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December 21, 2021

The 12 Days of Netflix Christmas Movies: Reviewing a dozen streaming holiday films

Christmas Movies
Netflix-Love-Hard-2_120521 Bettina Strauss/Netflix

Nina Dobrev and Jimmy O. Yang in Netflix's "Love Hard" (2021).

Welcome to the most wonderful time of the year. No, not the time of year when you gather with friends and family and everyone you love to celebrate making it through another year by exchanging expensive gifts and drinking way too much. We're talking about the time of year where it's actually socially acceptable to watch Christmas movies.

Sure, since binging movies is something you do in the privacy of your own home — and don't worry, we're not here to shame your movie choices — you could technically watch Christmas movies any time of year and no one would be any the wiser, except for maybe when you get caught singing "Winter Wonderland" while shopping at CVS in April. Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything. 

The Christmas movie is a time-honored tradition, and they run the gamut from incredible classics like "A Christmas Story" to more recent favorites like "Elf." There are dramas, tear-jerkers, laugh-out-loud comedies, animation, stop-motion, musicals — even action thrillers — so there's likely a Christmas movie out there for you, even if you don't celebrate the holiday yourself. That's especially true if we broaden the definition of "Christmas movie" to include titles like "Die Hard," but that's a whole different story for another day.

Outside of the mainstream theatrical holiday films, there have also been the made-for-TV masterpieces, most notably the Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (and to a lesser extent Lifetime Christmas movies). Those are... much less reliable and often fall into the genre of the kind of movies you'd typically expect to find on those channels. 

But in the last three of four years, a new genre of Christmas movie has been created: The Netflix Christmas Movie™️ (or NCM for short). And just like with their regular content, they've been churning out NCMs at a breakneck pace. Sure, there are plenty of those craptastic Hallmark- and Lifetime-type movies also available on Netflix, but the streaming giant already has multiple trilogies of their own, plus others that have sequels and spin-offs and even some existing in the same cinematic universe, the Netflix Christmas Movie Universe, one that will conceivably continue to expand until we reach the singularity when all of the known universe is consumed by either the Netflix or Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

But for this exercise, we're going to stick to Netflix originals. And we're going to review them. Not all of them, but 12 of them (technically more since we'll be grouping a couple of trilogies together) over the next few weeks as we present to you the 12 Days of Netflix Christmas Movies. So sit back, grab a cup of hot chocolate (or spiked eggnog if you prefer) and feel free to dive into any of the movies we've reviewed so far... 

[NOTE: We'll continue to update this list each time we review a new one.]

• DAY 1: "The Knight Before Christmas"

That being said, if we want to get picky — that's why we're here after all — we could point out the fact that the entire premise of this movie makes absolutely no sense. Not to get too deep in the Old-Crone-In-The-Woods weeds here, but when Cole stumbles upon the witch, she sends him to 2019 and the only way he can get back is by completing his quest before Christmas Day. Cole does so by falling in love with Brooke. And then is immediately transported back to 1334 — a full 650 years before his true love is born? What the hell? What was even the point of all that? Why would that be his quest? And why the hell did he need to go to 2019 to fall in love? Were there no women in the 1300s? Or was it because they didn't have a choice back then?  MORE

• DAY 2: "The Holiday Calendar"

Before we get into the actual "magic" "powers" of the calendar (and, yes, both those words belong in quotes), we have a few questions. Why now? Why has nobody in the family known that Gramps is holding a magic calendar? Has he let other people use it? Or has he been keeping it all to himself? ... you expect me to believe that you had a magic calendar all this time and just left it in a box somewhere to the point where you didn't even know where it was until you were packing up your old house? Gramps, what are you doing, man?!  MORE

• DAY 3: "Love Hard"

There isn't a lot that makes this movie terrible, especially in comparison to some of the other titles we'll come across this month. Honestly, it's one of the better Christmas movies I've seen recently — but that's just the problem. Is this even a Christmas movie? It's a meta conversation the writers are basically openly having with themselves throughout the movie, starting right from the top when Natalie and Josh get into an argument during their first text exchange about whether or not "Die Hard" is a Christmas movie. And depending on where you stand on that argument, you’ll probably feel the same way about "Love Hard." Oh my god, is that why that’s the title?  MORE

• DAY 4: "A Castle for Christmas"

If you're looking for a Christmas movie that's prime for a little hate-watching, this one might be for you. Sure, there's a certain audience it's going to appeal to — and it's likely the audience that remembers Shields and Elwes from their primes, nearly 30 years ago — but for a younger audience it's probably not going to get the job done. Of the Netflix Christmas movies we've reviewed so far, this is the one that feels the most like it could be from Hallmark or Lifetime instead. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. They pump out movies like crazy, so they clearly must be working in some respect. Perhaps Netflix realized they needed to expand their audience a little bit after so many of their Christmas movies seem geared toward a younger generation.  MORE

• DAY 5: "Holidate"

