The holiday season is here, which means a few things: panicked shopping sprees, endless googling of the best roast turkey recipes, and hour after hour of comforting holiday romance movies. The Hallmark Channel has long had this part of the market cornered, but streaming giant Netflix is catching up to them.
We know the formula and we love it: wacky shenanigans, lots of red and green décor, and happy-ever-afters centered on the magic of the festive season. But which ones to watch? We’ve ranked Netflix’s many holiday romance movies from best to worst and have listed their upcoming new releases. Make sure you’re prepared for the fun this holiday season!
1. Let It Snow
Based on a young adult novel written by a titanic trio of the genre's most beloved authors—John Green, Lauren Myracle, and Maureen Johnson—Let it Snow is the ultimate in Netflix holiday comfort viewing. The movie stars a murderer's row of young talent, including Liv Hewson, Kiernan Shipka, and Shameik Moore, to tell a series of intersecting stories about love, friendship, and, of course, the magic of the Winter season as a snowstorm hits a small town.
The plot might be familiar, especially if you're a bona fide YA romance lover, but Let It Snow is undeniably charming with its low stakes and earnestness. It's also just refreshing to see stories like this where queer and non-binary characters get to be front and center, their romances as beautiful and comforting as we expect from all the straight people in holiday tales.
2. Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square
Look, if Dolly Parton is involved then you know we’re going to be first in line to experience it. The universally beloved idol of country music and the big-haired fairy godmother we all not-so-secretly want got in on the Christmas movie game with this unabashed slice of musical cheese. Christine Baranski is in full pantomime villainess mode as a wealthy Scrooge-esque woman who returns to her hometown to evict its residents and sell the land to a heartless mall developer.
It's up to the plucky locals, who include Jenifer Lewis, to help her change her mind before it's too late. Yes, it's a riff on A Christmas Carol, and yes, it's as clichéd as they come, but it's also undeniably chipper and full of self-aware camp in a way that quickly wins you over. Plus it's full of Dolly Parton songs. What's not to like?
3. The Noel Diary
Jake Turner (Justin Hartley from This is Us) is a successful spy novelist who returns home for the holidays to settle the estate of his late estranged mother. During the clear-out, he discovers a diary that may contain long unanswered secrets to his own past, and that of Rachel (Barrett Doss). She's searching for her birth mother, who was Jake’s nanny when he was a toddler.
Together, they take a road trip to figure out their pasts, following the journal left behind by Noel, Rachel's mother and Jake's nanny. Based on a novel by Richard Paul Evans, The Noel Diary has its fair share of melodramatic plot turns, but it's a remarkably grounded affair that comes as close to realism as this genre permits. It's conventional stuff but the emotional beats land and both Hartley and Doss put in good work. You could remove all of the Christmas stuff and still have a good character-driven romantic drama here.
4. The Princess Switch
Very little about The Princess Switch makes sense: a talented yet down on her luck baker (played by Vanessa Hudgens) flies to the tiny Kingdom of Belgravia to compete in an inexplicably prestigious cooking competition, only to meet the fiance of the country's crown prince, who happens to also be played by Vanessa Hudgens, leading to the two women swapping places and a series of wacky shenanigans.
Imagine if The Prince and the Pauper had more tinsel and cookies. It's ludicrous, of course, but everyone involved with The Princess Switch knows it, and therein lies the fun. Vanessa Hudgens is clearly having a ball in her dual roles, the film never asks you to focus on minor things like logic, and it's genuinely pretty fun. It's as frothy as whipped cream and just as substantive, but isn't that what you want at Christmas?
5. The Knight Before Christmas
Who would have thought that Vanessa Hudgens would be kind of perfect for this new era of Netflix holiday romance? She has the right kind of comic timing and earnestness to pull off these delightfully ludicrous stories, and The Knight Before Christmas is especially loopy. The dashing Medieval knight Cole finds himself magically sent several hundred years into the future, from England to Ohio, in search of adventure. Here, he meets high school science teacher Brooke.
She thinks he's an amnesiac employee of the local Christmas castle attraction, so she agrees to let him stay until he's better. He's confused by literally everything he sees, from cars to TVs to diners. But he does see Brooke as his fair lady. The Knight Before Christmas doesn't reach The Princess Switch levels of bonkers but it is silly and fun and knows what it is.
6. Single All the Way
It took Hallmark way too long to make a gay Christmas movie, and fortunately, Netflix isn’t making us wait that long! Ugly Betty's Michael Urie headlines a surprisingly starry cast that includes Jennifer Coolidge, Kathy Najimy, and Barry Bostwick, with the celebrated Tony Award-winning theater director Michael Mayer in charge behind the camera.
