One of the few success stories on linear cable these days is the Hallmark Channel’s annual Christmas takeover, where the channel only shows its sappy, conventional, shockingly conservative original Christmas movies from Halloween until New Year’s Day. Last year, 50 million viewers tuned into it at one time or another.
But Netflix is actively out to disrupt the TV game in virtually all sectors of programming, including the realm of syrupy holiday entertainment. The streaming service got into the original-Christmas-movie game in 2017. While Hallmark’s movies follow a strict formula, Netflix has been smart enough to branch out into more genres, including animation, teen films, and even something akin to an action movie. But don’t worry: Motion Picture Corporation of America, a major feeder in Hallmark’s Christmas deluge, is also making Netflix movies that are well within the Hallmark formula.
Here are all Netflix’s original movies, ranked from worst to best. Christmas-themed scripted miniseries like Dash & Lily (well worth your time) and reality series like the baking competition Sugar Rush aren’t included, and neither are the movies Netflix licenses, but which also air on other platforms. There’s something on this list for everyone — it’s just that some of these somethings are much better than others.
21. El Camino Christmas (2017)
Sometimes when watching a Hallmark Christmas movie, you think, “Hmm. What if we took all these tropes, but made them dark? That would be cool.” You could get a guy coming to a small town, but it’s in arid Nevada instead of snowy Maine. He’s searching for his long-lost father, but it turns out the guy’s a no-good drunk. You could get a kid who learns the miracle of Christmas, but he’s autistic, and the anti-vaxxer miracle is, he learns how to talk. There could be a small-business owner who needs to improve his business, but it’s a convenience store and there’s a hostage standoff in the mini-mart on Christmas Eve.
Yes, most of El Camino Christmas is a hold-up drama with crooked cops and mistaken identities. It’s as if someone at Netflix said, “Can we do all that, but … it’s Christmas?” And the filmmakers said, “Sure!” The only good thing about this is the cast, including Jessica Alba, Jimmy O. Yang, Tim Allen, Dax Shepard, and Vincent D’Onofrio sporting the snazziest walrus mustache you’ve ever seen. Too bad they’re all wasted on this half-baked tale. No, making a Hallmark movie dark doesn’t make it cool, it just makes it stupid.
20. Christmas Inheritance (2017)
If you’re looking for a dose of Christmas-inspired schmaltz, this knock-off is the place to get it. It has all the clichés. Hard-partying city girl Ellen (Eliza Taylor) is the heir to a “multimillion-dollar gifts company,” though it’s impossible to imagine what that would look like. Her father tasks her with going to his hometown of Snow Falls (seriously) to deliver the annual Christmas letter to his business partner. She can’t tell anyone in town who she is, so she doesn’t get special treatment, and she can only spend $100. In town, she meets cute with local innkeeper Jake (Girls’ Jake Lacey) who is so nice that he houses the town’s entire homeless population in his establishment when the power goes out. (A million question marks on that plot point.) Ellen, of course, falls in love with small-town living, and the spirit of Christmas fills her, just as she hopes Jake will fill her later that night. It’s all you could want in a Christmas movie, but with so little of the charm of other flicks that dispense the same clichés.
19. Operation Christmas Drop (2020)
This one takes its plot from a real-life U.S. Air Force tradition at a base in Guam where cargo planes dump Christmas presents and other necessary supplies on the remote islands that wouldn’t get humanitarian aid otherwise. Yes, it’s a great charity, which makes it frustrating that the movie about it is so absolutely leaden and boring. The problem isn’t the drop itself, it’s the tired story of Erica (Kat Graham), a D.C. Congressional aide who shows up to shut down the base, and runs afoul of an Air Force captain (Alexander Ludwig) who she of course falls for. There’s some nice tropical footage, but there’s no way this paper-thin story should take two hours to tell. You’ll wish you dedicated the time you spent watching this to charity instead.
18. The Christmas Chronicles 2 (2020)
Everyone who thinks the Ewoks ruined Return of the Jedi should brace themselves for the gibberish-speaking elves in this poorly designed sequel. They’re sort of like getting a hot candy cane jabbed into your eye socket. It’s a shame, because real-life couple Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell have such great onscreen chemistry, and their first film together since 1987’s Overboard shouldn’t be this bad. Instead of the Santa-as-action-hero vibe of the first Christmas Chronicles, noted schlock-producer director Chris Columbus goes for straight up cutesy-kitsch, with a plot so complicated, it’s worse than Ikea instructions. Time travel? In a Christmas movie? No way. Kate (Darby Camp) is back to help Santa (Russell) and Mrs. Claus (Hawn) save Christmas, this time from the evil elf Belsnickel (Deadpool 2’s Julian Dennison). It has none of the fun of the original, and way too much of the CGI elves.
