It’s that time of year again, folks. Whether you love it or you hate it, the holiday season is upon us. Christmas music is playing in all the (ridiculously crowded) shops, people start turning on Netflix to watch a log burn, and all of our favorite shows take a mid-season break.
Luckily, there’s plenty of special seasonal viewing to fill that gap: Christmas specials, Christmas classics, the log…and corny Christmas movies. Messages about the true meaning of the holiday, unnecessary (but adorable) kittens and puppies, plots so predictable that it’s possible to skip straight to the happy ending – bad Christmas movies are a guilty pleasure this time of year, and we’re all about indulging in it. Curl up with some eggnog, cookies, and a willingness to find the charm in a terrible holiday tale, and enjoy these fantastically awful X-Mas offerings.
The Rules: There are so many terrible Christmas movies out there, so we’ve limited ourselves to feature length, live-action films that are currently available on Netflix. This list is also ranked from worst to best: with those bad movies that are barely even worth watching at the bottom, and those that serve as surprisingly charming viewing material at the top.
16 Christmas Miracle At Sage Creek
This made-for-TV period drama may have ‘Christmas’ in the title -- and it even features a snowy scene in the advertising -- yet it manages to get through an hour and a half without a single snowflake, and with almost no mention of the actual holiday. This is probably because it’s not actually a Christmas movie. It’s an incredibly boring story of feuding families in Wyoming in the 1800s that happens to take place in December.
It wasn’t even originally marketed as a Christmas movie, but just as Miracle At Sage Creek. The ‘Christmas’ part was added on later, presumably in an attempt to get more people watching. As well as being strikingly unrelated to the season, Christmas Miracle At Sage Creek is pretty much a standard cowboy feud story. Two families, an argument over land that is actually motivated by jealousy and racism, a sick little boy who is miraculously cured by the nemesis, and a happy dinner all together at the end. Yawn.
15 Mandie And The Forgotten Christmas
This is one is the Christmas edition of a series of films based on a series of books set in the early 1900s, featuring the adventures of a spirited young girl with pigtails. Rest assured, it's definitely not Anne of Green Gables, and is in no way a rip-off of the beloved stories of that other turn of the century pigtailed girl who gets into mischief. Nope, not even a little.
Remarkable similarities to Anne Shirley aside, Mandie (Kelly Washington) is a little girl who goes to boarding school and gets into wacky (and wildly historically inaccurate) adventures with her friends. For Christmas, this involves discovering another little girl hiding in the school’s attic among all the Christmas decorations. Mandie must convince her Christmas-hating headmistress to take the girl in! It’s cheesy, predictable, and the acting is either truly bad, or intentionally overblown in the assumption that children need facial expressions to be very exaggerated in order to understand them. Throw in a racist caricature of Mandie’s Cherokee Uncle, and Mandie’s Christmas adventure would be much better off forgotten.
14 12 Dogs Of Christmas: Great Puppy Rescue
The original 12 Dogs of Christmas isn’t available to stream on Netflix, but from the ‘previously, on...’ style catch-up at the start of this sequel, it sounds like Footloose with dogs. (The town didn’t allow dogs until a song-and-dance number changed their minds, because that makes sense.) Great Puppy Rescue, the follow-up, is also about saving cute dogs with a musical event, which suggests that the inhabitants of this town are particularly susceptible to coercion through music, and we’ll never know why.
Set in the 1940s, this movie does have some enjoyably Christmas-y elements: songs, snow, beautiful costumes, and adorable puppies. It’s difficult to really dislike a movie that features barns full of adorable puppies, but somehow 12 Dogs of Christmas: Puppy Rescue finds a way. Not only is it incredibly predictable, but it’s strangely dull, and comes complete with plot holes big enough to drive a seasonal Coca-Cola truck through. It's vaguely worth a watch for dog-lovers, but there are better options.