Eager to avoid his meddling family's judgment over the holidays, Peter (played by Urie) convinces his best friend Nick (Philemon Chambers) to pretend to be his boyfriend. It's the perfect plan, right up until Peter's mother sets him up on a blind date with her handsome trainer James (Luke MacFarlane), who might be perfect for him.
7. Christmas Inheritance
Ellen Langford (Eliza Taylor) is set to inherit her father's company, but he's worried she's too spoiled and immature to take on such a responsibility. To prepare her for the task, Ellen is sent to Snow Falls, New England, to help continue her family's tradition of exchanging Christmas letters with their business partners. To make things more challenging, she's without her credit cards, has only $100 in cash, and can't let anyone know who she is.
It seems like a disaster in the making but at least there's Jake, the handsome manager of the Snow Falls Guest House. Christmas Inheritance ticks all the boxes of a holiday romance but there’s not much about it that stands out as especially unique or exciting.
8. Falling for Christmas
Much was made of Falling for Christmas, the long-awaited return to the world of film by Lindsay Lohan. Her comeback saw Netflix willing to fling a lot more money at promoting this movie than it typically would for its festive rom-com fare. It clearly paid off, with Lohan landing some strong reviews and many welcoming her revival with open arms. It’s just a shame that the rest of the film isn’t as good.
A Christmas take on Overboard, everyone’s favorite problematic amnesia romance movie, Lohan plays Sierra, a spoiled heiress who loses her memory after a skiing accident. Stuck in the ski lodge until she feels better, she begins a romance with the widower lodge owner and single father, Jake. Lohan is a lot of fun but the film struggles as romance because she has zero chemistry with Chord Overstreet, and it doesn’t help that he’s seemingly half-asleep every time he’s on-screen. Aside from that, it's all highly predictable and unrealistic, but Lohan's sheer charisma makes it an enjoyable display of Christmas camp.
9. A Castle for Christmas
What could be more Christmassy than a castle in the snow-covered landscape of Scotland? If you're actually Scottish then probably a lot, but for every romance lover with a soft spot for a surly laird in the Highlands, Netflix has you covered. A Castle for Christmas stars Brooke Shields as a city slicker writer who needs to get out of New York fast to avoid scandal. She journeys to Scotland and immediately falls in love with a castle.
The only problem is that it's already inhabited by the surly Duke of Dunbar, played by Cary Elwes of The Princess Bride fame, and he doesn’t want to sell his ancestral home to a plucky American. Expect tartan, drama, and a slew of questionable accent choices.
10. Delivery by Christmas
Delivered to Netflix from Poland is Delivery by Christmas. Marysia (Monika Frajczyk) is a courier who delivers packages for an ungrateful and lecherous boss. When she rebuffs him, he spitefully responds by mixing up labels on the four packages she needs to deliver the next day.
Now, she needs to fix the error to avoid Christmas woes, but at least she has her son Maks to help her, as well as, perhaps, a kind man to spend the season with. Marysia meets plenty of wacky characters during her delivery, which inspires enough laughs to justify its running time. Monika Frajczyk is immensely appealling in the lead role, and seems primed to be a leading lady outside of Poland. Moreover, it's a modest but earnest film that feels like an appropriately gentle romance for a cold dark night.
11. A Christmas Prince
We have to give extra points to the film that kicked off the Netflix holiday movie trend. 2017's A Christmas Prince became a surprise hit for the streaming service, thus ensuring we'd get many more movies like this. Feisty journalist Amber Moore is sent to the foreign nation of Aldovia to cover a press conference given by Prince Richard, who is set to take the throne.
It's an inexplicably major job for a minor journalist but not as big a deal as being mistaken for the young princess's new American tutor. Shenanigans ensue and a case of mistaken identity soon evolves into love with strings attached. If a holiday royal romance was bred in a lab specifically to be appealing to the most Netflix viewers possible, A Christmas Prince is what you’d get. It’s not the best of the festive films but it is important in its own way.
12. A California Christmas
According to Netflix's own metrics, 2020's A California Christmas was one of the platform's most popular original movies of the year, which just goes to show you that there's a reason we get so many films like this every holiday season. Josh Swickard of General Hospital fame stars alongside his real-life wife Lauren, which ensures some top-notch romantic chemistry!
Joseph is a rich boy who works for his wealthy real estate tycoon mother but spends most of his time being a womanizing playboy. He's sent to Petaluma to close a deal to buy a dairy farm that has continuously refused a buyout to purchase the land. The farm's owner is proud country gal Callie, who adores the place and doesn't plan to give it up for any amount of money.