17. Holiday Rush (2019)
There’s a scene in this movie that is so cringey, it will make your eyes want to fully invert in your skull before jumping out of your body and setting themselves on fire. Rush (Romany Malco), an out-of-work drive-time radio DJ, is out to dinner with his business partner Roxy (Sonequa Martin-Green) to celebrate buying a closed-down radio station, when he toasts her in front of the whole restaurant. Then he asks her to dance next to their table, with no music playing and everyone trying to carry on with their meals.
To make it worse, he goes home and basically tells his four kids that she’s their new mother. Even for people who believe advent calendars are magic and Santa is real, there is not one believable thing in this movie. To make it worse, the pacing is leaden, the lines fall flat, and not even the spirit of Christmas can save it.
16. Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square (2020)
Let’s get one thing straight: Dolly Parton is a national treasure. She has not only written some of the best songs of the past several decades, she has also done wonders for childhood literacy, and she basically cured coronavirus singlehandedly. With that said, her spangly 2020 Christmas musical, um… is not her best work. There’s a lot of exuberant singing and over-exuberant dancing (with choreography from director Debbie Allen), but it’s all done on a stingy community-theater set. The songs feature grating lyrics like, “Oh little girl / You are my world,” and the dialogue is full of adages from stale greeting cards, like “Faith opens a door so miracles can enter.”
The miracle is Dolly, playing an angel, trying to convince a hard-hearted businesswoman (The Good Wife’s stellar Christine Baranski) not to evict everyone from a small town on Christmas and sell the land to a mall developer. There are a few transcendent moments, like Jenifer Lewis vogueing in a beauty salon, but you’d get more out of listening to “Jolene” on repeat for 90 minutes instead.
15. Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby (2019)
By the time ghosts become a major plot point in a franchise that isn’t already about ghosts, it’s time to hang it up, because it’s all out of ideas. Luckily, it seems like the third movie in this series will be the last one. It’s basically the same as the first two, but this time, Queen Amber (Rose McIver) is styled to look like a Fox News anchor and looks about 20 years older than she really is. Pregnancy does not suit her. The trouble in Aldovia this Christmas is that the King (Ben Lamb) has to re-sign a 600-year-old treaty with the Asian country of Penglia, which, for some geopolitical reason, is the chief ally of Aldovia, a European nation. Except the treaty goes missing, which means the countries will be back at war, and there will also be a curse on the king’s first born. Oh no! A curse! We’re actually worried about that? Everything is eventually settled and the baby is born in the palace bedroom, because nothing’s as sanitary as a holiday bedroom. All of the stupid good cheer has been used up, and hopefully we’ll never have to go back to Aldovia.
14. Holiday in the Wild (2019)
Warning: Rob Lowe appears shirtless at age 55 in this movie. For lovers of the male form, it is a delight. For havers of the male form, it is a nightmare, because no matter how old you are now, Rob Lowe’s body is still better than yours.
Physical beauty aside, this is a gorgeous movie, mostly because of the African setting. When Kate (Sex and the City’s Kristin Davis), a former vet turned New York socialite, takes a safari to forget about her recent divorce, she ends up at an African elephant orphanage run by Derek (Lowe, sometimes wearing a shirt). Lots of footage of elephants and other animals in the wild ensues. In fact, you’ll see more giraffes in this movie than Christmas trees. They’re the real reason to tune into this wisp of a movie. It certainly isn’t for dialogue like, “Without change there would be no butterflies.” It’s not for the moment where Kate is asked if she met anyone in Africa, and she says, “Yes… I met me.” The cast doesn’t spare the cheese, but at least they save some elephants.
13. A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding (2018)
Ever go somewhere and have an amazing hamburger, and then you go back a few weeks later and order it again, and it’s just disappointing? That’s basically what happens with this sequel. It has all the same ingredients as A Christmas Prince, but this time, when Amber (Rose McIver) — is there a less regal name than Amber? — and her dad Rudy (John Guerrasio, taking over the role from the more aptly named Daniel Fathers) show up in Aldovia, her relationship with King Richard (Ben Lamb) is already assured. So instead of a growing romance, we’re left with some crazy plotline about embezzlement that’s so simplistic, a kindergarten detective could figure it out. Also, Amber’s royal wedding dress is ugly and it looks like she bought it at Filene’s Basement. There, I said it.
12. The Knight Before Christmas (2019)
There’s a K in the title. Get it? Get it?! Yes, that means an actual knight named Sir Cole (Josh Whitehouse) is magically transported through time on Christmas. Wait, Cole was a name in the 14th century? Really? What’s next, Queen Madison of Spain? Anyway, when he arrives in the modern day, Brooke (Netflix’s Christmas queen, Vanessa Hudgens) hits him with her car and then thinks he has amnesia, so she takes him in. His old-time gallantry is not only a hit at the local Christmas village, where he starts working, but also with his new roommate, where he starts working it. Hey! If you’re looking to pass a bit of silly time with a little bit of Christmas magic, curl up with this movie and a mug of hot chocolate. Just don’t put any K in it. That would be a whole different thing.