13 Christmas Wedding Baby
Christmas Wedding Baby is a Christmas movie in the same sense that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. It just happens to be set at Christmas time, and that was deemed sufficient to stick the word in the title so that it would get some re-watch value every December. This is a rom-com about three sisters, one whom is getting married, one who is having her first baby on her own, and one who has a family but no ring on her finger. Christmas Wedding Baby ticks all the standard chick-flick boxes, right down to rekindling a romance with an ex-boyfriend. The good guys get a happy ending, the bad guy gets dumped, the baby gets born, etc. etc.
This had the potential to be an acceptably sweet and sappy holiday flick, however, as it’s not aggressively unwatchable. Sadly, the total lack of any Christmas (except in the title and the occasional reindeer sweater) makes it obvious that the holiday angle is just a cash-grab. Hardly the true meaning of Christmas… especially when it’s set somewhere warm and sunny, so we don’t even get a beautiful winter wedding to enjoy!
12 Christmas On Salvation Street
What says ‘Christmas’ more than a white pastor heading to the ‘ghetto’ in order to save a young black man from a life of crime? Nothing, according to the people who made Christmas On Salvation Street. This story starts when a pastor and his two daughters move to a mission on (you guessed it) Salvation Street at Christmastime. There, they connect with the local community, including a religious grandma who is worried about her grandson being on the streets, who promptly asks the pastor to help him turn his life around.
Of course, this being a religious Christmas movie, he does (spoilers!), and he even manages to get the head thug reading the Bible as well. Bonus points to this film for not including a romantic subplot, but this flick is heavy on the religion and the painfully predictable tropes, and the end result isn’t a good one. We’re also guessing that the writer doesn’t have too much experience with ‘the streets’, as the language is reminiscent of Sunday School videos about drugs and crime, rather than a realistic experience of criminal subculture.
11 Christmas Ranch
More predictability with only a smidgen of holiday-related plotline, Christmas Ranch starts with a young girl (Lizzy, played by Taylor Lyons) who is sent to her Grandmother’s ranch for Christmas. It turns out that this rebellious teen accidentally set her house on fire when drinking with her friends, which is why her parents sent her away (to burn down Grandma’s house?).
Her Grandma, meanwhile, has problems of her own – the ranch is going under because Grandma borrowed money to help out her neighbors, and her last horse is sick. Lizzy not only nurses the horse back to health, but she rediscovers herself, falls in love with the wholesome farm boy next door, and comes up with a plan to save the ranch. Hooray! The big idea is a Christmas market (there had to be something holiday-related about it!), that earns enough money for Grandma to keep going. Everyone is saved, happy, and healthy in the end, and Lizzy has discovered a love of horses that sets her up for a potential sequel quite nicely. Fingers crossed that it never comes to fruition.
10 Small Town Santa
It seems that Dean Cain just loves making Christmas movies. Small Town Santa is only one in a slew of holiday-themed made-for-TV features that the former Superman star has appeared in. (Other offerings in the past five years include A Dog For Christmas, Merry Ex-Mas, The Case For Christmas, Defending Santa and The Dog Who Saved The Holidays. Winners across the board.) Small Town Santa finds Supes as the unhappy Sheriff in a small town, who accidentally arrests the ‘real’ Santa as a home invader. Santa (Paul Hopper) then works his magic to give everyone in town the thing they want most for Christmas. He sobers up a drunk (and then pairs him with a heavy-drinking mother-in-law, which doesn’t exactly make sense), connects two teen girls who want friends, brings the Sheriff a new girlfriend, and brings a small child the toy he wants.
There’s no clear plotline, however – just a bunch of nice stuff happening at Christmas, including a moment straight out of It’s A Wonderful Life where people bring things to the police station. Superman gets his Christmas Spirit back, and you're left wondering if the rest of Dean Cain’s holiday specials will elicit as many eyes rolls as this one does.
9 Santa Claws
A clear take-off of the much better known The Santa Clause (starring Tim Allen), this story sees Santa’s job taken over not by a grumpy Dad, but a trio of mischievous kittens. Of course, it’s not permanent this time, as the kittens don’t actually kill Santa. They just knock him out in a series of slapstick pratfalls resulting from Santa’s cat allergy.
