Is your town’s economy inexplicably dependent on a Christmas-themed event? Are you a white woman in finance, law, or publishing forced to return to your small town and rediscover the meaning of the holidays? Has your hyper-masculine ex-boyfriend/crush who cuts his own wood and runs a Christmas tree farm become a distracting obstacle in your company’s mission to take over the town and build a mall? If you answered yes to any of these, you might be in a Hallmark, Lifetime, or Netflix Christmas movie.
It’s that magical time of year when the various networks release their latest batch of Christmas catnip: a lineup of formulaic romance dramas set in snowy small-towns that are obsessed with the yuletide season and always in danger of something. A mom-and-pop shop being shut down. A single dad never finding love again. The town festival not having a jolly Santa Claus. A baking competition gone wrong.
Sure, you’ll rarely be surprised by any of the conflict or conclusions to these sweet-as-sugar-cookies stories, but there’s something familiar and comforting about them, especially this year. That’s why we’ve done the fairly easy, noncommittal work of ranking the holiday movies streaming in 2020 by only their plot. That’s right. We’re judging before we watch (if we watch at all), and honestly, we’ve been pretty fair and understanding about the whole thing. Here’s a completely biased, incredibly unresearched ranking of (most) of the Christmas movies coming to TV this year. Do with it what you will.
20. A Nashville Christmas Carol (2020) — Hallmark
The Plot: A workaholic television producer in charge of a country music Christmas special deals with the return of her childhood sweetheart, and she receives a visit from the ghost of her recently deceased mentor, Marilyn warning her about her dark future. The ghost recruits both the Spirit of Christmas Past and the Spirit of Christmas Present to help her get back on track.
Why It’s Here: Wynonna Judd is the Spirit of Christmas Future. Enough said.
19. Christmas on the Vine (2020) — Lifetime
The Plot: A young marketing executive is assigned to help a struggling family-owned winery in a town that has lost its Christmas spirit due to a large wine conglomerate.
Why It’s Here: Hallmark might be all about saving the small-town Christmas tree farms and Bed & Breakfast Inns but Lifetime ain’t about that nonsense. No, Lifetime knows the true Grinch of the holiday season are these massive wine conglomerates snatching up family-owned vineyards across the country. Will there be booze? Yes, and that means we might also get some drunken catfights and a subplot with an Australian hunk from Yellowtail romancing an alcoholic grape farmer. The possibilities are endless.
18. USS Christmas (2020) — Hallmark
The Plot: Maddie, a reporter for a Norfolk newspaper, embarks on a Tiger Cruise during Christmastime where she meets a handsome naval officer and stumbles upon a mystery in the ship’s archive room.
Why It’s Here: Hallmark told Lifetime: “We see your unconventional vineyard and we raise you a military-themed cruise complete with a Murder-She-Wrote who-dunnit.” We only have one question: is the mystery in the ship’s archive room COVID-19? Is it?!
17. Cross Country Christmas (2020) — Hallmark
The Plot: Former classmates Lina and Max are traveling home for the holidays, until a storm hits and they have to work together to make it home in time, no matter the mode of transportation.
Why It’s Here: I know they’re not going to be cross-country skiing to get home in time for Christmas. I know that. But, what if they did? What if the only way to make it back to their remote, snow-covered hamlet in Wisconsin after all other forms of transport have been grounded because of the “surprise” blizzard is to strap on some skis and bicker their way across miles of uncharted terrain?
16. Love, Lights, Hanukah (2020) — Hallmark
The Plot: As Christina prepares her restaurant for its busiest time of year, she gets back a DNA test revealing that she’s Jewish. The discovery leads her to a new family and an unlikely romance over eight nights.
Why It’s Here: I’m sorry, if you don’t laugh out loud at the idea of a white woman learning she’s Jewish from a 23 and Me test and then reexamining her complicated feelings about the holiday industrial machine, I just have one question. Who hurt you?
15. Feliz NaviDAD (2020) — Lifetime
The Plot: David (played by Mario Lopez) lost the holiday spirit after his wife passed, and now his daughter and sister are determined to bring it back. Their solution: Set him up on a dating site and bring new love into his life.
