The Definitive List of Hallmark Christmas Movies, Ranked and Annotated
As you may have heard by now, Hallmark makes a lot of Christmas movies. And if you've met me, you know that I watch a lot of Hallmark Christmas movies.
So naturally, I decided to rank them all.
Below, you will find a list of every Hallmark Christmas movie (at least, according to the list currently posted on their website, which may not be comprehensive) that I have seen, ranked from my favorite to my least favorite. (Approximately 10 movies are on their website, but not on this list. Even I haven't seen them all.) Of course, that scale is fluid; consider the top rankings those I actively seek out and the bottom rankings those I'll settle on if I find no better options. Because in the dregs of December reruns, Hallmark is always a reliable bet.
What you will not find on this list is an argument in favor of the importance of these movies, nor a scathing indictment of their flaws. I have plenty to say about Hallmark movies--about their lack of diversity, their fascination with small-town America, the way they fill the gap left by the decline in big-screen romantic comedies, their weird assertion that surprise weddings are just a normal thing to do--but for now, that's on hold. Because it's the end of the year, and that means lists.
And now, with no further ado, here is the definitive, inarguable, scientifically proven, totally immutable, not even a little bit subjective ranking of all Hallmark Christmas movies. Spoilers (to the extent that spoilers exist for these movies) abound, so reader beware.
1. A Bride for Christmas (2012)
The high-water mark for Hallmark Christmas movies, and for Hallmark movies in general. Best described as Runaway Bride meets How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, the movie jumbles up a bunch of Hallmark tropes: a willing-to-reform playboy, a scared-to-commit career woman, a ridiculous, unnecessary secret, and a surprise wedding. Arielle Kebbel’s well-balanced performance grounds the whole enterprise, and she has an easy chemistry with Andrew Walker. (They later reunite in the fun, if slight, Bridal Wave. Next time I'll rank all the non-Christmas Hallmark movies.)
Bonus Points: This is one of the very few Hallmark movies that acknowledges that gay people exist.
2. Window Wonderland (2013)
Two window dressers compete for the same promotion at a department store, and fall in love in the process. Chyler Leigh and Paul Campbell are great together, and while Campbell’s Jake does veer into the obnoxious at times, he offers a nice counterpoint to Leigh’s tightly wound Sloan. It’s a simple opposites-attract arc, but it’s done well. The movie attempt at a discussion of class is not super effective, but hey. It gives us Naomi Judd, and sometimes that’s all you need.
3. Snow Bride (2013)
Okay, we need to get this out of the way: I love a good fake dating movie. I especially love a fake dating movie that knows it’s a fake dating movie, and Snow Bride knows precisely what genre it’s working in. The strength of this movie comes in the way that it allows characters who would be duped by the ploy in lesser versions to be smart here—the reveal that Patricia Richardson’s Maggie is a step ahead of the game is particularly welcome.
4. A December Bride (2016)
Like I said, I love a fake dating movie. Although technically this is a fake engagement movie, which is definitely totally different. Daniel Lissig is a delight to watch in the scene where his character, Seth, impulsively declares that he and Jessica Lowndes’s Layla are engaged, and he maintains the right level of charm throughout the movie. And the movie’s insistence that Layla can only be a December bride if she gets married immediately—as if December will never come around again—is the kind of nonsensical quirk that Hallmark does best.
5. Once Upon a Holiday (2015)
Ranking this one so high is probably going to be controversial, but I stand by it. This movie is great because this movie has no conflict. Sure, Briana Evigan’s Katie is a princess on the run from her obligations—Hallmark does adore its royalty who just want to be normal—and her staff is desperate to get her back. Yes, she spends the whole movie lying (very, very poorly) about her identity to Paul Campbell’s delightfully bemused Jack. (Indeed, Campbell’s dry charm is key, helping to pitch Jack’s concern about Katie’s mysterious past at just the right level. If that doesn’t work for you, this movie probably doesn’t, either.) But Jack takes all of two minutes to be confused upon learning the truth before happily getting on board with the situation, which nicely subverts the usual But You Did Lies??? angst that usually accompanies this kind of storyline.
