With Jack Frost coming out to play and holiday blues setting in, the holiday-themed romantic comedy season is in full swing. From Hallmark movies to the classics, holiday romance movies are my favorite kind — especially since they’re often so utterly bad that they’re good.
Since the release of “A Christmas Prince” in 2017, Netflix has created quite a few of their own original holiday rom-coms, with storylines involving princes, military personnel, elephant conservationists and medieval knights transported into the 21st century. One of my most beloved holiday traditions is watching every one of these originals — sometimes revisiting a few more than once in a holiday season.
While I’ve watched every single one of these films multiple times, some of you might want to be more selective with what you watch this holiday season. For that purpose, here is a definitive list of every single movie in the Netflix Holiday Rom-Com Cinematic Universe ranked from worst to best. I won’t try to give too much away in each of these rankings, but since spoilers are not completely avoidable, a spoiler alert is in effect.
12. “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding”
This ranking might rub a few people the wrong way, considering the Christmas Prince trilogy is the most popular franchise of Netflix’s holiday catalog. The trilogy follows journalist Amber (Rose McIver), as she travels to the charmingly fictitious country of Aldovia and falls in love with their prince, Prince Richard (Ben Lamb).
“A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding” shows the happy couple preparing for their Christmas wedding in true holiday spirit and all of the tribulations Amber faces while assuming the role of Queen in a traditional monarchy. As far as bad holiday Netflix rom-coms go, I’ve never been a big fan of the “A Christmas Prince” trilogy — especially when it comes to this film. I could go on about how all the secondary characters are just two-dimensional personifications of different stereotypes, but my biggest issue with this movie is its overall drabness.
While it has the magic of the “normal-girl-meets-prince-boy-and-she-becomes-queen” romantic comedy trope, this movie is particularly lackluster. The movie feels dull and lifeless in comparison with the other two films, both figuratively and literally —it genuinely looks as if they pulled saturation down a tad bit too much in post-editing. While the movie does attempt to take on more serious topics, this paired with the bad writing doesn’t give way to an effective bad rom-com. It’s actually bad.
11. “Holiday in the Wild”
“Holiday in the Wild” is a movie unlike any other on this list. Set in Zambia, it showcases love emerging on the grounds of an elephant conservation facility. After seeing off her son to college and her husband leaving her, Kate (Kristin Davis) embarks on an African safari where she meets pilot and conservationist, Derek (Rob Lowe). After being brought to an elephant conservation by Derek and caring for an orphaned elephant, Kate rediscovers her love for her veterinary practice and purpose in life — all while falling in love of course.
As much as I love Rob Lowe, elephants and Rob Lowe saving elephants, I had to put “Holiday in the Wild” towards the bottom half of the list. Despite its focus on an important environmental issue, the overall movie as a romantic comedy is not great. The romance element feels forced and unnatural, but not in the good “bad romantic comedy” way. It’s enjoyable overall, but not because of the burgeoning love between the two leads. It’s because of the elephants.
10. “Christmas Inheritance”
“Christmas Inheritance” was one of Netflix’s first holiday rom-com releases after the success of the first “A Christmas Prince.” The movie follows Ellen Langford (Eliza Taylor), a “party-girl” heiress to a major holiday card corporation as she travels to the small town of Snow Falls to fulfill her father’s annual tradition of exchanging a letter with the co-founder of the company, Zeke (Anthony Sherwood). While in Snow Falls, Ellen meets and falls in love with the ruggedly good-looking taxi driver and innkeeper, Jake Collins (Jake Lacy).
While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with this film, there isn’t anything special about it either. It’s not as innovative as some of the other movies in Netflix’s lineup, since it basically recycles the tried and true conventions of the bad holiday romantic comedy genre: rediscovering the meaning of Christmas, cherishing the importance of family and remembering who she is at her core through love. The movie as a whole is charming and enjoyable but is just like every other Hallmark romantic comedy.
