clearly inspired by Dicken, so the familiar format makes it easier to watch (and was probably easier for the writers TBH).
Cons: It’s still a movie about a dead girl. What is with Christmas movies and dead people? Is this something I can blame Dickens for? Do I blame the Bible?Wouldn’t that be more appropriate around Easter? I don’t know who to blame, but I hate it. Also, no one is likable. We are supposed to be rooting for Sloane, but she has almost no redeeming qualities, even at the end of the movie. And in typical Christmas movie fashion, it has a wildly unrealistic timeline. They go from estranged ex-lovers to a couple in legitimately two days. It’s weird.
The Spirit of Christmas (N)
Premise: A super hot hottie is mysteriously murdered in the 1920’s. Flash forward to today and Kate, workaholic lawyer, is getting ready to sell an estate that is said to be haunted by a super hot hottie ghost. When she meets Hottie McHotGhost, she decides to solve his murder to free him from ghost purgatory. Does she fall in love with him? Mayyyyyyyybe.
Pros: Did I mention this guy is HAWT? That’s probably the only redeeming quality of this movie, or why I kept watching it. I guess there are also fun 1920’s flashback scenes, but honestly without Hottie McHotGhost, there is nothing.
Cons: I had SO many questions at the end of this movie. Was Lilly actually a terrible person? What’s the point of the Lilly storyline? What’s the point of the mystery child? Why am I still watching this? Why was he a ghost? Can you have sex with a ghost? Why is he no longer a ghost? Why am I still watching this?
A Dogwalker’s Christmas Tale (N)
Premise: Luce, a spoiled rich girl is dumped days before Christmas because she lacks substance (a.k.a. she’s terrible). In an effort to prove she’s not as awful as she knows she is, she helps some randos at a dog park save their…dog park. Yay Christmas!
Pros: Once again, the delightful Jonathan Bennett shines his charming light, making everyone around him better. Unlike many other sappy Christmas movies, the characters are generally likable and well-acted, with age-appropriate conflicts and realistic choices.
Cons: Main character Luce is supposed to be an interior designer, known for her style and love of fashion; however, she dresses like she’s 90, and not in a cool way. I don’t know if it’s a “Texas” thing, but it completely pulled me out the movie every time she put on something with shoulder pads. Mr. Paxton, the villain, is WAY over-the-top compared to the other characters, and I’m still not sure if his portrayal is supposed to be funny, or if it’s just terrible. Most egregiously, there is no use of the obvious “tail” pun in the title. Missed opportunity!
A Christmas Prince (N)
Premise: The world’s worst non-reporter get’s to go on an amazing trip to Genovia Aldovia to get the story on the playboy prince-to-be. With seemingly no qualifications or legitimate skills (including basic math), she poses as a tutor to cozy up to the royal family, and in the process breaks several international laws and every rule of journalistic ethics. Oh, but she falls in love, so YAY!
Pros: As Netflix’s official Christmas movie release this year, this film has high production quality and is, relatively, well-acted. It has many visual references to Christmas, though the plot is only vaguely related to the time of year. It’s the right kind of bad, so much that it’s good, and it requires very little thought to follow and enjoy.
Cons: This film has plot holes in the form of rushed development. Why set up Emily, the princess, as a bratty rebel, if she’s going to warm up to Amber after approximately five minute? Also, it’s never explained why the prince is thought to have (or wants people to think he has) a “playboy lifestyle.” Why and how would a wholesome, charity-loving man get people to think he’s a womanizer?
A Christmas Kiss (N)
Premise: Designer Wendy is leaving her demanding boss’ apartment when she meets a dashing gentleman in the elevator. When they almost fall to their deaths, they kiss (obvi) and the sparks fly. Jump to the next day when Wendy discovers the hottie is her boss’ fiancé and he doesn’t recognize her as the same woman because (uh oh) she wasn’t wearing her glasses.
Pros: This one is the perfect mix of bad and good. It’s a terrible movie, but a great sappy Christmas movie. It’s chock-full of Christmassy goodness because one of the primary Characters (shock) actually likes Christmas! Christmas is vital to the plot and subplots, and it has characters making semi-rational decisions within reasonable timelines.
Cons: This movie is incredibly predictable and trite, with exaggerated characters and tired Christmas tropes. But also, that’s why it’s good.
What I Learned From Sappy Christmas Movies
According to sappy Christmas movies, Christmas is a time for…
…getting together with your family, especially if they are awful, pushy, and unsupportive of your life choices.
…dead people, apparently.
…business bitches to learn the power of love.
…Jonathan Bennett (see also: A Christmas Kiss II).
…getting engaged even if you’ve only known someone for a few day or are a ghost.
Now go make yourself some cocoa, spike it with peppermint schnapps, and cozy up to someone who doesn’t mind your terrible taste in movies.
What are you favorite terrible-yet-great holiday movies? Tell me in the comments which ones I should add to my list this year!