6. My Christmas Love (2016)
A ridiculous premise—in which a mysterious suitor sends a woman the actual items from “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and she finds it charming and romantic to receive actual, living birds instead of super creepy and weird—winds up being fun and entertaining. The recent loss of the main character’s mother lends some legitimate weight to the family interactions, and gives the romantic idealism of the film something to push against. Plus it introduced me to the phrase “all-day dumb” as an insult.
7. Christmas in Homestead (2016)
An enjoyable example of Hallmark’s alternate-Hollywood reality. Michael Rady plays a single dad who runs an inn with his sister and is also the mayor of his small town, just for good measure. Taylor Cole is charming as the megastar actress who comes to town to film a Christmas movie, but it’s the sweet relationships between the supporting characters who make this movie a cut above. The film-within-a-film level is balanced just about right, too.
8. The Nine Lives of Christmas (2014)
Brandon Routh plays a firefighter who is adopted by a cat. Quintessential Hallmark. I refuse to say more.
9. A Christmas Melody (2015)
Mariah Carey directs and stars in this one, and the soft-focus that shows up every time she’s on screen will make you wonder if your living room is fogging up. Plus, this movie asks us to believe that Carey and Hallmark-stalwart Lacey Chabert not only went to high school together, but were in the same year. It’s absurd, which is what makes it delightful.
10. 12 Gifts of Christmas (2015)
In this movie, a busy executive hires a down-on-her-luck artist to be his personal shopper for Christmas. While the plot isn’t particularly novel, the movie’s choice to have Marc be a fundamentally decent person who is just a bit disconnected from the people around him is a nice one. He might forget his assistant’s birthday until the day it arrives, but he’ll go out of his way to have something to take to her. While the conflict that (temporarily) comes between the couple falls into the “could have been avoided if you just asked a simple question” category, the movie is perfectly mid-level Hallmark.
11. A Royal Christmas (2014)
Yet another royal romance here, and the movie begins with Lacey Chabert’s Emily discovering that her boyfriend of almost a year has—gasp!—secretly been a prince all along. They go spend Christmas in his palace, and she has to fend off meddling from the queen, played by none other than Jane Seymour. This one relies on a lot of well-worn material—overly simplified class conflicts, manufactured romantic jealousy—but there’s a reason Chabert is one of the most reliable actresses in Hallmark’s stable. She sees this one through.
12. Fir Crazy (2013)
Hallmark loves a “save the family business” movie, and this one does it well. Perhaps the movie’s greatest strength is the way it lets the romance fall to the background from time to time, in favor of letting Sarah Lancaster (for whom Chuck gave me a lot of fondness) be charming in her interactions with those who come to the family Christmas tree lot.
13. Christmas Cookies (2016)
Another movie in which the family business is at risk! Oh no! Add in a variant on the “big business city girl has to rediscover her heart” plot, and this one sit precisely in the middle of the Hallmark road.
14. A Wish for Christmas (2016)
This is the first of the Santa is Magic! movies to make the list; when a mysterious Santa at the office party offers Sara (Lacey Chabert, naturally) a wish, she wishes to be able to stand up for herself. And that’s all well and good, but this movie weirdly conflates “standing up for herself” with “saying everything she thinks, even when it’s potentially inappropriate.” Plus, the scene where they sing with the carolers is pretty awkward, if we’re being honest.
15. Matchmaker Santa (2012)
This Lacey Chabert vehicle predates most of the others on this list, but shares a lot of similar elements with many of the more recent Hallmark movies: the magical Santa and a wacky series of mishaps that delay travel key among them. But a formula is a formula, after all.
16. Christmas Incorporated (2015)
Yet another entrant in the “must protect small-town business” corpus. In this one, Riley V. gets hired based off the resume of a different Riley V.—but takes the job anyway. (I am leaving aside the basic procedural questions like how, exactly, she’s getting paid under the wrong name, because those are the questions you cannot ask of Hallmark movies.) This movie’s conflict is, of course, easily avoidable with a single sentence, but whatever. There’s only so much I want out of this one, and it hits the mark.
17. Broadcasting Christmas (2016)
Melissa Joan Heart and Dean Cain are fun together here, giving the formula—part “only one of us can win,” part “exes reunite”—room to breathe. Nothing earth shattering, but solid.
18. Christmas Land (2015)
This time, not only does the big-city woman have to return to her small-town roots, she has to do it while fighting off a real estate developer who wants to develop the Christmas-themed property she’s inherited. Someday, we’ll have to discuss the sheer number of tiny Christmas towns that Hallmark thinks exist in the world. Because there are a lot of them in these movies.