Why It’s Here: Is your single-dad still mourning the untimely death of his one true love? Is his grief just ruining your Christmas cheer? Do you want him to find a meaningless, temporary sex-buddy to keep him occupied so you can just enjoy your eggnog and Michael Buble in f*cking peace?! This is what I imagine the promo for this movie looks like.
14. The Christmas Lottery (2020) — BET
The Plot: The Davenport sisters have drifted apart over the years but when their Dad wins the lottery all he wants is to have his girls home for Christmas. Getting over years of resentment proves a big task but it’s pushed aside when their mother suffering from dementia loses the ticket. They put aside their differences to help find the ticket and in doing so get over their differences and finally learn to come together.
Why It’s Here: It’s like is Succession did a holiday episode and played a Christmas-themed game of “Boar on the Floor” but instead of a sausage link, everyone had to oink for a lottery ticket.
13. The Christmas Waltz (2020) — Hallmark
The Plot: A woman dumped by her fiancé a month before her storybook Christmas wedding decides to take the series of ballroom lessons intended for her wedding dance.
Why It’s Here: Lacey Chabert is the Meryl Streep of Hallmark Christmas movies and this one might give her the chance to dive into her dramatic side. It’s an incredibly depressing premise tied in a holiday bow and sure, it’ll end with Chabert falling in love with her dance instructor, but if she wants to go dark for a bit — maybe do some lines of cocaine and strip in the backroom of a dive bar — we wouldn’t hold it against her. Not in 2020.
12. The Christmas Chronicles 2 (2020) — Netflix
The Plot: Kate Pierce, now a cynical teen, is unexpectedly reunited with Santa Claus when a mysterious troublemaker threatens to cancel Christmas – forever.
Why It’s Here: Do you know what this holiday season really needs? It’s not gingerbread men or mistletoe, it’s Santa Claus Snake Plissken surfing a snow-tsunami, defeating the Belsnickel, and saving the world. This movie might give us that future.
11. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020) — Netflix
The Plot: Set in the gloriously vibrant town of Cobbleton, the film follows legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle whose fanciful inventions burst with whimsy and wonder. But when his trusted apprentice steals his most prized creation, it’s up to his equally bright and inventive granddaughter (and a long-forgotten invention) to heal old wounds and reawaken the magic within.
Why It’s Here: Any movie that has the gall to give a main character such a blatantly fictitious, wholly ridiculous name as Jeronicus Jangle is sipping the kind of Christmas-flavored Kool-Aid I want to be high on this year. Will this movie lean into its chaotic-good roots? Will it give us a steampunk-themed Willy-Wonka holiday adventure? Is Jeronicus Jangle the new Grand Moff Pascal Tarkin? So many questions need answering from this plot.
10. Happiest Season (2020) — Hulu
The Plot: A young woman with a plan to propose to her girlfriend while at her family’s annual holiday party discovers her partner hasn’t yet come out to her conservative parents.
Why It’s Here: Because the Gays deserve Christmas miracles too!
9. Christmas Comes Twice (2020) — Hallmark
The Plot: A top newscaster who has achieved her career dreams but still has regrets about the guy who got away five years earlier goes on a ride around the carousel that magically takes her back in time to the carnival five years before… giving her a second chance at love before she must return to Christmas present.
Why It’s Here: Despite the time travel and the potential for Jackee to spontaneously appear, this is, surprisingly, not the carousel-themed-Christmas-romance we’re most excited for. Still, a possible Jackee guest spot ranks it high on the list.
8. Holiday Heartbreak (2020) — BET
The Plot: Karma hits hard at Christmas when a loving father discovers that his womanizing past is coming back to haunt his daughter after a curse destroys her love life.
Why It’s Here: Black magic and an orgy-loving dad who can’t keep it in his pants long enough for his daughter to find romance? This ain’t your grandma’s Christmas movie.
7. The Christmas Set-Up (2020) — Lifetime
The Plot: New York lawyer Hugo heads to Milwaukee with his best friend to spend the holidays his mom who is also in charge of the local Christmas celebrations. Ever the matchmaker, Kate arranges for Hugo to run into Patrick, Hugo’s high school crush, who has recently returned after a successful stint in Silicon Valley. As they enjoy the local holiday festivities together, Hugo and Patrick’s attraction to each other is undeniable but as Hugo receives word of a big promotion requiring a move to London, he must decide what is most important to him.