9. “Operation Christmas Drop”
“Operation Christmas Drop” is a new addition to the Netflix holiday rom-com list, and is the second holiday movie to feature Kat Graham (“The Vampire Diaries”) in a leading role. This movie tackles the same themes of altruism and kindness during the holiday season, but with an interesting twist: it’s actually based on a real-life event.
Graham plays a congressional aide, Erica, who is sent to a United States Air Force base in the Pacific at the behest of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, to assess whether or not it should be closed. There she meets Captain Andrew Jantz (Alexander Ludwig), the organizer of the base’s yearly holiday supply drop to neighboring islands called “Operation Christmas Drop,” which is inspired by the USAF event of the same name.
While the portrayal of congress and what a congressional aide does is relatively inaccurate, the fact that what Erica witnesses is based on something real makes up for this. It’s far from a perfect bad romantic comedy — the romance part definitely takes a backseat to the drop’s preparation — but it addressed the quintessential themes of kindness and giving back during the holiday season in a uniquely patriotic way.
8. “A Christmas Prince: Royal Baby”
The final movie in the” A Christmas Prince” trilogy, this movie follows Amber and Richard as they prepare to welcome their firstborn child. While this is happening, a diplomatic meeting and missing treaty run the risk of a mysterious curse befalling Amber’s baby.
This movie is a lot more colorful and light-hearted than “A Christmas Prince: Royal Wedding.” It doesn’t take itself too seriously, rather leaning into the cheesy ridiculousness. Out of all of the “Christmas Prince” movies, this film is the most effective when it comes to holiday rom coms being so bad they’re good.
7. “The Knight Before Christmas”
“The Knight Before Christmas” is one of my guilty pleasure movies on the Netflix lineup, mostly because it takes a different approach to the “magical kingdom” holiday movie narratives. On a hunt in the 1400s, knight Sir Cole (Josh Whitehouse), meets a witch who sends him into the future to fulfill his true quest. In the present, he meets high school teacher Brooke (Vanessa Hudgens) and helps her put on their town’s annual holiday fundraising dinner — all while falling in love.
This movie is pure fun. Like “A Christmas Prince: Royal Baby,” it doesn’t try to take itself too seriously. It understands that the premise of the movie is incredibly unrealistic, but instead of trying to convince the audience that it is authentic, it milks the tackiness which makes it a charming watch.
6. “The Princess Switch”
If you like any of the “A Christmas Prince” movies and “The Parent Trap,” you will love “The Princess Switch.” Featuring two parallel storylines, this movie follows baker Stacy Denovo and Duchess Margaret Delacourt, both portrayed by Vanessa Hudgens, as they switch lives after a chance encounter at a baking competition in the kingdom of Belgravia.
This movie gives the audience the best of both worlds with its storyline: “normal-girl-meets-prince” and “princess-meets-normal-boy.” Each is endearing and lovable in their own ways, despite following almost every rom-com convention in the book. Hudgens, who definitely carries the movie, gives a delightful performance that makes my hopeless romantic heart melt.
5. “A Christmas Prince”
The film that started it all. In the first chapter of the “A Christmas Prince” saga, Amber (Rose McIver), a journalist from New York, travels to the country of Aldovia on assignment to cover the Christmas coronation of the infamous “party prince,” Prince Richard (Ben Lamb). While she is there, she assumes the role of Princess Emily’s new tutor. Although her intention was to get closer to a story, Amber instead falls in love with Richard.
Out of the entire “A Christmas Prince” trilogy, this first chapter is probably the best of the bunch. It isn’t anything that I haven’t seen before in other rom-coms, holiday or not, but it is still enjoyable. It uses all of the tried and true “girl-meets-prince” tropes — the wearing of sneakers at the ball, the brooding misunderstood prince and the “but I’m just a girl” moments. The chemistry between Amber and Prince Richard, like in all the movies, is next to nonexistent and doesn’t get me invested in the relationship. It’s a fun holiday watch with holiday magic galore and without it the NHRCCU would cease to exist, but it isn’t my favorite.