11. A Christmas Prince (2017)
One of Netflix’s original forays into the art of a Christmas movie, this thing is a little bit like a fruitcake, where a dozen ideas are thrown into a batter and stirred, until none emerge as the dominant flavor. Amber (Rose McIver) is an American journalist dispatched to the vaguely European nation of Aldovia (the movie was shot in Romania), where she has to find out everything about party boy Prince Richard (Ben Lamb). Since she can’t get access to him, she poses as the tutor to his sister Emily (Honor Kneafsey), an unruly princess who has made every previous governess quit. You know the rest: Amber charms Emily, gets close to Richard, has to tell him she’s been lying about her identity the whole time, goes tobogganing, helps him fight off a coup from a dastardly cousin, and uses the power of the Christmas spirit to enchant just about everyone. It’s stupid, syrupy fun, even if the acting, sets, story, and just about everything else leave a little bit to be desired — just like a fruitcake.
10. Holidate (2020)
Though this rom-com starts and ends at Christmas, it isn’t about the season so much as it’s about holidays in general. Sloane (Emma Roberts) is sick of being the only single person in her family. Jackson (Aussie hunk Luke Bracey) is sick of commitment-seeking women. They decide to be each other’s “holidate,” or date to all holiday functions, which not only includes Christmas and Thanksgiving, but also St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, and Cinco de Mayo. Over the course of the year, they not only fall in love (duh) they also engage in some over-the-top scatological humor and drunken antics. If you love a mediocre and slightly edgy rom-com (which Netflix has really cornered the market on lately) you could really do a lot worse, but this is lacking the seasonal trappings you might expect from something with a holiday pun in the title.
9. The Princess Switch (2018)
Imagine The Parent Trap, but instead of two Lindsay Lohans, there are two Vanessa Hudgens, and one of them is a princess. Imagine there’s also a baking competition in the magical kingdom of Belgravia, a fictional neighbor of Christmas Prince’s fictional Aldovia. Okay, so there’s some Princess Diaries thrown in there as well. You can guess the plot: Stacy (Hudgens) and her best friend and coworker (Nick Sagar) are recruited for the baking contest, where Margaret, Duchess of Montenaro (Hudgens again) finds out she and Stacy bear an uncanny resemblance. They switch places so Margaret can see what it’s like to be a real girl, and Stacy falls in love with the prince Margaret is supposed to marry (Sam Palladio). Ah, romance is so easy when the other person is lying to you the whole time and pretending to be someone else! Yes, this is silly and predictable, but Hudgens has enough charisma to pull it off.
8. Alien Xmas (2020)
If you’re ever in the position where you eat a little too much of an edible and you’re sitting in your parents’ living room, with the Christmas tree melting into a puddle while you try to figure out what to watch, start with the movie version of Cats. When that’s over, move onto this weird stop-motion animation special. Hopefully it will divert you long enough that you’ll regain control of your limbs. You’ll also fall in love with X, a little alien Klept, a species that can never have enough stuff. They decide to take over the Earth to steal all of Earth’s things, and they begin by invading Santa’s village at the North Pole. It’s basically the same story as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but with a retro-’60s sci-fi vibe that goes perfectly with the munchies.
7. The Princess Switch: Switched Again (2020)
It turns out that Vanessa Hudgens-es are like shots: two of them make for a good time, but three of them will really mess you up. On the eve of her coronation as queen — on Christmas, natch — Duchess Margaret of Montenaro (Hudgens) gets another visit from her lookalike Stacy (also Hudgens), now a princess of Belgravia. This time, Margaret’s party-girl Eurotrash cousin Fiona (yes, another Hudgens) shows up to complicate matters further. Things go absolutely haywire, with all the Hudgens-es pretending to be other Hudgens-es, but the addition of cartoonish villain Fiona is just the ridiculous spice this thing needs. Yes, it’s stupid, but it’s a stupid good time that’s perfect to entertain you on Christmas Eve as you stay up late putting together a Barbie Dream House. Now if we can only get a geography lesson on exactly where Montenaro and Belgravia are, and why it takes so long to travel from one to the other. It must have something to do with the space-Hudgens continuum.
