Netflix has taken cues from the cable television staple The Hallmark Channel over the past few years by releasing a wide array of holiday romances. With an overwhelming list to choose from, here’s a ranking of some of their biggest releases — from worst to best — to help viewers decide what’s worth the watch.
7. “Operation Christmas Drop” (2020)
When a legislative aid is sent to a military base in Guam to decide its fate, she instead finds love and regains her passion for Christmas. Yes, “Operation Christmas Drop” adopts the Hallmark paint-by-numbers scenario in which a big city career woman meets a humble middle-America man and realizes her job pales in comparison to Christmas, a holiday that doesn’t pay the bills and engulfs one single day a year.
Uninspired and annoying, “Operation Christmas Drop” is an exercise in insulting a viewer’s intelligence. Erica (Kat Graham) isn’t a likable protagonist in the slightest and her chemistry with Andrew (Alexander Ludwig) is nonexistent. Andrew’s eye-roll-inducing emotional crux is that he loves Christmas too much to settle down. He needs a therapist and the writers of this film need new careers.
It’s not hard to create a run-of-the-mill rom-com but it is hard to create one absent of heart. “Operation Christmas Drop” lacks Christmas spirit, all the while using Guam as a backboard to tout white-saviorism. It sucks — there’s no two ways about it.
6. “The Knight Before Christmas” (2019)
“The Knight Before Christmas” dives into a magical realm as teacher Brooke Winters (Vanessa Hudgens) finds renewed hope in love after meeting a time-traveling knight-in-training, Cole (Josh Whitehouse). That’s the entire plot — and no, the writing doesn’t improve upon it.
The film skirts past reality, as characters find themselves charmed, rather than disturbed, by Cole’s aloof demeanor. He explains he’s a knight who’s been sent by an “old crone” on a quest to prove knighthood and everyone just shrugs it off as amnesia. The love story is weird and the rest of the plot is barebones, so there’s not much to hang on to.
At one point, Brooke tells her niece girls can do anything they want. The verdict’s still out on how her boyfriend from the 1300s feels on that, though.
The only areas where the film deserves props are in set design and wardrobe. Brooke served some looks with her cloaks and coats, thanks to costume designer Barbara Gregusova, and they helped distract from the fact the film is terrible.
5. “A Christmas Prince” (2017)
Take a trip into the fantastical when a journalist goes to Aldovia, a fictional European country, to uncover whether the prince will take the throne of his late father. “A Christmas Prince” tosses any semblance of realism right out the window, as Amber (Rose McIver) mozies into the kingdom nonchalantly with an obvious lie and no one cares.
The undercover journalist subplot is undercooked and poorly thought out, but the film has a lot of charm. Still, watching a woman give up her career for a prince in a country in which women can’t rule definitely feels like a loss for feminism. Either way, don’t think about it too hard — it’s not like the writers did.
Atmospherically, “A Christmas Prince” is everything one would want from a Christmas movie: a cozy setting, beautiful scenery, inviting score and charming casting. The film encompasses the Christmas feeling so well that its many flaws don’t majorly deter from the end result.
4. “Holiday In the Wild” (2019)
If there’s one motif Netflix employs with their Christmas movies, it’s filming them in a foreign destination. “Holiday In the Wild” follows Kate (Kristin Davis), a woman who travels to Africa alone after her husband leaves her. In Zambia, she finds a connection with Derek (Rob Lowe), a volunteer at an elephant sanctuary.
Akin to the Reese Witherspoon-led “Wild,” the film takes the approach of a woman using nature to find herself. “Holiday In the Wild” also makes sure the white woman in Africa finds the one other white man to fall in love with, because God forbid Netflix makes a true effort at diversity. Despite its cliched roots, the film is a solid holiday movie and succeeds at achieving a feel-good atmosphere.
Those wanting an ultra-Christmasy movie should forego “Holiday In the Wild” but it’s one of the classier, less overdone Netflix offerings.
3. “The Princess Switch” (2018)
“The Princess Switch” follows Stacy De Novo (Vanessa Hudgens), a Chicago-based baker who travels alongside her co-owner Kevin (Nick Sagar) to compete in a baking competition in the fictional country of Belgravia.
There, Stacy runs into her doppleganger, Lady Margaret Delacourt (Vanessa Hudgens). The two switch roles so that Lady Margaret can experience normal life and Stacy can learn what silk robes feel like. It’s basically “The Parent Trap,” but with a much worse British accent.
“The Princess Switch” has some gorgeous set design and is overall a nice fluff film. The romance subplots are cute and predictable, and the actors thankfully have chemistry. The film deserves props for being one of the few Netflix rom-coms to not have the protagonists hate each other before they fall in love, because God is that tiring.
The film loses points for neglecting the baking competition subplot, though. “The Princess Switch” could’ve been a masterclass Food Network/Hallmark mash-up, but unfortunately, it’s just a standard rom-com.
2. “Holidate” (2020)
“Holidate” centers around 29-year old Sloane (Emma Roberts), who has grown increasingly cynical about her romantic options and her family’s constant pity. Adopting a friend-without-benefits in professional golfer and mall-junkie Jackson (Luke Bracey), Sloane finds a solution to going the holidays alone — possibly forever.
The greatest strength of “Holidate” is its great slew of actors, elevated by the chemistry between Roberts (“Scream Queens,” “We’re the Millers”) and Bracey (“Monte Carlo,” “Little Fires Everywhere”). And Kristen Chenoweth (“Bewitched,” “GCB”) lights up the screen as raunchy Aunt Susan.
“Holidate” takes sex positivity to the extreme, contrasting the sexless nature of Netflix’s other selections. While a positive shake up, the more explicit nature of “Holidate” makes it less of a family flick than a traditional Christmas film.
The film is a mess in so many ways — semi-unlikeable leads, the ever-growing question of does Sloane have a job — yet it overall is a ride worth taking. But seriously, why is Sloane’s family so concerned about her lack of a man when she’s 29 without a job or any drive to get one? Seems like they should be more concerned about that.
1. “Let It Snow” (2019)
Small towns are never more relevant than in Christmas movies, and “Let It Snow” utilizes this popular, quaint setting expertly. The film, featuring Kiernan Shipka (“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” “Mad Men”) and Joan Cusack (“Working Girl,” “Toy Story”), follows a group of young people through a series of connected stories during a Christmas Eve snowstorm.
Netflix Christmas movies often feel more parody than classic, but “Let It Snow” evades this trapping with a sweet and simple Christmas story.
The film evokes warmth superbly and crescendos the storylines together with purpose. Never trying too hard, the characters all feel relatable to the high school fantasy experience. The rural setting works to implement Christmas spirit whilst avoiding the uncomfortable conservatism weaponized by Hallmark.
The verdict’s still out on if Netflix has produced a Christmas classic, but “Let It Snow” may be as close as it gets. And it gets bonus points for the addition of a LGBTQ+ romance done well. It’s not a lot but it’s more than the bulk of rom-coms have offered in terms of representation.