Under the Mistletoe
The festive season not only brings gifts and Christmas carols, it also arrives with a flurry of romantic movies. If you can’t wait to throw a log on the fire, drop some marshmallows in your hot chocolate, and snuggle up with a soft blanket while you watch people fall in love in heavily decorated Christmas-y locations, we’ve got some recommendations for you.
Not all seasonal rom-coms are great cinema (some are barely watchable), but we’re not here to judge. We know that these movies can be a great relief for tired viewers, providing plenty of oxytocin for your brain and a soothing end to the day. Here are links to our reviews for some of the romantic festive films that have hit theaters and major streaming platforms in the past few years.
New this year, The Noel Diary (TV-PG, Grade: B+) unites a successful author scarred by his family’s past and a young woman trying to find her birth mother. More than just a fluffy romance, this movie is a hopeful story about forgiveness and second chances. Netflix
A burned out author (played by Brooke Shields) heads to Scotland in search of family roots and a new interest in life in A Castle for Christmas (TV-G, Grade: B). She impulsively decides to buy the decrepit Dun Dunbar Castle, only to find a complication – the handsome and crotchety 12th Duke of Dunbar. Netflix
After her husband dumps her for a younger woman, Kate heads off on her own for a previously planned couple’s trip to Africa. In Holiday in the Wild (TV-PG, Grade: B+), she falls in love with elephants – and a handsome bush pilot – while rediscovering her own interests and goals. Netflix
With plenty of music and an overabundance of seasonal décor, Christmas with You (TV-PG, Grade: B), delivers a feel-good story about a stressed-out recording artist who winds up composing a new song with an amateur musician. Netflix
Determined to cheer the life of her widowed father, Jules creates a profile for him on a dating app -without telling him first. My Dad’s Christmas Date (TV-MA, Grade: B-) is unpredictable, which is not the norm for seasonal rom-coms. It’s also warmhearted and genuine, which is some compensation for the profanity. Amazon Prime, Hoopla
Another British rom-com with a twist is Your Christmas or Mine? (PG-13, Grade: B) Hayley and James have spent a few months falling in love and now both make the same impulsive decision: switching trains to arrive at each other’s family home for the holidays. It’s a bold move to separate the lovebirds for most of a rom-com’s runtime but good writing and some character development make it work. Amazon Prime
When radio co-hosts Maggie and Jack get dumped by their partners right before Christmas, they come up with a plan: they’re going to pretend to be a couple to drive up their ratings. In Midnight at the Magnolia (TV-G, Grade: B+), they learn that playing a part can have unexpected consequences. Sweet and sincere, this movie is better than its familiar plotline. Netflix
Standard Christmas rom-com tropes adapt easily to gay characters in Single All the Way (TV-PG, Grade: B-). Desperate to avoid his family’s pity for his single state, Peter persuades his best friend, Nick, to come home for Christmas and pretend to be his partner. But we all know what happens when people pretend…Netflix
Natalie has a cursed love life, until she falls in love over a dating app. Spontaneously deciding to surprise her new love, Josh, she hops on a plane – only to discover that she’s been catfished. In Love Hard (TV-14, Grade: B-), she strikes a deal with the real Josh: she’ll pretend to be his girlfriend while he teaches her how to attract the guy she thought she was chatting with online. There’s some humor here but also way more profanity and alcohol consumption than you might want. Netflix
Deceit is a major plot point in A California Christmas (PG-13, Grade: C). Tasked with persuading a rancher to sell her land, Joseph pretends to be a ranch hand – only to find himself falling in love with the owner and reconsidering his life and goals. Joseph and Callie have a return appearance on screen in the sequel, A California Christmas: City Lights (PG-13, Grade: C-) Netflix
You’re either going to love or hate Last Christmas (PG-13, Grade: B-), a quirky rom-com with an unusual plot twist. When a messed up young woman meets a handsome stranger who treats her with empathy, she turns her life around – only to discover that her new love isn’t who she thinks he is. Online rental
It’s a mediocre romance, but Operation Christmas Drop (TV-G, Grade: B) provides a touching story about the joy of giving. When a congressional aide is sent to investigate the closure of a USAF base in the Pacific, she finds herself charmed by a handsome Captain and the base’s Christmas donations to nearby Pacific Islanders. Netflix
Riddled with plot holes, Falling for Christmas (TV-PG, Grade: B-) sees Lindsey Lohan throwing herself into a silly but still fun story of an amnesiac heiress who winds up falling in love with a widowed hotel owner. Netflix
On the very goofy end of the spectrum, Christmas with a Prince (TV-PG, Grade: B)sees a pediatric oncologist persuaded to provide medical care for Prince Alexander, who has broken his leg and doesn’t want any publicity. Of course, the two have an awkward past, and, of course, they learn to move past it. It’s harmless but it isn’t clever. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hoopla, Fubo
With barely a trace of a plot, A Match Made in Mistletoe (TV-PG, Grade: B)is based on the less-than-riveting question: Will the Belmarian ambassador let the lovely American interior decorator go over the top in glitzing up his embassy’s Christmas fundraiser? With minimal tension and plenty of overdone seasonal décor, this is the cinematic equivalent of valium-laced candy canes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s very relaxing and is completely devoid of stress. (Note: This was also released as Christmas in Washington.) Online rental
We absolutely do not recommend Holidate (TV-MA, Grade: D), a movie about a pretend romance that is so packed with profanity, crude sexual content, and drug and alcohol use that it’s not suitable for anyone who is concerned about negative content – or even good filmmaking. We’re also not fans of A New York Christmas Wedding (TV-MA, Grade: C-). This lesbian makeover of It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t a whole lot of fun and features a relationship with some troubling control and communication issues. Christmas Is Canceled (R, Grade: C-)is also a profoundly unpleasant Christmas film. When Emma learns that her dad is dating her high school frenemy and wants her around for the holidays, Emma goes nuclear and vows to destroy the relationship. There’s no peace on Earth here, and not a whole lot of entertainment either.