With that out of the way, we can start talking about Emma Roberts, who is great in this movie, especially on Halloween. You'll see what I mean. And Luke Bracey, who isn't as good but as far as male-romantic-comedy-leads-that-I've-never-heard-of go, he was better than expected. There are also a lot of good supporting characters that bring some laughs, from Chenoweth (obviously) to Sloane's brother-in-law (SNL's Alex Moffat) to Jackson's co-worker (Patrick Lamont).  MORE

• DAY 6: "Holiday in the Wild"

When I saw movies like this and "Operation Christmas Drop" (which we'll be reviewing eventually) pop up on Netflix, I knew they were going down the Hallmark/Lifetime route, just with much, much bigger budgets. I was finally going to get the answer of whether it's the terrible plot, writing, directing, etc. that makes those movies so bad they're good, or if it's the no-name actors (with an occasional B-lister thrown in) that really made it hum. Turns out, it's a combination of both. Because this movie was terrible, but not to the point of swinging the pendulum all the way back to it being good.  MORE

DAY 7: "Father Christmas is Back"

You might think that the first target here is going to be that last name (Christmas), or worse yet, the married name of one of the daughters: Christmas-Hope. Yes, one of the main character's names is Caroline Christmas-Hope (Cox). But no, we have to address the fact that Kelsey Grammer, playing an English man, just straight up refuses to do a British accent. Seriously. The patriarch of the Christmas family, in a movie where literally every other person but one speaks with an accent, comes right out of the gate with an American accent, and it's jarring to say the least. You know how it always tastes weird when you're expecting to eat something that's one flavor but actually wind up eating a different one? Almost like it's bad, even though you like it under normal circumstances? That was Grammer's voice in this one, especially at first when you're expecting him to be British because, well, his whole family is.  MORE 

DAY 8: "The Princess Switch"

Although it's a blast to make fun of while you watch it, it feels more like you're laughing with it than at it. I didn't dislike this movie — in fact, this was my third time watching it after I re-watched it last year on my own when the sequel was released — but that doesn't stop me from making fun of it each time, like a family member who you know can take it. That's largely possible due to an extremely likeable lead character (characters?) and because at no point does this movie take itself too seriously. It knows what it is. It's a dumb Christmas movie. And I mean that with the utmost respect.  MORE

• DAY 9: "Klaus"

For starters, it's an actual Christmas movie. So far in this journey, we've often lamented that too many of these Netflix "Christmas" movies are just regular movies that happen to be set around Christmas time. Christmas is neither central to the plot or the themes of the movie. In "Klaus," it's everywhere, but it's also nowhere at the same time. ... you get a brand new origin story for the big guy, and more importantly an origin story for some of the weird traditions that surround the Santa character, like why we hang stockings and why bad kids get coal. More importantly, it tells the story of why Santa, or in this case Klaus, began delivering presents in the first place, something that obviously isn't inherent to the religious Christmas tradition.  MORE

• DAY 10: "The Christmas Chronicles"

We just alluded to it above, but Kurt Russell was Kurt Russell in this one. And by that we mean he was funny and likeable... It was reminiscent of Tim Allen's version from "The Santa Clause," which is to say there was something sort of everyman about him, even though he's this magical being. In fact, there was a lot about this movie that felt like that 1994 classic both in its sense of humor, its action sequences and the general sense of nostalgia it evoked. It reminded me of the holiday movies I watched growing up, like "Home Alone," "Jingle All The Way," and "The Santa Clause." Perhaps it's not a coincidence then that those first two movies, along with "The Christmas Chronicles," were all produced by the king of Christmas movies, Chris Columbus.  MORE

• DAY 11: "A Christmas Prince"

For all the crap I just gave this one, there is something to be said about things being just "slightly off." Considering this was one of their real first attempts at a cheesy holiday film like this, it's impressive how much of the bones are already in place for a solid Christmas movie — and for more evidence of that look no further than the fact that Netflix not only made two more "Christmas Prince" movies, but they also made three "Princess Switch" movies, and those basically follow the same general regular-girl-posing-as-someone-else-meets-and-falls-in-love-with-prince arc. But the biggest thing "A Christmas Prince" might have in common with "The Princess Switch" is that it perfectly walks the line of not taking it too seriously, which allows you to both laugh with it and at it.  MORE

• DAY 12: "A Boy Called Christmas"

When you start with [Maggie] Smith narrating your story, you know you're in for a treat. In fact, the level of talent of the actors in this one is off the charts. Smith, [Jim] Broadbent, [Kristen] Wiig, [Michael] Huisman, [Toby] Jones and even Stephen Merchant (as the voice of Miika the mouse) all deliver in this one, taking this from a good Christmas movie to a very good one. Adding to that is the acting of young up-and-comer Henry Lawfull, who played Nikolas in what IMDB says was just his first movie role. ... If the acting takes this movie from good to very good, then it is the visuals that take this from a very good Christmas movie to a great one.  MORE

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