While the kittens try to save Christmas, an adorable little boy works to save Santa – and to hide him from Mom (Nicola Lambo), who refuses to believe. There’s also a neighbor who hates cats and is obsessed with Santa who gets involved for no real discernible reason (more Christmas magic? The extension of Mom’s backstory?). It’s quite sweet, in a very obvious way (of course Mom realizes that Santa is real by the end. Of course the kittens save Christmas!), and the kiddies will probably really enjoy Santa Claws. Cat-lovers will also adore the cute little kittens playing, although we could have done without the awkward CGI that moves their mouths when they ‘speak’.
8 Christmas Crush
Also known as Holiday High School Reunion, Christmas Crush puts us right in the center of every rom-com trope ever written, set at Christmas. Georgia (Rachel Boston) was the popular girl in high school, but now that she is in her late twenties, she feels like a failure (despite being attractive, working in her dream industry, and generally doing just fine). She is single, and not as far along in her career as she wishes she was, so obviously, when her high school Christmas reunion comes up, she lies her face off and gets into increasingly ridiculous scrapes to try and hide her fibbing. She is also wondering if her high-school boyfriend could be ‘the one that got away’ and ignoring her adorable high school best friend who has always been in love with her.
There are musical numbers, cringeworthy moments, predictably sappy endings, and Christmas decorations and costumes. If only the main character wasn’t so painfully unlikeable, this could actually be a reasonable B-list comedy for the holiday.
7 The Christmas Bunny
More adorable animals bringing Christmas joy to the masses; we’ve seen puppies, ponies, and kittens, so now, it’s Bunny’s turn. Starring the late Florence Henderson as Betsy Ross (aka Crazy Bunny Lady), the story begins with a little girl named Julia (Sophie Bolen) who is going to a new foster home. She refuses to speak, and watches The Velveteen Rabbit over and over again. But her new parents do their best, and when she finds a hurt bunny on Christmas morning, they let her nurse it back to health.
The Christmas Bunny has every element of a corny Christmas movie that you might want – an unlikely friendship between Julia and Crazy Bunny Lady, a cute animal, a winter storm that allows Julia’s new Dad to prove he cares for her, and a bunny that magically helps Julia speak again. It even wraps up with a final scene so cheesy that it should come with a warning for the lactose-intolerant.
6 A Christmas Star
Fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy seeing Rob James-Collier star as the villain in this charming Irish Christmas story about a little girl who can work miracles. Noelle (Erin Galway-Kendrick) was born in a barn on Christmas, under the Christmas star, and since then, she’s been able to ease conflicts and make people care about each other. Now, an evil developer is trying to con the people of her small town into letting him tear everything down to build a Christmas casino, and Noelle is going to have to convince everyone that she can work miracles – and it will take a miracle to save her town!
A Christmas Star is cloyingly sweet at times, but manages to be quite heartwarming as well, and while we all know what's going to happen (spoiler alert: she saves the town!), the message about love is a very relevant and sweet one. Bonus points for the fact that Noelle’s best friend Spud (James Stockdale) is disabled, and that it isn't made out to be a big deal. It’s not a plot point or part of a Tiny-Tim-esque storyline, it’s just a nice bit of diversity in a charming Christmas movie.
5 A Dog Walker’s Christmas Tale
The last lot of cute animals on our Christmas list are the cast of A Dog Walker’s Christmas Tale, another rom-com with a vaguely unlikeable protagonist who learns about what she really wants for Christmas. Luce (Lexi Giovagnoli) is a spoiled college student, who maxes out her credit cards when her parents aren’t in town in order to pay them off. In an effort to score herself a ruby necklace, she accepts a job as a dog-walker for her neighbor, even though she hates dogs. At the park, she meets the wonderful vet student Dean (Jonathan Bennett), who is sweetness and goodness personified, and is clearly far too good for Luce.