After being mistaken for the new ranch hand Manny, Joseph decides to stick around gain Callie's trust enough to convince her to change her life. Soon, however, he finds that farm life suits him and so does Callie. A California Christmas is greatly buoyed by solid chemistry, beautiful scenery, and a few more risqué jokes than your typical holiday romance.
13. The Princess Switch: Switched Again
Two identical strangers is company but three is a crowd. Vanessa Hudgens returns to double acting duty for Switched Again, but now, there's an evil cousin in the mix who, of course, looks exactly like her. Set two years after the first film, normal American girl Stacy is now the Princess of Belgravia while Lady Margaret is about to ascend to the throne of the neighboring Montenaro.
Coronation plans become all the more complicated by the arrival of Lady Fiona Pembroke, Margaret's devious cousin, who plans to assume Margaret's identity, become Queen, then loot the royal treasury. This sequel is like sugar candy in that it's a fun festive treat with enough fizz to keep you going and not much else. You know what you want from these movies and you get it by the sparkly Christmas bucketful.
14. Christmas With You
Former teen idol Freddie Prinze Jr. returned to the big (sort-of) screen with Christmas With You and quickly reminded us of what he made many women's hearts flutter in the '90s. He plays a widowed father whose teenage daughter is paid a surprise bisit by her favorite popstar, Angelina Costa (Aimee Garcia).
Angelina's on the verge of being dropped by her record label and is trying to write a Christmas song that will catapult her to the top of the charts. She finds a co-writer and festive friend with Prinze Jr., who happens to be a music teacher. Cue the fireworks and a festive bop.
The plot bares some similarities to Marry Me, the Jennifer Lopez rom-com from earlier this year, but way more low-key and low-budget. Still, Christmas With You is modest in its ambitions and hits all of the expected marks of a seasonal rom-com. Solid chemistry elevates this one, as well as cozy cheer.
15. The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star
How many more identical non-relatives can Vanessa Hudgens have? Sadly, this time there’s only the same three from its predecessor, but we’ll take it. Here's hoping The Princess Switch franchise continues until every character is played by her! Part three sees Princess Stacy Wyndham of Belgravia and Lady Margaret Delacourt, Queen of Montenaro, reunite to host a traditional Christmas festival.
Chaos unfolds as a priceless treasure is stolen during the festival, forcing the pair to turn to their old nemesis, Lady Fiona Pembroke, for help. Long may the world of The Princess Switch live and continue to grow!
Sloane Benson (Emma Roberts) is a young woman living in Chicago who hates the holidays because it seems to ignite her family's weird obsession with finding her a new boyfriend. This year, she's the only single person left in her clan, so she goes to desperate measures to avoid awkwardness: She asks Jackson (Luke Bracey), an Australian golfer stuck spending the holidays in America, to be her "holidate."
No strings attached, no complications, just a fun and fake romance for the Christmas season so they can disentangle themselves from skepticism over their single status.
You can't go entirely wrong with a movie where Kristin Chenoweth plays a sassy aunt, and Holidate is willing to get a bit raunchier than many of the other holiday romances. It’s not as wholesome as the genre often demands but Holidate has fun with its premise and very game cast.
17. Holiday Rush
Widowed hip-hop radio DJ Rashon "Rush" Williams has long let his ego get in the way. His kids are spoiled, he bows down to nobody, and money is all he's known since his wife's death. But things change dramatically when the radio station he works at is bought out and his show is canceled. The family is forced to downsize and move back to the small town where Rush lived before he was famous, and it is there he decides to buy a dying local radio station and try to revive his career from the bottom up.
The indisputable star of Holiday Rush is Sonequa Martin-Green, as seen on Star Trek Discovery. She has chemistry with absolutely everyone and this performance makes you want to see her headline a dozen more films just like this.
18. A Christmas Prince: Royal Wedding
What do you do when you bag a prince in your first movie? You send them down the aisle in the royal event of the year! Before that, however, Amber and Richard have some problems to deal with. She's overwhelmed with the smothering demands of royal protocol while he struggles with the failing implementation of his new nationwide economic policies, which seem to be bleeding money from a mysterious source.
Can the lovebirds become husband and wife, or will the pressures of tradition get in the way? Royal Wedding is a step down from A Christmas Prince, which suffers from a case of too many cooks with its plotting.
19. The Holiday Calendar
Abby Reilly (Kat Graham) isn't one for the holidays, and when she receives an Advent calendar from her grandfather, she's less than impressed. But then she starts opening the doors and becomes convinced that the calendar is magical.
There’s something curiously grounded about The Holiday Calendar, which sets it apart from its more proudly outlandish genre counterparts. It’s not a bad idea but it’s pretty bland in execution. You yearn for some of the festive weirdness that made The Princess Switch such an addictive prospect.