6. Holiday Calendar (2018)
My favorite subgenre of Christmas movie is “this random Christmas thing has magic powers.” In this case, it’s an advent calendar Abby (Kat Graham) gets from her grandfather (This Is Us Emmy-winner Ron Cephas Jones) that seems to be predicting the future. Abby is a frustrated photographer taking pictures of kids posing with a mall Santa when she’d rather be making art. The calendar seems to be nudging her closer to dream man Ty (Ethan Peck) much to the chagrin of her best friend and coworker Josh (Quincy Brown). This is a fun, frothy mug of eggnog with a diverse cast. It’s helped immensely by the obvious chemistry between Abby and Josh, and by being full of people cool enough that you might actually want to be friends with them. The only mistake in the movie is that the cast actually watches Netflix’s Christmas Inheritance (see above) and thinks it’s amazing.
5. Jingle Jangle: A Holiday Journey (2020)
This reminds me so much of old-school made-for-TV Christmas movies. (Drew Barrymore in Babes in Toyland, anyone?) The production values aren’t at Marvel-movie levels, but they’re good, and the film is full of plucky children acting precocious in order to make everyone believe in the Christmas spirit. Oh, and it’s a musical. Cue the jazz hands. Journey (Madalen Mills) goes to the steampunk Victorian village where her grandfather Jeronicus (Forest Whitaker) lives. He’s a down-on-his-luck toymaker who never recovered after his former apprentice (Keegan-Michael Key) ran off with all of his toy designs, and stole Don Juan Diego (voiced by Ricky Martin), a fully conscious matador toy that was Jeronicus’ greatest creation. But eventually, though a series of convoluted back-and-forths between songs by John Legend and others, Christmas is saved. It’s overly ornate and has about four movies’ worth of plot smooshed into two hours, but it just might be the makings of a new holiday classic.
4. The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
There are lots of different Santas in movies, but has there ever been another action-hero Santa? If that’s a thing you wanted in your life, look no further than Kurt Russell playing Kris Kringle with a killer beard and more swag than Justin Bieber walking out of a megachurch. Kate (Darby Camp) and her older brother Teddy (Judah Lewis) are still reeling from the death of their Christmas-loving father when Kate decides to stay up all night to catch Santa on video. She not only sees the old man, she and Teddy stow away in his sled. The shock of finding two strangers in the back with his sack gives Santa such a fright, he wrecks his sleigh in downtown Chicago. Now these two need to fix the sled, rescue the reindeer, and find his magic sack to save Christmas. Car chases, police standoffs, and all the other action-movie antics ensue, for a sweet Christmas tale with a heaping side of badass.
3. Just Another Christmas (2020)
This one is more complicated than trying to make a batch of cronuts underwater. Jorge (Leandro Hassum), a middle-aged Brazilian dude, has always hated Christmas. One year, he falls off the roof while playing Santa, and when he wakes up the next day, it isn’t December 26, it’s Christmas the following year. “Christmas Jorge” wakes up every year with no memory of the past 364 days, can’t remember anything “Regular Jorge” did during the rest of the year, and actually hates quite a few of other self’s decisions. The result is not only a hilarious take on Groundhog Day, it’s also a touching mediation on the traditions and repetitions of Christmas, and what it’s like for each of us to experience them throughout changing phases of our lives. That’s a whole lot of philosophy for a silly little movie!
2. Klaus (2019)
This is Netflix’s only feature-length animated Christmas movie, and it’s also the only Oscar nominee in the bunch, though it lost Best Animated Feature to Toy Story 4. But Klaus is still an excellent take on the Santa origin story, with a cartoonish style that owes more to Tim Burton and The Addams Family than to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) is a lazy, entitled son of a postmaster general, who dispatches him to the far-flung, run-down hamlet of Smeerensburg to serve as postman. If Jesper doesn’t post 6,000 letters in a year, he won’t inherit his father’s fortune. His idea is to get the kids of the towns’ two feuding families, the Ellingboes and the Krums, to mail letters to a reclusive woodsman so he’ll deliver presents to them. As the story progresses, we see how this not only saves the town, but invents much of the mythology we know about Santa today. It didn’t win an Oscar, but it’s certain to win the hearts of kids and adults.
1. Let It Snow (2019)
So many Christmas movies are about middle-aged singletons falling in love again, thanks to the spirit of Christmas. Not this teen movie, in the vein of Can’t Hardly Wait and Superbad, which could teach all the other Christmas movies a thing or two. Let It Snow follows a bunch of kids in a small Illinois town as they deal with romance and a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. Tobin (Mitchell Hope) is in love with his best friend Angie (Kiernan Shipka), but can’t figure out how to tell her. Dorrie (Liv Hewson) is trying to get the cheerleader who hooked up with her (Anna Akana) to acknowledge her. And Julie (Isabela Merced) is ushering around a pop star (Shameik Moore). They all converge at the local Waffle Town for a massive Christmas party that isn’t remotely realistic, but is still absolutely enchanting. Brimming with LOL moments and surprising twists on convention, Let It Snow isn’t just a good Christmas movie — it’s a good movie, period. Frankly, in the world of made-for-the-holidays movies, that’s a rare and special kind of gift.