Guys, my mind is a steel trap of Netflix Christmas original movies. And, well, usually all the knowledge about fake countries that sound like supplements and or Vanessa Hudgens’ rise as *the* holiday rom-com star of the decade is pretty much worthless…but not today.
For one day only, this knowledge is relevant and useful and I am READY to help you pick the films that will set the scene for the next three days. Now, this is a personal film ranking, so here are the parameters:
- It’s a Netflix original. Yes, other places have made incredible holiday films, but Netflix is pretty ubiquitous and on-demand so we’re sticking with it.
- Adults can watch. There are a few animated or family-friendly picks on here – I’ve made sure to highlight them – but there’s no Storybots or Captain Underpants here, sorry!!
- It’s an actual movie. Netflix does have a surprising number of holiday TV series (Dash & Lily is not their first Christmas show, which is mind-boggling) and shorts but this is FILM TIME, baby.
- Give me some grace on this ranking!!! As I’ve realized, Netflix are “good/good” movies (timeless films – there’s even an Oscar nominee here!), “good/bad” movies (Hallmark-style – stereotypical and fun to watch) and “bad/bad” films (usually a gratuitous sequel).
In any case, I’ve done my best and I’d love to hear your picks, too. Let us begin…
22. A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby
Vibe: Straight-to-VHS sequel of 90s smash hit movie
Family Friendly?: Yeah, but I think it’s probably only interesting to kids 8+.
The Verdict: First off: Aldovia sounds like the name a muscle ointment and Penglia sounds like the name of an as-seen-on-TV medication and NO ONE CAN CONVINCE ME OTHERWISE. Also, how is the queen of a country allowed to blog? And it’s just called “Amber’s Blog?” What is even going ON in Aldovia??? (PS. Andy looks like a knock-off Brendan from this season of the Bachelorette. Let’s talk about it).
ANYWAY, I will tell you that it’s about a pair of royals who have to renew a truce, but the document is stolen, the thief is trapped inside the palace after a snowstorm, and then a curse threatens their baby, but that actually kind of makes it sound interesting. Overall, it’s fine. If you’re looking to binge something for a few hours, you could do worse than the 3 films that encapsulate this nice little royal romance, but it’s not really a must-see.
21. The Princess Switch: Switched Again
Vibe: “Oh no, there’s too much going on here”
Family Friendly?: There’s a scene with kidnapping, so skip this if that would frighten anyone in your household.
The Verdict: WOOF. Would really only recommend this if 1. you have a lot of wine and 2. you have someone to scream at the TV with. Vanessa Hudgens is doing THE MOST – playing 3 different characters with 2 rough accents – and you just want her to slow down.
There are just so many weird things not addressed in this sequel. Like, your best friend is in love with your doppelganger and it doesn’t affect your relationship at all? You have marriage troubles that get cleared up in 30 seconds? Folks go on ONE date and then get married? The fact that THREE WOMEN look exactly the same despite not really being related and everyone in this country is just like, “ah yes, totally normal, of course that happens all the time.” All this being said: this is fun to chirp at with friends and family, but you’re not going to walk away being like, “WOW WHAT AN INCREDIBLE HOLIDAY FILM!”
20. Operation Christmas Drop
Vibe: “Military history in gentle romance” – Common Sense Media
Family Friendly?: Yeah, this is pretty safe for all.
The Verdict: So apparently “Operation Christmas Drop” is a real thing – it’s a training mission for the Air Force where they drop toys over remote Pacific islands – and I guess it’s interesting to have a holiday rom-com based on a real life scenario, but this one just didn’t hit for me.
It’s a beautiful location, it features a powerful woman in a lead role (she’s in charge of deciding whether or not this project gets shut down!), and it’s nice to see a ton of people trying to help others, buuuuuuut…something about it really rubs me the wrong way and I’m still having trouble putting my finger on it. Maybe it just feels a little savior complex-y? Anyone else?
19. Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square
Vibe: Kind of like if Dolly Parton made the Muppets Christmas Carol on the Wizard of Oz set.
