There is a war being fought every Christmas, a struggle for dominance that began in the US but has since spread around the globe. The weapons are unconventional – blandly attractive actors, charming snowglobe settings and a sprinkling of yuletide magic – but it seems like nothing can stop the escalation. Thanks to the efforts of media silos like Hallmark, Lifetime and Netflix, we are being bombarded with romantic Christmas movies.
In the US, they are simply called Hallmark Christmas movies (even the ones not made by Hallmark, which might give you an idea about who is currently winning the battle for hearts and minds). Since the launch of their annual Countdown to Christmas season in 2010, the card company turned content provider has produced 232 TV films from the same festive blueprint: an unlucky-in-love girl (likely an event planner, baker or teacher) meets a hunky boy (maybe an architect, toy company CEO or even an actual prince) and after a series of festive mishaps they smooch under the mistletoe in time for Santa coming down the chimney. It is a thrifty but thriving cottage industry, with most movies shooting in Vancouver for just a fortnight.
The Hallmark Channel may no longer exist in the UK but its Christmas content is regularly deployed as December schedule-filler on Channel 5, while seasonal Freeview channel Christmas24 operates as a clearing house for the ghosts of Hallmark/Lifetime movies past. But now Netflix has brought the war to all our doorsteps. The streaming TV superpower joined the action with A Christmas Prince in 2017, the fairytale story of a snooping New York journalist who falls for a European royal while pretending to be his tutor. Netflix indiscreetly tweeted that 53 of their subscribers had watched the movie 18 days in a row, and a cult was born. This month the whole family can settle down to watch the third instalment A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby to see how Queen Amber and King Richard are getting on, as well as a raft of other corny Christmas Netflix viewing. So why would the global streamer, currently chasing awards with costly prestige movies like The Irishman, be so desperate to muscle in on Hallmark’s patch? It will all come down to ratings – something Netflix can analyse at an absurdly granular level – versus cost. These movies are cheap and genuinely cheerful, something vaguely festive to have on in the background while you decorate the tree. At a stressful time of year, such undemanding, heartwarming comfort viewing – as cosy as a novelty Christmas jumper – can feel like one of the most valuable gifts of all.
A Very Merry Mix-Up (2013)
The excellent Alicia Witt – co-star of long-running sitcom Cybill – is a Hallmark Christmas movie fixture, averaging one a year since this spirited 2013 comedy of errors. Her antique dealer Alice ends up finding true love after staying with the wrong family over the festive season.
The Nine Lives Of Christmas (2014)
Former Superman Brandon Routh plays a strapping fireman and confirmed bachelor who falls for a strident vet (Kimberly Sustad). This Hallmark movie purrs along on the chemistry between its leads while the prominence of various cute cats distracts from the suspicious lack of snow.
The Knight Before Christmas (2019)
This brand-new Netflix time-travel romance transports 14th-century knight Sir Cole of Norwich (Josh Whitehouse) to present-day smalltown Ohio, where he is immediately confused by the concept of selfies but bewitched by local teacher Brooke (Vanessa Hudgens). Tis silly but fun.
Journey Back To Christmas (2016)
More shoestring-budget time travel: Hallmark regular Candace Cameron Bure is a World War Two nurse who finds herself abruptly zapped to 2016, where she bonds with Jake (Oliver Hudson) while a confused Tom Skerritt from Alien looks on. Daft and drab.
A Very Nutty Christmas (2018)
Sabrina The Teenage Witch star Melissa Joan Hart plays a recently dumped baker who has her stressful festive season immeasurably improved by Chip (Barry Watson), the attentive new military man in her life (who just happens to be a magically transformed Nutcracker doll).
Smouldering Adrian Grenier from TV’s Entourage rocks a clean-cut haircut in this Elvis-themed love story between a widowed dad-of-three and a Graceland tour guide (Kaitlin Doubleday). It screens on Christmas24 if you want to catch a glimpse of Priscilla Presley.