As Christmas nears, Luce comes to not only love dogs (of course), but fights to save the dog park from an evil developer (evil developers are a common theme in holiday movies). No prizes for guessing how it all turns out. This one's entirely predictable but just as sweet, and Bennett is fantastic as the perfect single guy at the dog park. That said, whoever chose not to title this ‘A Dog Walker’s Christmas TAIL’ should do some real thinking about the acceptability of missed puns at Christmas.
4 All American Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is an absolute classic – which is why, of course, there have been countless versions of the story of three ghosts over the years. This recent addition to the Christmas Carol movie family shifts the story from Victorian England to a trailer park in the US for a redneck re-imagining. Rather than a rich old miser, our ghosts (a schoolgirl, a rock star, and a dead mom) visit a white-trash mother with multiple kids from different fathers, who believes that work is for suckers and that other people should pay her way.
It doesn’t do anything shockingly new (the ghosts convince her of the error of her ways, Christmas Day brings a joyful second chance), but it’s the cast that makes All American Christmas Carol stand out as a surprisingly funny version of the story. Taryn Manning, known as Pennsatucky on Orange is the New Black, stars as Cindy, alongside stars such as Beverly D’Angelo and Eric Roberts.
3 Angel Of Christmas
Another holiday romance about someone who needs to find a little Christmas spirit, Angel of Christmas is far from ground-breaking, but it is one of the better romantic comedies for Christmas, and it will definitely warm a cold, wintery heart.
Jennifer Finnigan stars as Susan, a grinchy copy editor who is looking for the big break that will let her make the leap from editor to writer – and she finds it in a family ornament with a love story attached. It’s yet another predictable romance (she chooses between another Christmas-hater that she works with, and a creative, artsy Christmas fan), but it’s got a little more to it than most others on our list. It’s also quite beautiful, there are a few lovely flashbacks, and every scene feels snowy and Christmas-y, which is everything that we want from corny movies at this time of year. By no means does this stack up to some of the more well-know holiday rom-coms, but it doesn’t lag too far behind, either.
2 Santa's Little Helper
No Christmas is complete without a movie made by WWE pro-wrestlers, which is where Santa’s Little Helper comes in. Starring Mike ‘The Miz’ Mizanin, AnnaLynne McCord, and Saraya-Jade Bevis, this surprisingly funny Christmas movie tells the story of a heartless businessman named Dax (the Miz) who only cares about money, and will happily repossess a local community center right before Christmas.
Despite this apparent lack of kindness, when Santa needs a new second-in-command, he sends his elf, Billie (AnnaLynne) "between the poles" to test Dax and see if he has what it takes. On top of that, the evil elf Eleanor (Saraya-Jade) is also after the job, and will do anything to get it. There are some fairly predictable plotlines in here, but there are also some interesting twists, relatively impressive wrestler-acting, and some very charming and funny moments. Santa’s Little Helper is the perfect bad Christmas comedy – funny enough to be engaging and enjoyable, but not serious enough that it feels the need to stray from the holiday-approved classic plotline.
1 Journey To The Christmas Star
In many ways, Journey To The Christmas Star has no place on a list of bad Christmas movies. It’s an enchanting Christmas fairy tale with a distinctly Disney feel to it, surprisingly good CGI throughout, and an engaging (if straightforward) plot. There is a lonely King who lost his daughter and needs to find the Christmas Star to get her back, a kind young girl who wants to help him, a villain who has a mustache and everything, and even an evil witch. It’s pure magical fantasy, and it’s a beautiful family movie that is well worth the watch.
It’s also Norwegian, which is unfortunately its downfall. The dubbing is appalling. Old-school Kung-Fu movie voiceover is often better than what you get in Journey To The Christmas Star, which also makes bizarre decisions about regional accents (did you know that Norwegian gnomes are vaguely Scottish?!). Netflix also doesn’t make the Norwegian version available with English subtitles, more’s the pity, but it’s still worth the watch this Christmas, if only for the laughable dub job.
What other Christmas movies should Netflixers be staying away from this holiday season? Sound off in the comments.