Family Friendly?: It’s not overtly “adult,” but there are some grown-up themes like teen pregnancy, the death of a parent, and a scary car accident .
The Verdict: DOLLY, I’M SO SORRY. I KNOW. I know. She gave us a vaccine and she deserves better!!! But hear me out. Y’all, I have tried to watch this THREE TIMES and I have fallen asleep every single time (not before crying, though, so I know it’s at least kind of good?). I’m kind of weirded out by Dolly parading as a homeless person at the beginning of the film (I know, she’s an angel, it’s a whole Scrooge and the ghosts thing, I get it) and beyond that, the earnestness of all these people singing so close to each other’s faces just gives me the heebie-jeebies. I’m always hyper-aware that this is some soundstage and I’m never really able to settle in.
All that said, I feel like Dolly may have made a classic – it’s just not one for me right now. Like, maybe I just needed something hopeful and was not expecting her to star in a film about a woman evicting everyone from their home as the country faces an enormous eviction crisis? I could probably see this sitting alongside the Muppets Christmas Carol – it has that same sort of campy spirit – but I’ll actually need to stay awake through it to confirm. WOOPS.
18. Free Rein: 12 Neighs of Christmas
Vibe: If you were REALLY into the Babysitter’s Club, you’d probably like this.
Family Friendly?: Almost exclusively for kids and teens.
The Verdict: This is really only this high in the ratings because apparently the kids LOVE THIS. Free Rein is a Netflix series – I wasn’t familiar until seeing the film – and from what I can gather, it checks the Hannah Montana safe pre-teen drama-shaped box.
Should you actually watch this one if you’re an adult and alone? Eh. But if you have a child or pre-teen who’s looking for their very own Christmas movie, this may check the box. I leave you with my favorite review from Google, which made me snort from laughing so hard: “AMAZING MOVIE IT WAS HORSEOME”
17. Christmas Inheritance
Vibe: HALLMARK. CLASSIC.
Family Friendly?: Nah, and depending on your parents, you may want to watch this alone (though siblings or friends would be fine!).
The Verdict: OH LORD. A high-powered executive needs to deliver Christmas letters to a town called SNOW FALLS so she can be named CEO of her father’s company. (Take a second, tap into your cheesy holiday film brain and predict what will happen next – I’ll wait.) TO LITERALLY NO ONE’S SURPRISE, she gets snowed in and learns a lot of life lessons from some handsome small town innkeeper.
But wait: GIRLFRIEND IS ALREADY ENGAGED. And for some reason, despite this being a feel-good movie, we like…never really address that she’s kind of flirting with the idea of cheating on her fiance within HOURS of meeting the hot innkeeper. (Of course, it wraps itself up in a neat little bow). I guess there’s a little more spice here than the normal holiday movie, so it’s pretty fun – worth a watch if you have some time this year.
16. El Camino Christmas
Vibe: For some reason, I am convinced that dads will LOVE this – it’s not overtly Christmas.
Family Friendly?: Adults only, but you could watch this with family if they’re okay with swearing, some violence, drug references.
The Verdict: SO FUN. Dax Shepard, Tim Allen, the dad from That 70s Show…the cast here is a real treat. There are guns, there’s a hostage situation on Christmas Eve (really, the only holiday tie-in here), and it’s definitely has the most action/buddy comedy spirit out of everything on this list.
This is a classic for me – it fills a pretty special niche, so I’ve enjoyed bringing it back year after year – but it’s definitely not for everyone. #16 on the list, #2 in my heart of hearts.
15. Let It Snow
Vibe: 90s teen movie about high school seniors ~living life~
Family Friendly?: Ehhh, watch this one on your own.
The Verdict: What a teen ensemble. There are truly like, one million child actors in this movie. So many threads and romances, so many seemingly-enormous life decisions (will he tell his best friend that he loves her? Where will she go to college?) all wrapped up in a Christmas bow and generally centered around a local establishment called Waffle Town.
It’s sweet, basic, escapist teen love with a surprisingly diverse cast (like, dang, well done Netflix) and I’m actually pretty sure that Em would enjoy this as a guilty pleasure. EMILY, PLEASE WATCH AND RELAY YOUR THOUGHTS, YEAH?