19. Love You Like Christmas (2016)
Although the trope that requires a woman with a successful career in a city to leave it behind for love in a tiny town is not my favorite, this movie does a good job of letting said woman develop multiple relationships while stranded in Christmas Valley (yes, that’s really the name of the town). At least they let us pretend she gives it all up for more than one person.
20. Sleigh Bells Ring (2016)
Coincidentally, this movie is playing as I type this entry. Counts for bonus points, or something. A single mom gets put in charge of organizing a last-minute Christmas parade, reunites with an old flame, and possibly uses the real Santa’s sleigh in the parade. Those magical Santa(ish) types are everywhere, y’all. Better watch out! (Sorry not sorry.)
21. On the Twelfth Day of Christmas (2015)
Ah, yes, here we have the “must convince a Christmas Grinch that (s)he really does love Christmas after all” type of film. Spoiler alert: he really does love Christmas, after all!
22. One Starry Christmas (2014)
An astronomy grad student meets a cowboy while taking a bus to be with her family (and ultimately doomed-to-be-ex fiancé), and they fall in love. There’s a lot of talk of stars, and lassos, and a little bit of singing. Either that works for you, or it doesn’t. Not really a lot of in between. (Hallmark’s weird obsession with grad students is another thing we’ll discuss some day soon. I have theories.)
23. ‘Tis the Season for Love (2015)
This movie gets points for recognizing that making it on Broadway is hard. This is one of the few films in which the main character’s return home (or turn toward small-town life) feels inevitable from the start, rather than manufactured for the happy ending.
24. Ice Sculpture Christmas (2015)
An aspiring chef enters an ice sculpture contest and falls in love in the process. It’s…aggressively fine.
25. A Princess for Christmas (2011)
While this film is rather too treacly for my taste, it ranks this high on the list for the existence of the scene in which Sam Heughan (who most now know as Jamie from Outlander) dances to hip hop music. Badly.
26. A Dream of Christmas (2016)
An entrant in the alternate reality genre, this movie at least has its wish granting occur from someone other than a magical Santa. A woman wonders what her life would be like if she never got married—and then finds out that (shockingly!) she would miss her husband.
27. A Christmas Detour (2015)
The best of the Candice Cameron Bure ouvre, but that’s not saying overly much. The romantic plot hinges on a vision board, people. A vision board.
28. Finding Christmas (2013)
There’s an element of The Holiday in this one, in which two characters (one from the Big City, one from a Small Town, naturally) swap residences for the holiday. Not the most memorable of the Hallmark flicks, but not the most annoying, either.
29. A Cookie Cutter Christmas (2014)
The thing about this movie is that, for most of its running time, it doesn’t seem to realize that its main character can be kind of a terrible person. Because her bitter rivalry with her fellow school teacher? At least half her fault.
30. A Perfect Christmas (2016)
This movie is a bit like a spin on Gift of the Magi, if you heard that story through a game of telephone. A husband loses his job right as his wife discovers she’s pregnant, and neither wants to tell the other because they’re waiting for the perfect moment that—get this!—never comes. Because of all the familial hijinks. (When in doubt, the answer is hijinks.)
31. Christmas Under Wraps (2014)
Another Candice Cameron Bure vehicle, which borrows a bit of its premise from Northern Exposure—Bure’s character is a doctor who takes a supposedly temporary position in Alaska, before falling in love with the town and the people…who may or may not be Santa and his elves. The movie’s cutesiness on the Santa front only hinders it, unfortunately.
32. Family for Christmas (2015)
This Lacey Chabert movie is an interesting case: another alternate reality story, which doesn’t quite back away from its premise at the end. Chabert’s Hannah wakes up one day married to her college sweetheart and a mother to two daughters; it can actually be discomfiting to watch her fumble with their lives, as she has no memory of them. And although the ending—after her return to her real life as a single woman with no children—suggests that she might be on the path to creating some version of that life, it’s an unusually melancholic ending. Part of me wants to put it higher on the list for its ballsiness on that front, but it also makes it a bit harder to mindlessly rewatch throughout the season.
