It’s the most wonderful time of the year — Hallmark Christmas movie time. One of the only times in which it is encouraged to hunker down with an ugly Christmas sweater and a cable movie marathon. Admittedly, beginning their Countdown to Christmas Oct. 24 feels a bit overeager. But an early start is necessary to produce the 30-plus movies they crank out each season between the channels. Hallmark movies are the pinnacle of the holiday season — a warm, cozy and never-ending stream of joy to brighten up the cold months of November and December.
Hallmark movies have a bad reputation for being cheesy and unoriginal. While this evaluation is not completely off-base, it is also beside the point. To put it in sappy Hallmark card terms, it’s more about the feeling the movies elicit. There’s some intangible happiness factor in their go-to formula that makes them not only heartwarming but addicting. The serotonin boost of a good Hallmark finale is unparalleled. They’re the candy canes of the TV movie world — sweet and bright and ubiquitous.
Hallmark Channel’s slew of romantic comedies are the ideal tinsel-covered escape. In a world where the protagonist's biggest problem is her grinchy coworker — with whom she eventually falls in love — the harsh realities of the real world melt away. Sure, the movies may be predictable. The plots tend to be recycled over and over again. However, it works because the storylines are entertaining. Classics such as the fake dating trope, the “Family Man” rip off and the play on “Pride and Prejudice” genuinely never get old. These movies are not the type people watch for the shocking twists and turns anyways. Switching out a couple of actors and occupations and swapping in a new idyllic small town brings a fresh twist to each trope.
Plot details aside, the specific formula of their romantic comedies are almost always the same. The festive films fit perfectly into a two-hour time block with commercials. Typically, the stars have a nice little meet-cute moment at the beginning of the movie, then warm up to each other before a terrible misunderstanding sends everything crashing down in the last ten minutes. After a commercial break, the couple makes up. It is comforting to know exactly what is coming next, and that everything will be resolved in the final two minutes of the movie. It’s this promise of this happy ending that is most crucial. Generally, there are three snow-laden finales to choose from — a kiss, an engagement or a wedding. In some of the older movies — such as “Naughty or Nice” — another approved ending is the revelation that a nice old man is Santa Claus. Regardless of which ending is chosen, it is guaranteed feel-good entertainment. Dependability is just part of the charm.
To top it off, there’s no better pair for the holidays than a little nostalgia. Hallmark cycles through the same actors and actresses each year, with some of the most notable regulars being former child sitcom stars. Candace Cameron Bure and Danika McKellar — of “Full House” and “The Wonder Years” fame — are some of the most well known. Never underestimate the power of a Hallmark actress — the Duchess of Sussex Megan Markle herself starred in a 2016 winter film.
Of course, the Hallmark channel is not perfect. They still have a long ways to go to achieve inclusivity — their movies primarily feature white heterosexual couples. The channel even entangled themselves in controversy regarding representation last December. After airing Zola commercials featuring a lesbian wedding, they got backlash from conservatives and stopped airing the ad. When they faced even more media backlash for pulling the ad, they attempted to undo their original decision and bring the company — and the commercials — back. This year, they are making a conscious effort toward minor progress. Their first Christmas movie with a prominent LGBTQ+ storyline “The Christmas House'' will be released Nov. 22, and the channel has begun to feature Hanukkah next to Christmas in select films. By no means do their overdue attempts at increasing diversity deserve a medal, but they do show that the channel is moving toward positive change in terms of representation.
Final quick disclaimer — not all Hallmark movies are created equal, and some are much better than others. Anything starring the aforementioned Candace Cameron Bure or other regular Lacey Chabert is a safe bet. But ultimately, there’s no such thing as a bad Hallmark movie. Even the worst of them deliver mindless entertainment, subtle jingle bell sounds and a happy ending.
Take this as a sign to grab a fuzzy blanket, a mug of hot cocoa, and the remote to settle down with a nice Hallmark movie marathon. What they may lack in originality, they make up for in warmth and holiday spirit.