Vibe: High-brow cartoons (like, it was nominated for an Oscar – it’s legit).
Family Friendly?: Sure is! Fun for everyone!
The Verdict: OH MY. So tender and beautiful. A reject postman from the self-proclaimed “unhappiest town on earth” meets a reclusive guy in the woods and is like, “hey buddy, you have a gift – you make toys and I’ll deliver!”
There are a ton of great one-liners about the meaning of friendship and the value of selfless acts and obviously it’s all combined together in this surreally animated package. (As a side note, the animation kinda reminds me of Anastasia except BETTER, which is really saying something. Watch with your whole family!).
13. A Very Murray Christmas
Vibe: INDIE INDIE INDIE. If you are (or know) a hipster, this is the movie for you.
Family Friendly?: Keep this for the teens and adults, but it’s okay to watch together.
The Verdict: OH MAN. I worked on the vinyl rollout for the Phoenix single from this movie – it’s actually a SUPER good standalone Christmas song – so I feel like the preeminent expert on this film. (The fact that Phoenix recorded a special Christmas single really does tell you everything you need to know, though).
That said, the cast and crew speak for themselves: Sofia Coppola directed, Bill Murray stars, and there’s a who’s who of celebrity appearances – George Clooney, Amy Pohler, Michael Cera, Chris Rock, Miley Cyrus, Jason Schwartzman…GOOD LORD. I could go on but there are literally too many celebrities to mention. It’s simple (there’s a snowstorm in NYC and Bill Murray is worried no one will make it to his TV show in time) and short (under an hour) but it’s a fun watch and you can tell that it was made with love by folks who genuinely enjoy each other’s company. I do not know why this isn’t more famous.
12. The Christmas Chronicles
Vibe: The Santa Clause but 2020 and with a better Santa.
Family Friendly?: YEAH. Super.
The Verdict: First off, I love Kurt Russell SO MUCH as Santa. Miracle is one of my all-time favorite movies and I thought I was going to have problems seeing him as anyone other than Herb Brooks and I’ve never been more thrilled to be wrong!
But truly, what a sweet story. A “true believer” gets to meet the actual Santa (she ends up climbing into his sleigh with her older brother) and they end up having to save Christmas. (As one would expect. As a spoiler, they also get to save Christmas in the sequel. The elves are SO CUTE, the story is full of heart, and just to reiterate: Kurt Russell is AWESOME and brings enough adult humor to make it fun for the whole family).
11. A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding
Vibe: The Prince and Me, cold feet and all.
Family Friendly?: There is discussion of financial fraud, so maybe it’s a little grown up content-wise.
The Verdict: Again, WHY is this woman allowed to have a blog? It ends up being a sticking point in this movie, but can you imagine if Kate Middleton or Megan Markle just got to BLOG about their romances? Like, I know she’s a writer, and maybe it’s anti-feminist of me to be like, “girl NO you can’t keep that job,” but it’s hard for me to empathize.
ANYWAY. Amber gets cold feet and worries that she’s not ready to be queen of a small country. Fair enough! Will she make it through to the wedding? OF COURSE. It’s formulaic and comforting and a decent sequel.
10. A California Christmas
Vibe: The classic Christmas rom-com with a twist (that’s an alcohol joke, because wine country).
Family Friendly?: There’s definitely a lot of chemistry between the leads, so watch it on your own.
The Verdict: Uh, Christmas in wine country? I’ll take it. Plus, there’s a fun take on the old trope: it’s a business-focused man who heads to the country and meets a hardworking female ranch owner who shows HIM the meaning of the holiday. (It’s a little more complicated than that – there’s a case of mistaken identity, and his true intent was to buy the land for a corporation by Christmas, but that’s basically the gist).
Also, I just learned that this is a real-life couple, so they actually do have great chemistry. A nice, classic holiday rom-com with a not-cliche farm background – I’ll take it.
8. Holiday in the Wild
Vibe: Charlotte (of SATC fame) does Eat, Pray, Love.