33. Every Christmas Has a Story (2016)
When a reporter declares that she hates Christmas on live TV, she has to go into damage control mode and find her Christmas spirit in a series of human-interest pieces. While I have nothing overtly negative to say about this one, even Colin Ferguson’s considerable charm can’t quite get it entirely off the ground.
34. The Mistletoe Promise (2016)
Another fake dating movie! This time starring Lemon Breeland—er, well, Jamie King. King’s Elise strikes up a contract with Luke Macfarlane’s Nicholas to pretend to be a couple—her, to annoy her ex; him, to earn a promotion. Because yes, at Nicholas’s law firm, they only ever promote people who are married with families. Even though that’s super illegal. You know who would know that? A firm that specializes in family law. (I know I said it’s not worth asking these kinds of questions about the logistics of Hallmark movie plots. But even still.)
35. Merry Matrimony (2015)
The woman in this movie could have saved herself so much trouble if she had simply asked if the ex-boyfriend with whom she has recently reunited was actually in a relationship. You are in a Hallmark movie, friend. Never assume such things.
36. Christmas List (2016)
Now this movie is on as I’m writing this. (But I’m disinclined to give the bonus points this time.) The movie gets points for having the woman in a new relationship at the start—that she’s just testing out a new relationship rather than hoping for an engagement (or something similar) makes it easier to believe that she would fall for someone else. But the running gag in which people think the existence of her “Christmas Bucket List” is because she’s dying is not as funny as the movie thinks it is.
37. Crown for Christmas (2015)
Danica McKellar stars in this one as a newly unemployed maid who gets hired on as the governess for a princess—and who falls in love with the King. The McKellar connection explains the way the movie pauses for a math lesson in the middle, a scene which is somehow as endearing as it is off-putting.
38. Let It Snow (2013)
More Candice Cameron Bure. She learns to love tradition and Christmas and the guy whose property her father wants to take over! The late Alan Thicke is in this one, too, as Bure’s business-focused father. This one works best as background noise, I’ve found.
39. A Heavenly Christmas (2016)
I nearly pulled this one from the list entirely, because as a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, it technically falls into a different category. But Hallmark marketed it right along with their other seasonal debuts this year, so here it is. In trying so hard for the Hall of Fame part, it ends up losing some of the Hallmark in the process. It happens.
40. Just in Time for Christmas (2015)
Another Hallmark Hall of Fame movie—this time with bonus William Shatner! My sole source of affection for this movie stems from a friend’s observation that the main character’s field of study appears to simply be “academics.” (I really will write about Hallmark’s relationship to academia and grad school some day. I promise.)
41. A Very Merry Mix-Up (2013)
A woman traveling to meet her fiancé’s family for the first time accidentally goes home with the wrong family and falls in love with someone else. Don’t pretend like it’s never happened to you.
42. Hats Off to Christmas! (2013)
Haylie Duff works in a Christmas hat shop. It is what it is.
43. My Christmas Dream (2016)
The kid in this movie is super annoying. And Danica McKellar’s character basically makes up an entirely new job at the end that magically solves all her problems, which is weirdly infuriating.
44. Looks Like Christmas (2016)
Two parents fight for control of the Christmas pageant at their children’s school. And then they promptly talk through the rehearsals instead of actually paying attention. It’s super rude.
45. The Christmas Parade (2014)
Not much memorable here—except that a Property Brother is in this one! Drew Scott plays a guy in real estate who is determined to see the deal through no matter what. It’s called range!
46. Hitched for the Holidays (2012)
The rare fake dating movie that doesn’t work for me. Perhaps because I can never quite shake the Joey Lawrence out of watching Joey Lawrence in this part.
47. Help for the Holidays (2012)
Vaguely magical Santas are one thing, but an elf pretending to be human to help a family is another. Even if that elf is Summer Glau. (But then, I’ve never really been able to get into Elf, either. So grain of salt, etc.)
48. I’m Not Ready for Christmas (2015)
Another wish granted—this time, a little girl’s wish that her aunt would stop lying. Much like A Wish for Christmas earlier on the list, the movie doesn’t quite understand that “not lying” doesn’t have to mean “saying everything that she thinks.” Alicia Witt’s typical reserve makes it hard to see past the character’s rough edges, too.
49. Christmas at Cartwright’s (2014)
I have watched this movie at least three times. I remember nothing about it. Not sure whether that says more about me or the movie, if I'm honest.