The Made-For-TV Christmas Movie.
Until recently I underestimated how vital this particular class of movie was to the holiday season. But then Netflix’s The Christmas Prince happened, I watched it on a Tuesday over a too-large bowl of pasta, and now here we are.
Netflix, my friends, is the holy grail of the most binge worthy, made-for-TV holiday trash. You know what I mean: the ones with basically the same plot every time (#girlboss exec falls for small-town farmer and also quits her high power job so she can run the local inn).
AND YOU STILL LOVE THEM ANYWAY.
Between Hallmark and Free Form these movies come out in droves every year and I’ve been ignoring their charm for far too long.
Speaking of which, I’ve watched nearly all of them so you don’t have to waste your time weeding through the dumpster to find the true gems. I got you girl.
Note: I skipped anything whose plot heavily involved Santa (there is only true Santa and his name is TIM ALLEN). Hope that’s cool.
The Definitive Guide
1. A Christmas Prince
Amber’s headed to made-up country Aldovia (no doubt inspired by Genovia) to report on the Prince’s coronation, an assignment which her editor claims no one else wants. Because, of course, no aspiring journalist would ever want an assignment like that.
In a fairly predictable string of errors, Amber ends up posing as the kid princess’s new tutor and falls in love with The Prince much faster than any human could actually fall for a person. But she wears Converse the whole time, and that made her far more likeable in my opinion.
The climax of this movie involves an official government document being discovered in an acorn ornament, for crying out loud, a greedy cousin salivating over the throne, and evil ex-girlfriend Lady Sophia. But The Prince is surprisingly well dressed and doesn’t seem to mind Amber’s Converse. He loves an every-girl.
And there’s a ROYAL BALL, Y’ALL.
2. A Christmas Kiss
Wendy kisses a stranger in an elevator while dressed like a sugar plum fairy (a detail which is never fully explained) and is SURE he’s the one. She giggles about it with her friends like they are 14 instead of at least 25, even though homegirl ran away before she could get his name or phone number.
Turns out the stranger in question is dating Wendy’s boss, a famed interior designer named Priscilla . Wendy is devastated but doesn’t tell him about the kiss, because then the movie would have been over!
The boyfriend in question (Adam) reminds me of a male Philanthropist Barbie but Wendy loves him anyway. Priscilla flees to New York when she breaks her nose and can’t bear the thought of Adam seeing her that way (what?), so Wendy and Adam bond even more. She still won’t tell him the truth about the kiss so it all hits the fan, and it falls to Wendy’s roommate and a random theater janitor to save the day.
It turns out okay in the end (you already knew that) but it takes place in Boston, which made me nostalgic for my nanny days!
3. 12 Dates of Christmas
Christmas Eve is a hot mess for Kate Stanton. She’s got a blind date she could care less about and dad’s new wife to contend with. Later, her plan to win back her ex-boyfriend completely tanks and she ends up stuck watching his dog while he proposes to his new girl. While Kate does have some Crazy Ex-Girlfriend vibes going, I did find myself thinking “girl I know” while watching her wade through the kind of bad luck holiday that most of us twenty-somethings can relate to.
The catch is that she ends up having to repeat the day a merciless 12 times in a row. But it’s actually fun to watch as she lets go of her old flame and slowly starts to fall for Miles, the blind date she blew off at the outset. Miles is far more likable than your average Christmas movie beau, plus there’s a particularly touching scene when Kate’s widowed neighbor Margine teaches her to bake cherry chip loaf.
That was my favorite part of this lil’ flick. I love watching a girl finally let go of an ex (Iris Simpkins anyone?). And when she’s not distracted by him she has room in her life for a surprisingly spunky neighbor, the girl down the street whose boyfriend just won’t propose, and even her dad’s wife Sally.
Kate’s still quirky as all get-out at the end of this one, which is great since most human beings don’t completely change their personalities between December 22nd and 25th, a fact that someone ought to tell Hallmark. But she’s a happier Kate, and I got a little teary-eyed at the end. Though the 12 day do-over is never fully explained and it’s still got plenty of cheese, I really liked this one.
4. Christmas Belle
This one, one the other hand, is a TRAIN WRECK. A glorious, can’t-look-away-won’t-look-away train wreck that you absolutely have to watch. Where do I even start?
First of all it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that this was a Beauty and the Beast situation. Haylie Duff is Belle (yep), the sugary sweet heroine charged with selling the estate of Hunter Lowell, a rich guy with a terrible attitude. There are not one, not two, but THREE excessively long shots of this guy running around his property shirtless. I think it’s supposed to make us root for him when the grand love triangle is revealed.
Belle comes to inventory his library, a feat which would I would imagine would take her maybe 9 hours but actually takes her about 3 weeks. She stays with Hunter at his house the whole time, because if she stayed in a hotel they might not fall in love by Christmas Eve!
The love triangle comes to a head at the town Christmas Eve party at Hunter’s place, a shindig where everyone wears jeans and sweaters and Belle shows up in what can only be described as a bridesmaid dress. This grand party is also, like, in the middle of the day. There’s a lot of fighting and crying and running around. It takes a weirdly long time to play out, but is worth every clunky second.
Lastly? Don’t skip the ending. It features a wedding dress I can guarantee you’ll never forget.