Family Friendly?: Best for teens (though it be a little “mature”), or adults, and honestly, the animals are distracting enough that you can enjoy with parents.
The Verdict: Robe Lowe and Kristin Davis are so cute together and this is the escapist fantasy we all need in 2020!!! Kate gets divorced, goes on a trip to Africa to ~find herself~, meets Derek, a pilot, and ends up falling in love on an animal sanctuary.
There’s a little bit of tension (who is this mysterious blonde woman competing for Derek’s heart?!?) but it’s a slow build peppered with SO MANY very, very, very cute baby elephant shots and scenes. Will they end up together? Will they save the elephants? I’m sure you can guess!!!
9. The Holiday Calendar
Vibe: Kinda like About Time, in that there’s some magic and love going on.
Family Friendly?: This one is okay for teens/adults to watch with parents, but probably best for kids like, 10+?
The Verdict: OH, I LOVE. The woo-woo side of me went “WOO, WOO” while watching this one, which follows a woman who inherits an advent calendar that predicts her future. I AM INTO THIS PLOT – it’s special and original, but we still know what’s going to happen. (Like, it is clear 3 minutes into the movie – the second you see the way her “best friend” looks at her, we know how this is going to end).
Ron Cephas Jones is SUCH a star (you may recognize him from his role on This Is Us). You will leave this film WISHING that you had a wise grandfather who could give you magic stuff and guide you to the right partner for Christmas.
7. A Christmas Prince
Vibe: The Princess Diaries 2. Like, beat for beat.
Family Friendly?: If you’d show your kid The Princess Diaries, you can show them this one.
The Verdict: VERY schmaltzy, not even a little bit plausible, and THE DREAM MOVIE to enjoy with a big glass of wine. There’s every trope in the book here: a journalist digging for a scoop! Mistaken identity! Deep family secrets! A misunderstood prince! A woman who finally gets him!
Watching critically, I love imagining what an absolutely BAD king Richard would be. He spent a year shirking his responsibilities, he blows his only two major commitments, and he ends the week by (spoiler!) proposing to a women he’s barely known for SEVEN DAYS. But hey, it’s Christmas, and it’s cheesy, and it’s the film that really LAUNCHED the holiday rom-com on Netflix, so…it gets a pass. I love it despite the flaws.
6. The Christmas Chronicles 2
Vibe: Like kids get thrown into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, except Willy Wonka is nice and not murderous.
Family Friendly?: AFFIRMATIVE. Fun for all!
The Verdict: THE TEARS THAT CAME DOWN MY FACE. Y’ALL. My mom and I threw this on on a whim and we were not prepared!!! It’s a pretty decent standalone film – you can generally pick up on the story without watching the first one – and it’s just a sweet, well-produced, fun Christmas movie.
We see Belsnickel – in this film, he’s a former elf that is more “disgruntled teen” than “Dwight Schrute in rags” – attempt to hijack Christmas as his own holiday; we see a kid grappling with her dad’s passing while saving Christmas; we see an anxious little boy learning to be courageous; and maybe most importantly, we see SO MUCH sweet love between Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn as Mr. and Mrs. Claus! Please cast them in these roles in every Christmas movie moving forward, THANKS.
5. The Princess Switch
Vibe: A little Parent Trap, a lot of Prince and the Pauper, plus holiday
Family Friendly?: You’re probably in the clear for 7+, but this is also easy to watch with adult family.
The Verdict: YES, I know it’s controversial to throw this above A Christmas Prince. Hear me out: this movie actually looks like it’s shot in a castle – it has the little bit of extravagant swagger we expect from Christmas royalty films. Meanwhile, A Christmas Prince looks like it was shot in a ski resort. This one wins on aesthetics alone.
But also, who hasn’t dreamed of swapping places with someone for a while? And like, hey, it’s a bonus if the person with whom you swap 1. is royal and 2. leads you to meet a handsome prince. Cheesy, formulaic, and basic shenanigans ensue – it’s the exact kind of comforting and predictable film we NEED during crazy holiday seasons. 10/10!
Okay now that we’ve made it to the final four, I am giving you trailers so you are even more enchanted to watch…
Vibe: A traditional rom-com where Christmas is a side-note.
