Christmas movies exist in a cozy, snow-dusted world of their own, blissfully suspended from any of the usual critical judgment. They should help you bask in the warm holiday spirit, regardless of how annoying you find your actual family Christmas. For that they need to be sentimental, entertaining and magical—and little else.
Hallmark, the greeting card company-turned-production house, has the Christmas movie formula down to a tee. They started their Hallmark Hall of Fame anthology series in 1951, producing hundreds of television movies over the decades, before launching their Hallmark Channel in 2001.
Although popular all year round, the Hallmark Channel is most associated with its annual Countdown to Christmas. From October to December, it plays a selection of holiday movies and other original programming to get America into the Christmas spirit. Last year, 72 million people tuned into the Countdown, according to Hallmark, and it also ranked as the highest-rated cable channel for women aged 25 to 54 during the holiday period.
The channel’s original Christmas content has proved to be so popular that Hallmark has commissioned 36 new holiday movies this year, up from 21 in 2017. That’s surely enough to keep even the most Christmas-obsessed viewer occupied this winter season, but diehard fans can access even more at Hallmark’s own on-demand streaming service, rebranded last year as Hallmark Movies Now.
But if you’re on the hunt for Hallmark’s all-time classic TV movies, it can be hard to know where to look. As they show on TV rather than in cinemas, they don’t often receive critical attention in the press. And let’s face it—Hallmark movies need to be judged with different criteria to regular movies, as they have a purpose that is pretty far removed from that of mainstream filmmaking.
We’ve gathered reviews from IMDb and Amazon users, to see which Hallmark Christmas movies were the biggest crowd-pleasers. Their archives reveal some surprises, such as appearances from critically acclaimed actors Naomi Watts and Joely Richardson. The movies take the viewer from the trenches of World War II to small-town Alaska, but always end up exactly where you want to be on Christmas—in the warm, cheesy embrace of a happy-ever-after ending.
50. Hitched For The Holidays (2012). Total score: 79%. Amazon user score: 92. IMDb score: 66. Directed by Michael Scott. Starring: Joey Lawrence, Emily Hampshire, Linda Darlow.Plot summary: An attractive pair agrees to be each other’s supposed significant other throughout the holidays to keep their meddling families at bay.What the audience said about Hitched For The Holidays: “This is family-centered humor and situations, playing on generational conflicts and the difficulty of randomly finding true respect and love in the dating life.”
49. Angel of Christmas (2017). Total score: 79%. Amazon user score: 96. IMDb score: 62. Directed by Ron Oliver. Starring: Jennifer Finnigan, Jonathan Scarfe, Holly Robinson PeetePlot summary: Holiday grinch Susan gets her first big break to write her own headline story, but ironically, the story is a Christmas-themed account of her own family’s carved wooden Christmas Angel which supposedly has magical powers to bring true lovers together.What the audience said about Angel of Christmas: “Opposites attract. Magic. Mystery. Romance. Relationships. This was a very good Christmas movie.”
48. Northpole (2014). Total score: 79.5%. Amazon user score: 94. IMDb score: 65. Directed by Douglas Barr. Starring: Max Charles, Josh Hopkins, Tiffani TheissenPlot summary: Northpole, the magical home to Santa and Mrs. Claus, has grown into a huge city powered by the magic of holiday happiness around the world. Yet as people everywhere get too busy to enjoy festive time together, the city is in trouble. Who can help save the cherished traditions of Christmas? One young boy, Kevin, might have a chance if he can convince his protective mom, Chelsea, to rediscover the magic of the season.What the audience said about Northpole: “The most disturbing aspect of this story is Santa’s ‘tracking system’ that keeps tabs on all of us. I’m almost certain that violates our civil liberties.”
47. A Princess For Christmas (2012). Total score: 79.5%. Amazon user score: 94. IMDb score: 65. Directed by Michael Damian. Starring: Katie McGrath, Sir Roger Moore, Sam HeughanPlot summary: At the invitation of an estranged relative, a young woman travels with her niece and nephew to a castle in Europe for Christmas, where she unwittingly falls for a dashing Prince.What the audience said about A Princess For Christmas: “Sure, the movie is a little corny, but It’s appropriate for all ages. This film left me feeling happy and, after all, isn’t Christmas the time for miracles?”
46. Christmas Cookies (2016). Total score: 80%. Amazon user score: 94. IMDb score: 66. Directed by James Head. Starring: Jill Wagner, Wes BrownPlot summary: When Hannah Harper is sent to a Christmas-themed town called Cookie Jar to negotiate the sale of the town’s famous cookie company, she gets more than she bargained for with the company’s charming owner Jake.What the audience said about Christmas Cookies: “Jill Wagner is a great actress. She never gives up.”
45. Best Christmas Party Ever (2014). Total score: 80%. Amazon user score: 94. IMDb score: 66. Directed by John Bradshaw. Starring: Torrey DeVitto, Steve Lund, Linda Thorson.Plot summary: With the holiday season at hand, young party planner Jennie Stanton learns that her boss, Petra, will be retiring after Christmas and hopes she will be left in charge of Petra’s Parties, New York s premiere event planning service. Jennie’s hopes fade when Petra’s charming and handsome nephew, Nick, arrives on the scene and Petra announces that he will take over the business.What the audience said about Best Christmas Party Ever: “Good Christmas movie with attractive cast. Not complicated and a feel-good movie, which is what I want in a Christmas movie.”
44. Christmas at Cartwright’s (2014). Total score: 80%. Amazon user score: 94. IMDb score: 66. Directed by Graeme Campbell. Starring: Alicia Witt, Gabriel Hogan, Wallace Shawn.Plot summary: A single mom gets a holiday job as a department store Santa to help boost her finances, and then an angel enters her life and brings about some positive changes, including the spark of a new romance.What the audience said about Christmas at Cartwright’s: “Most other movies just take place at Christmas but don’t have much to do with the holidays. This one definitely put me in the mood for Christmas.”
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