Why It’s Here: It’s a Christmas movie for the Gays, but with Fran Drescher. Your move, Kristen Stewart.
6. Time For Us To Come Home For Christmas (2020) — Hallmark
The Plot: Five guests are mysteriously invited to an inn to celebrate Christmas. With the help of the owner Ben, Sarah discovers that an event from the past may connect them and change their lives forever.
Why It’s Here: There’s a 5% chance this thing ends with a group of strangers getting murdered in a Christmas-decorated B&B. The parting shot will be the townsfolk adding their bodies to a mass grave disguised as a Christmas tree farm. A Mariah Carey jingle will play us out as the front desk receptionist takes a reservation for next year’s festivities. We’ll learn later that Jordan Peele produced.
5. Just Another Christmas (2020) — Netflix
The Plot: After taking a very nasty fall on Christmas Eve, grinchy Jorge blacks out and wakes up one year later, with no memory of the year that has passed. He soon realizes that he’s doomed to keep waking up on Christmas Eve after Christmas Eve, having to deal with the aftermath of what his other self has done the other 364 days of the year.
Why It’s Here: On a first pass, you might write this movie off as a Christmas-themed Groundhog’s Day comedy but look again. This dude lives a whole year, loses his memory of it, and must piece together what happened on Christmas Eve as everyone else is rushing around doing their holiday business. It’s the holiday version of Chris Nolan’s Memento, y’all.
4. A Sugar & Spice Holiday (2020) — Lifetime
The Plot: A rising young architect returns to her small hometown in Maine for Christmas where her Chinese-American parents run the local lobster bar. Following the loss of her beloved grandmother who was a legendary baker in their community, Suzie is guilted into entering the local gingerbread house competition. Teaming up with an old high school friend Billy Suzie must find the right recipes and mix of sugar and spice-infused with her cultural traditions to win the competition and perhaps find some love in the process.
Why It’s Here: (Insert Stefan voice here) This Christmas movie has it all: culturally diverse casting, a town-wide baking competition, the death of a sweet old grandma, a big-city-hotshot rediscovering her roots, an up-to-code lobster bar.
3. A Christmas Carousel (2020) — Hallmark
The Plot: When Lila is hired by the royal family of Marcadia to repair a carousel, she must work with the Prince to complete it by Christmas.
Why It’s Here: Where did all the manic pixie dream boys go? To Hallmark, where they play royal heads of state in nondescript all-white European countries with nothing better to do than fix a run-down carousel. Let the swooning commence.
2. The Princess Switch: Switched Again (2020) — Netflix
The Plot: When Duchess Margaret unexpectedly inherits the throne to Montenaro and hits a rough patch with Kevin, it’s up to her double Stacy to save the day before a new lookalike, party girl Fiona foils their plans.
Why It’s Here: So this sequel requires a bit of a plot primer. Vanessa Hudgens played a baker and princess in the first film. Her baker is doing well, being married to a prince and all, but her princess is having boy trouble so, of course, they’re going to It Takes Two-s it again. But they’re also adding another lookalike to the party. You can’t tell us this whole holiday franchise isn’t just an elaborate ruse for Hudgens to indulge her multiple personality fantasies but the real reason we’re interested is because we NEED to see where this ends. Will we make it to five lookalikes? Or six? Will we one-day reach The Princess Switch: Switching Teams, where dozens of alternate Hudgens fight against each other in a Hunger-Games-arena-style bake-off competition?
1. Dolly Parton’s Christmas On The Square (2020) — Netflix
The Plot: A rich and nasty woman, Regina Fuller, returns to her small hometown after her father’s death to evict everyone and sell the land to a mall developer — right before Christmas. However, after listening to stories of the local townsfolk, reconnecting with an old love, and accepting the guidance of an actual angel, Regina starts to have a change of heart.
Why It’s Here: Dolly Parton as a benevolent angel intent on rescuing a small, inconsequential town? Christine Baranski doing her best Miranda Priestly impersonation? The villainous caricature of malls, the unacknowledged scourge destroying the fabric of society, making us slaves to oversalted pretzels and Yankee Candles? Yes to all.