Family Friendly?: HARD PASS. Watch this on your own time; would not recommend viewing with parents.
The Verdict: Stick with me, we’re about to get a little convoluted: Holidate is less about Christmas than the movie Valentine’s Day is about Valentine’s Day. (If you’ve seen both of those movies, I know you’ll agree. If not, we’ll proceed.)
Two people agree to be each other’s dates for a whole year. We see Christmas. We see New Years. We see St. Patrick’s and 4th of July and all the other ones, too. And of course…they come full-circle and they fall in love, because DUH. In a year without cheesy rom-coms, this scratched an itch. Does it really deserve to be #4, or am I just in lust with the novelty? We’ll find out next year, I guess. (Although this does have some good staying power for future holidays – any thoughts on whether or not Netflix will re-promote this around Valentine’s Day? Let’s take bets).
3. The Knight Before Christmas
Vibe: Like if Kate and Leopold was a Hallmark special.
Family Friendly?: It’s rated PG, but safe for kids – you won’t feel awkward watching this with parents, either.
The Verdict: OH MY GOSH. THE ULTIMATE GOOD/BAD MOVIE. It was so hard for me not to put this in the #1 slot. This woman meets a time traveling knight, HITS HIM WITH HER CAR, and then lets him move in with her. He’s a complete stranger!!! He has a weapon!!! He sets fire to her yard at one point!!!
My mom and I had to pause the movie on our first watch as we laughed so hard we were crying. Where are this woman’s friends?! Instead of being like, “girl, no, that dude needs professional assistance,” they’re like, “WOW, he’s perfect, his only flaw is that he thinks he’s a time-traveling knight!” AS IF THAT ISN’T AN ENORMOUS DEALBREAKER. It’s so good, and so bad, and so funny, and my personal favorite Christmas classic. Give Vanessa Hudgens an Oscar for this. She is the Mariah Carey of holiday originals.
2. Jingle Jangle
Vibe: Greatest Showman meets Christmas meets Wall-E.
Family Friendly?: YES YES YES!
The Verdict: There’s something deeply hilarious about going from a Hallmark-style rom-com at #3 to this absolute blowout at #2, but we’re going to roll with it. If movie theaters had been open, Jingle Jangle would have been *THE* biggest Christmas movie of the year. (TBH I thought this was better than The Greatest Showman, which is REALLY saying something.)
I’m assuming you’re a fan of interiors, so you’re in for a treat – the set design on this film is EXTRAORDINARY. Actually, the whole thing is stunning – the costumes, the makeup, the choreography, the soundtrack…SO GOOD. It’s also super empowering for kids (they save the day!) and Keegan-Michael Key is so fun to watch as a Jafar-style villain. LOVE.
1. Alien Xmas
Vibe: Classic claymation goes 2020.
Family Friendly?: YUP – even for really young kids!
The Verdict: This was a huge shock for me. When I first pitched this post, I did not anticipate that a stop-motion film about a tiny kleptomaniac alien would end up taking the top slot. But then…Alien Xmas won me over. It’s produced by Jon Favreau, the guy behind Elf (HA, amongst other things), so it has the same sweet heart, sweeping score, and you may even recognize a few of the animals from Buddy the Elf’s neck of the woods 🙂
It’s silly, fun, a quick watch, and good for the whole family – I can see folks coming back to this one year after year. Despite my initial impressions, Alien Xmas has longevity – maybe consider swapping out one of the classic Rankin/Bass films for this Netflix original this year.
OKAY, PLEASE TELL ME YOUR FAVORITES. I know this is a long one – thank you for meeting me down here – but I have so many of these thoughts floating around in my head and this is truly the ONLY TIME of year that I can finally talk about them!!!
Have you watched Alien Xmas? Did I do Dolly dirty by throwing her so high in the list? Anyone have another take on one of these? Bueller?!?!? In any case, I hope you have a WONDERFUL holiday, no matter what films you end up watching. xx
Opener Image Credit: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Emily’s “Messy” But FULL Of Memories Christmas Family Room