5. A Christmas Kiss II
I made it through maybe the first ten minutes of this one before the playboy leading man kissed a girl in an elevator WITHOUT CONSENT. Like, grabbed her face and kissed her. I suppose this may have been fine twenty years ago but is hella creepy in the age of #MeToo and #BreaktheSilence. Shoulda stopped while you were ahead, Free Form. I turned it off.
6. The Spirit of Christmas
Quintessential: Kate (another one) is a workaholic attorney tasked with preparing an idyllic inn in Vermont for sale over the holidays. Catch is, it’s haunted by a (really, really hot) ghost who torments the guests and scares off appraisers. His name is Daniel, he has no idea who murdered him way back in the 20’s, and also he’s cursed.
There’s a few failed attempts at jump-scares and a couple of arguments between Kate and Daniel-the-Ghost before (yet again) they’re in love. Kate resolves to help Daniel solve the mystery of his murder and of the curse that ties him to the property, they dance a few times, and I swoon.
This is a pretty movie, with plenty of snow and spirit. If it weren’t for the ending (prepare yourself: it is very confusing) and the comically hasty explanation of the curse in the final moments, this one would have been solid. It’s still worth a watch, though!
7. Holiday Engagement
Hilary’s boyfriend Jason breaks up with her days before she brings him home for the holidays. So, she hires an actor to bring home with her instead. This is a logical solution, obviously, and nothing is bound to go wrong, also obvious.
It starts to make a bit more sense when you met Hil’s mom, who thinks she’s running out of time to settle down despite being young and beautiful. Everyone likes “Jason” well enough, but matters are complicated when Hilary announces they’re engaged (not a thing) and the two actually start to fall for each other. The real Jason shows up in the 11th hour hoping for a second chance. Hil is at a loss.
The Queen of Christmas herself (Haylie Duff) is also in this one, though all she does is push a stroller around. Baby’s cute though!
This one was kind of weirdly forgettable, but not a bad choice to watch while you’re wrapping gifts or something. Fake Jason makes an impassioned speech to Hilary’s mom about how great she is, and it gave me some feels. She’ll make the right choice in the end. They always do!
8. Christmas Crush
Good LAWD this one was rough. I sympathized with heroine Georgia, who returns home for the holiday AND her high school reunion without a degree, job, or illustrious love life. Her three friends from high school are THE high school heroes, looking to relive their glory days of the glee club with (I’m pretty sure) three different performances at the reunion. Because that happens.
Georgia’s excited to see her highschool boyfriend again, but we all know she’s really gonna fall for the one she friendzoned way back when. He’s cute, but not cute enough to redeem the rest of this mess.
It’s a bit hard to follow, as it flashes back to the characters’ glory days in high school without any attempt at making them like younger. Let me tell you, my BFF and I got more than a few laughs watching 35 year-olds talk about homeroom.
There is a particularly bizarre moment when Georgia stands up to her ditzy pals and refuses to participate in their final performance at the reunion (there has been at least one other, but like I said, the timeline is tough to follow). Instead Georgia stands alone and sings a weirdly emotional rendition of “O, Holy Night”. She has no microphone and the lip-dubbing itself is worth watching the whole dang movie. We watch as she and the one she friendzoned dab at tears in their eyes, and wonder what on Earth is going on.
So. Worth. It.
9. Naughty and Nice
First of all, don’t just casually google the title of this movie.
Secondly, yes, that is Haylie Duff again.
This time she’s “Dr. Sandy Love” (no joke) a radio host in a tiny town in Colorado. Unluckily for her, SoCal radio host Pepper Sterling (also not a joke) pisses off his boss and gets sent to co-host her show as punishment. He’s built an entire career out of being a jerk, so it’s not a pretty partnership.
Turns out Pepper is actually the sweetest human being I’ve seen on TV in awhile, so much so that even I fell for him. Once more, I’m not sure why these guys always have to be so terrible, only to turn out to be really decent people. Did he have to be such a jerk? Couldn’t he have just been bitter about getting demoted? Annoyed at Colorado? Reeling from a breakup. SOMETHING? I dunno you guys.
Pepper saves the whole movie with his grand gestures and surprisingly tender ways with children, old ladies, and Sandy’s mom. Still, his personality transformation is too rapid to ever truly hit home.
10. Back to Christmas
Another do-over flick like 12 Dates of Christmas. Ali’s not sure she made the right decision the year before when she dumped boyfriend Cameron. I’m not sure why she has regrets, because Cameron is actually awful, but alas.
In a local diner she meets the weirdest Clarence/Ghost of Christmas Past character ever in Jenny, who sends her back to the year before for a chance to try again. Jenny’s WEIRD, y’all. She wears a gorilla suit at one point, with no explanation to speak of.
Back in time, Ali starts to have the feels for hometown hero Nick, and spends most of the movie in a HELLA cute dress. Good job on that one, Al. Cameron complains about not being in Aspen the whole time and decides to tell her that he doesn’t like kids, a fact which he might have considered including at an earlier point in their 5 year relationship. This is not even a contest.
It’s unclear whether any changes Ali makes will stick when she wakes up back in the present on Christmas Day, which is what kept me watching. This one is also a bit forgettable. Though my BFF and I did yell at the jerk boyfriend for the vast majority of this movie. I’m telling you, he sucked.
Anyway, that was fun!
The week I spent watching these was full of laughter and speculation about the future of Haylie Duff’s career. I totally recommend including at least a few of these in your lineup. Netflix really is the gift that keeps on giving.