As December rolls around each year, we reach for our favourite Christmas jumpers, drink copious amounts of hot chocolate, and put on classic films such as White Christmas, Home Alone, or even Elf. However, where do you turn when you want to scratch that festive itch but want something new? Studios tend to not release big-budget Christmas films, especially this year. So to the old faithful we turn: Netflix.
Netflix has been churning out original shows and films since 2013 but where they really go all out is the Christmas movie. Often releasing multiple festive offerings every year, they have built quite an impressive collection of holiday antics spanning rom-coms to more traditional Santa-related adventures – all to varying degrees of success.
Christmas films, when done right, are an evergreen goldmine for studios. The nature of the festive film means people return to their favourites year after year. However, that does mean that to make a dent in that list of repeatable watches you have to make something timeless but unique.
Looking at more recent studio releases, out of a whopping 91 Christmas films that were released in 2019 only 2 received a theatrical release. Whilst quantity does not always signify quality, the reviews of Last Christmas suggest neither was in abundance that year. Last Christmas, despite its musical inspiration, starry cast, and decently successful box office, received a rather poor critical reception (46% on Rotten Tomatoes). Compare this to Netflix’s A Christmas Prince which sits at a healthy 70% and has two sequels already, this is a poor attempt by the silver screen studios to conquer this festive front.
That’s not to say all studio released Christmas films do badly, take 2018’s The Grinch, which is currently the highest-grossing Christmas film despite its 50% audience rating. However, it is worth noting that this is of course an adaptation of the Dr. Seuss book which already had 2000’s classic How The Grinch Stole Christmas to bolster its box office. The Jim Carrey version sits at a comfortable 3rd on the box office list.
Without theatrical releases, Netflix is free to make smaller budget films that ultimately have a better reception because they don’t have the weight of the box office looming over them. Plus you can watch it in the privacy of your own home, whenever you like, as often as you like. An aspect that this year has made streaming services indispensable.
The undisputed king of Christmas is Hallmark. This year alone they are releasing 40 films on their channels. That is 40 brand new Christmas films on top of the hundreds of others which will undoubtedly be replayed. Whilst Netflix doesn’t have the same kind of stamina, it does have something else – flexibility.
What signifies a film as Hallmark is more than a production company, they all have something familiar about them and it’s not just the reused actors. The channel’s conservative, if not religious, roots and family-friendly image make for a very traditional Christmas movie. It is hard not to notice the whiteness of it all – and I don’t just mean the snow. Often these films centre on reuniting families, a single woman finding love, or a single woman finding love and reuniting with her family. Whilst there have been efforts to diversify this there is also a sense of ‘if it isn’t broken don’t fix it’ about the films. They follow a pattern and lean heavily conservative, even if it isn’t an overt mission it is an undeniable pattern.
Therefore, Netflix is able to do something that Hallmark cannot, or will not, and that is to show another sort of Christmas. Just looking at 2020’s offerings from Netflix films such as Holidate, a romantic comedy with casual dating and hook-ups front and centre, or Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square in which literal angel Dolly Parton helps change Christine Baranski’s Regina from her scrooge-like ways. These are stories that are simply not possible within the restraints that Hallmark sets for itself.
Netflix fills a gap in the market that big-budget films can’t quite capture and Hallmark doesn’t want to attempt. They explore stories that are seen as too small for the silver screen but with the behemoth that the streaming service has become, they have the budget to make new classics. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a strong contender for a modern classic, with all new music from John Legend and a solid 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is undeniable that Netflix have started to take leaps and bounds to break the idea that a Netflix Original is something to be sneezed at.
Netflix Christmas films are not weighed down by the box office expectations so have the ability to lean into that warm Christmas feeling without fear of losing critical appeal. They are also free from the limitations of the Hallmark films which are often rather removed from reality and consumed by Christmassy tropes and tradition.
In defence of Netflix Christmas films; they fulfil a festive purpose that is paradoxically unique and predictable, which is arguably exactly what a Christmas film should do.