20. Love Hard
Natalie Bauer (Nina Dobrev), a dating column writer, falls in love with a man named Josh Lin on a dating app and travels across the country to surprise him for Christmas. The problem: she's been catfished, and the real Josh is kind of a nerd (played by Jimmy O. Yang.) Her crush, Tag Abbott (Darren Barnet), actually does live in the same town, and Josh offers to set them up if she pretends to be his girlfriend for the holidays.
Love Hard sold itself as a modern Cyrano de Bergerac-style rom-com but it's actually pretty out of date. Its messages on beauty being skin deep feels half-hearted and all the online dating stuff feels like it was ripped straight out of 2009. It’s a disappointing waste of Nina Dobrev and Jimmy Yang, both of whom are far more charming than this material deserves.
21. A California Christmas: City Lights
Joseph and Callie are now in love and running a dairy farm and winery in the scenic rustic countryside of California. Their bliss is at risk, however, when business and family obligations call Joseph back to the city. Can their romance survive the drama of his former life, overwhelmed by his rich family's drama and his socialite friends, all of whom seem to be the polar opposite of the headstrong farm girl Callie.
22. Operation Christmas Drop
Erica (Kat Graham) is a dedicated and hard-working assistant to an ambitious Congresswoman. She's been shipped out to a U.S. Air Force base on the tiny island of Guam to find a reason to recommend its closure.
Her guide, Captain Andrew Jantz (Alexander Ludwig a.k.a. Cato from The Hunger Games) is eager to convince her otherwise and uses the real-life annual tradition of Operation Christmas Drop to help his case. This is one of the first movies filmed in Guam to receive wide distribution, and the locales are certainly very beautiful, but there’s little else to speak of.
23. Holiday in the Wild
After their son Luke leaves for college, Kate, played by Sex and the City's Kristin Davis, surprises her husband with a with a second honeymoon to Zambia, only for him to confess that he's no longer in love with her. Heartbroken, Kate decides to go on the trip alone anyway, and during her journey she meets Derek, played by Rob Lowe. He's a pilot who is dedicated to working with rescued elephants, but he also has a girlfriend.
Sparks, however, cannot help but fly. While it is nice to see one of these holiday romances focusing on a couple with an older combined age of 40, Davis and Lowe don't have much chemistry. It also feels hopelessly out of date to set a movie like this in Africa and have all the focus be on rich white Americans wanting an exotic locale for their fun.
24. Christmas Full of Grace
Christmas Full of Grace is a rare non-English festive rom-com on the Netflix roster, as this one comes to us via Brazil. Sergio Malheiros plays Carlos, one of the heirs to a major business empire who is ready to propose to his girlfriend. After discovering her sharing a clandestine bubble bath with another woman, he picks a total stranger, the clumsy but charming Graca, to be his festive date for his family dinner.
But unbeknownst to him, Graca is wild at heart and his buttoned-up family are not ready for her. Opposites attract romances are popular for a reason but here, you have no idea what the snooty bore Carlinhos and madwoman Graca see in one another. There's a lot of slapstick humor here but the majority of it falls flat. Endless screaming doesn't make a scene funny. None of these people or situations feel remotely real but they're not weird enough to be absurd. And to top it all off, the entire thing doesn't even festive enough to feel appropriately Christmassy.
25. A Christmas Prince: Royal Baby
First comes love, then comes marriage, then the baby. Of course the third Christmas Prince movie would include the arrival of the heir, and further drama that stretches the realms of believability. Christmas time in Aldovia brings with it the usual flurry of madness, as it's time to re-sign an ancient peace treaty between two former enemy nations right in the midst of a snowstorm.
The royals of two families are snowed in but someone's stolen the treaty, which threatens the return of an ancient curse, all before Queen Amber is ready to go into labor! Sadly, this third entry in the saga feels very phoned in. The cast seems bored of the material, there's little joy or even so-bad-its-good charm here. There's too much going on here, yet nothing happens. There's just no drama, not even the low stakes comforting kind.
26. Christmas on Mistletoe Farm
Matt (Scott Garnham) is a widowed father of five who unexpectedly inherits a picturesque farm in the country. Forced to uproot his professional city life to go rural, he struggles to fit in with small town folks and lack of Wi-Fi. His kids, however, are eager to stay at Mistletoe Farm and work to take on the evil developers who want to knock it down.
While it has a vague romantic element, Christmas at Mistletoe Farm seems to be aimed at families with young kids. It's broad in its humor, with every character as loud and irritating as humanly possible. Attempts at pathos are mawkish and every supporting character aims for funny but could have easily come from a horror film. The entire movie is also astonishingly cheap, even by Netflix holiday movie standards. Skip this one unless your life depends on it.
Featured Image: Dima Solomin / Unsplash