4. “Holiday Calendar”
“The Holiday Calendar” is one of the first holiday movies Netflix put out after the success of “A Christmas Prince.” This movie follows Abby Sutton (Kat Graham), a struggling photographer, after she receives an antique Advent calendar from her grandfather (Ron Cephas Jones) that can seemingly predict the future. Over the course of the holiday season, the calendar eventually leads her to love with her best friend Josh (Quincy Brown).
I personally love this movie because, despite magical elements, it is more realistic than other Netflix romance arcs. This, paired with good chemistry between Graham and Brown, creates an effective build towards the final kiss in the snow. With its all around loveable characters, “The Holiday Calendar” makes for an enjoyable bad holiday rom-com that makes me fall in love with romance and the spirit of the season.
3. “The Princess Switch: Switched Again”
The sequel to “The Princess Switch, “The Princess Switch: Switched Again” follows Stacy and Margaret (Vanessa Hudgens) as they switch places again, this time right before Margaret’s coronation as Queen of Montenaro. While this is happening, a nefarious plan by Margaret’s cousin Lady Fiona, also played by Hudgens, to kidnap Margaret and assume her identity to steal money from the crown threatens to upend the coronation and foil the switch.
This movie is another “Toy Story 2” situation, where the sequel ends up being better than the original. The craziness of a triple switch is just absurd enough to be fun and cheesy enough to be good. Hudgens gives a delightful performance in each of her roles and the high jinks that ensue make for a cute holiday watch.
“Holidate,” which also came out this year, is something that I, as a hopeless romantic and holiday rom-com aficionado, have never seen anything like before. The concept of the story is rather simple — two strangers, Sloane (Emma Roberts) and Jackson (Luke Bracey), who are both fed-up with being alone on holidays, decide to become each other’s platonic dates for holiday events throughout the year. Along the way, in true “we’re just friends” rom-com fashion, they develop feelings for one another.
If I’m being honest, I was a little aversive to this movie at first — mostly because I’m not a huge Emma Roberts fan. But after watching it, I can definitively say I love this movie. Despite the fact it doesn’t exclusively occur during the December holiday season, “Holidate” is one of the best bad holiday rom-coms that I’ve seen. It’s funny, charming, relatable and realistic, especially in regards to the timeline of the two leads’ relationship evolution. Unlike some of the other movies on this list, they don’t just meet and fall in love over the course of a week — something that I really appreciate. On top of that, the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is why “Holidate” is an overall incredibly enjoyable watch.
1. “Let It Snow”
“Let It Snow” is my favorite holiday movie on Netflix, which is why it takes the top spot on my list. In the same vein as “Love Actually,” this movie follows a group of teenagers as they navigate their lives in a small town on Christmas Eve. Each character has their own distinct journey, as they discover themselves, fall in love and interact with each other in the midst of a snowstorm in their small town.
Featuring a diverse cast and decent writing, this is probably the most realistic of all the movies in the Netflix holiday rom-com catalogue, despite using every romance trope in the book. The entire cast, which features the likes of Shameik Moore (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”), Odeya Rush (“Lady Bird”), Liv Hewson (“Santa Clarita Diet”), Mitchell Hope (“Descendents”) and Kiernan Shipka (“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”), gives a charming performance — one that will make you fall in love with holiday love. The movie features a coming out story, the “girl-meets-rock-star” storyline, best friends who finally admit their feelings for one another and a break-up among other things.
While it doesn’t necessarily fall into the conventional “bad holiday rom-com” genre of film, this Netflix original is the best of the bunch. It focuses on normal people in a normal environment dealing with actual things teenagers go through in a sweet and normal-adjacent way that feels down-to-earth and genuine. What more could you ask for this holiday season?
There is plenty more to watch on Netflix this holiday season to feed your inner hopeless romantic. But these movies are a great place to start.
Danielle Dawson is a 2020-2021 City News Co-Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.