Christmas movie production snowballs to reach new record

By Ian Youngs
Entertainment & arts reporter

Published
Image source, Netflix
Image caption,
Ray Fearon and Liz Hurley star in Netflix's Father Christmas Is Back

Settling down in front of feel-good festive movies has become a modern Christmas tradition - and has driven the production of seasonal films to record-breaking levels this year.

More than 200 new feature films and TV movies with the word Christmas in the title are listed on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) for release in 2021.

That number has doubled since 2016, and is four times more than in 2011.

Channels and streamers have discovered festive films are big ratings winners.

Christmas movies have been popular for decades, and classics like Home Alone, Love Actually and It's A Wonderful Life will be widely watched again in the coming weeks.

But the boom in a new breed of festive films can be traced back to the Hallmark US cable channel's decision to launch a special season of TV movies in 2009.

Its first Countdown To Christmas featured four original productions and delivered record audiences.

This year, its countdown started even earlier, on 22 October, and includes a record 42 original holiday films.

Image source, Albert Camicioli
Image caption,
Boyfriends Of Christmas Past is one of Hallmark's 42 original festive films this year

"They bet really big on Christmas and everyone else seemed to notice the ratings," says Brandon Gray, co-host of the Deck the Hallmark podcast and one of the authors of a new book called I'll Be Home for Christmas Movies.

Rival channel Lifetime was among those to take notice, and has made 35 of its own Christmas crowd-pleasers this year, also its highest number yet.

Streaming platforms are tapping into the seasonal demand too, with Netflix offering a dozen original films starring big names like John Cleese, Kelsey Grammar and Brooke Shields.

Season's screenings. New films with "Christmas" in the title .  .

The IMDB numbers only include movies with "Christmas" in the title, meaning the true number of festive films is even higher.

This season's big cinema releases include Silent Night, starring Keira Knightley, and Aml Ameen's Boxing Day, which also stars Little Mix's Leigh-Anne Pinnock.

Scroll down to find out more about some of this year's new releases.

Media caption,
Watch: Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Aml Ameen interviewed about their Christmas film, Boxing Day

When it comes to made-for-TV movies, many are relatively low-budget and use a feel-good formula to tell stories of romance and family - and are cosy and comforting enough to cancel out being corny and cheesy.

"It's this magical season when the storyline that's on the screen doesn't matter as long as there's a bunch of Christmas trees in the background and it's snowing," says Gray.

"For viewers, it's just a way to escape and to feel for at least two hours this little bit of peace in the midst of the craziness of the holiday season and the craziness of the world in which we have lived in the last couple years."

Successful formula

Hallmark built its festive empire on films that look and feel the same, Gray says.

"They have the same aesthetic because they figured out what works: 'If we keep everything basically uniform - not too funny, not too sad - people will go from one movie to the next.'

"So you have the two people that fall in love and there's some sort of misunderstanding with about 30 minutes to go and then they'll figure it out, and they'll kiss.

"And you do it over and over again, and as long as it looks uniform and feels uniform, people will watch one after the other."

Image source, Philippe Bossé/Netflix
Image caption,
Single All The Way is a seasonal same-sex rom-com from Netflix

This year is the best crop of films so far, Gray says - partly because channels like Hallmark are beginning to experiment with that formula.

"Especially this year, I feel the change, where they're putting more emphasis on different types of stories," he says. "They're working hard with inclusion and making sure that the stories that are being told match what you're seeing on the screen.

"So it's no longer them just putting a person of colour on screen in a white world, but they're actually telling stories that feel authentic to who you're watching on screen."

In the UK, some of those TV movies have been playing on the Great! Movies Christmas channel since 23 September, and on Channel 5 in the daytimes since early November.

Media caption,
Author Matt Haig's children's book A Boy Called Christmas has been made into a film.

12 new films of Christmas:

  • A Boy Called Christmas - Dame Maggie Smith and Jim Broadbent are in the adaptation of author Matt Haig's Father Christmas origin story (in cinemas and on Sky Cinema/Now in UK, Netflix in US)
  • A Castle For Christmas - Brooke Shields plays an American author who follows family roots to a Scottish castle and its resident hard-up duke (Netflix)
  • Last Train To Christmas - Michael Sheen plays a man who travels through time when he moves through train carriages on Christmas Eve (Sky Cinema/Now in UK)
  • Next Stop, Christmas - This year's second Christmas time-travelling train film features Back To The Future's Christopher Lloyd (Great! Movies Christmas in UK, Hallmark in US)
  • Single All The Way - A same-sex Christmas rom-com about a guy who is always single when he goes home for Christmas (Netflix)
  • Boxing Day - An author introduces his American fiancée to his family in the first British Christmas rom-com led by an all-black cast (in cinemas in UK)
  • Silent Night - A dark comedy in which Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode host Christmas as the apocalypse approaches (in cinemas and on-demand stores in UK, on AMC+ in US)
  • Boyfriends Of Christmas Past - A marketing executive is visited by the ghosts of four former boyfriends (Channel 5 in UK, Hallmark in US)
  • Father Christmas Is Back - John Cleese, Kelsey Grammar and Liz Hurley star in an almost unwatchably over-the-top family tale in a Yorkshire stately home (Netflix)
  • Home Sweet Home Alone - The sixth Home Alone film is essentially a remake of the original (Disney+)
  • 'Twas the Fight Before Christmas - Documentary about a Christmas fanatic who battled his neighbours over his plans for a spectacular festive show in their neighbourhood (Apple TV+)
  • The Bitch Who Stole Christmas - RuPaul and a host of Drag Race stars parody the Hallmark formula (Comedy Central in UK, VH1 in US)

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