Merry Christmas, ComicsVerse! It’s something of a tradition around here to dive into bad Christmas movies come December 1 and try to defend their existence to the public.

A CHRISTMAS PRINCE (and its counterpart, A PRINCE FOR CHRISTMAS) felt like an anomaly last year in the way it drew attention to the bad Christmas movie genre. This year our favorite networks have upped the ante and put out 63 new original holiday films. They even seem to be vying for who can make the worst movie — a task that has inspired (and cashed in on) the desire of many to find the absolute worst of the bunch.

But what does “worst” mean, really? People say that THE ROOM is the worst movie ever made, but it’s also a cult classic that has brought infinite joy to people’s lives. To me what really matters is the watchability of a movie. Google Docs is telling me that that isn’t a word, so let’s break it down.

Bad Christmas Movies: A Theory

If you were to make a graph of a movie’s watchability as a result of its quality, it would essentially be a parabola. Within that parabola, there is a threshold for which something is entirely unwatchable. Below that line is what I call the Pit of Unwatchability. It’s not the worst movies that fall in this pit, oh no. It’s the utterly mediocre. The bland premise with bland dialogue played out by bland actors.

Bad Christmas movies dance along this parabola, usually completely unaware of where they will fall. Some are genuinely decent movies (never good, but decent). Most walk the line of watchability. Some fall headfirst into the Pit. And every now and then you’ll get one that transcends its badness into utterly delightful terribleness.

Movies like THE ROOM or THE COVENANT or FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY are so unbelievably bad that they become watchable and rewatchable just to marvel in the terrible writing and the cringy acting. On the other hand, average movies like, say, most Nicholas Sparks ones become completely unwatchable because they stir no emotion whatsoever.

There are certainly some unwatchably bad Christmas movies this year, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. We’re here to rank the best — either from being good or from being bad. We’ll be using three criteria to judge this: premise (the more ridiculous the better), dialogue, and acting.

9. THE CHRISTMAS PACT

bad christmas movies
Kyla Pratt and Jarod Joseph in THE CHRISTMAS PACT. Courtesy of Lifetime.

Premise: Best friends Sadie (Kyla Pratt) and Ben (Jarod Joseph) plant a magic Christmas tree when they are eight years old and make a pact to revisit the tree every Christmas. As the year’s pass, the friends change and their lives get in the way of childhood friendship. And, of course, they fall in love (spoilers, but also not really because that’s how all bad Christmas movies end).

Rather than a straightforward plot, THE CHRISTMAS PACT uses a series of vignettes to tell its story. I really appreciate this more out-of-the-box choice to trace Sadie and Ben’s relationship. Unfortunately, it’s a more complicated narrative device and these kinds of movies just aren’t quite of the caliber to pull it off. The vignettes don’t take place at particular milestones, for the most part, and nothing really happens within them. I need more drama in my bad Christmas movies.

Dialogue: The dialogue is not good. Everyone speaks in cliches and apparently scripts out all their conversations in advance. And it doesn’t quite reach the level of charming that some entries on this list do.

Acting: I will never be able to hear Kyla Pratt speak without hearing Penny Proud, but she is actually quite a delightful actress. She and Joseph are convincing as friends more than budding lovers but they are perfectly pleasant to watch at all stages. They do the best they can with the material they are given and bring the Christmas cheer that I want from these movies.

Watchability level: 4/10

8. THE CHRISTMAS CONTRACT

bad christmas movies
Hilarie Burton and Robert Buckley in THE CHRISTMAS CONTRACT. Courtesy of Lifetime.

Premise: Jolie (Hilarie Burton), a web designer, is returning to her hometown in Lousiana after breaking up with her boyfriend, who now has a new girlfriend. Jack (Robert Buckley) has to ghostwrite a romance novel set in Louisiana so he can publish his original work. So they devise a contract: Jack pretends to be Jolie’s boyfriend for Christmas while he writes his book and Jolie creates a website to promote his novel. Fake romance turns to real romance, miscommunication happens, et cetera.

I love a good trope (see my thoughts on TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE), but THE CHRISTMAS CONTRACT never quite follows all the way through. There’s so much to be done with the dating contract idea, but the contract itself disappears for a good majority of the movie. The fake dating never quite reaches that level of pulling-your-hair-out, “You should obviously just date for real!” romantic tension. It’s a decent premise, but not well enacted.

Dialogue: At first, these characters are a little insufferable because of the dialogue they are given. Jack is pretentious as all get out and Jolie is painfully insecure. But over time they both soften and I didn’t notice the dialogue one way or the other.

Acting: The actors are the main appeal of this movie. It’s a mini ONE TREE HILL reunion, with Burton, Buckley, Antwon Tanner, Danneel Ackles, and Tyler Hilton all involved. Nostalgia is certainly a Christmasy emotion and since the actors know each other, their chemistry feels warm and welcoming.

Watchability level: 5/10

7. THE HOLIDAY CALENDAR

bad christmas movies
Kat Graham and Ethan Peck in THE HOLIDAY CALENDAR. Courtesy of Netflix.

Premise: Abby (Kat Graham) inherits a magic advent calendar that predicts her future. She thinks it has brought her the love of her life, but maybe he was there all along… (It’s her best friend, I know shocking.)

The magic advent calendar is at least an original premise, but like THE CHRISTMAS CONTRACT it is dropped pretty early on and not used to its full potential. It all comes together in the end, but it doesn’t quite feel earned. The most enjoyable part to me was that the calendar initially let Abby towards the “nice guy,” who ends up not exactly being that nice, as women have been saying for years. So its semi-progressive politics are redeeming.

Dialogue: It’s charmingly bad. Maybe it’s because it was the first bad Christmas movie I watched this year, but I didn’t mind the cheese factor and straight-to-the-point exposition that may have grated on me in other movies.

Acting: The acting adds to the charming-if-trite nature of this movie. Graham and Quincy Brown (the best friend) have good chemistry in friendship and in romance, and there are subtle differences they bring to the two stages. Ethan Peck (the nice guy, Ty) is some good eye candy — a spitting image of his grandfather, Gregory — and hits the nail on the head for that condescending good guy vibe. The acting is never quite good, but it’s solid.

Watchability level: 5/10

6. A CHRISTMAS ARRANGEMENT

bad christmas movies
Two live human beings and definitely not mannequins, Nicky Whelan and Miles Fisher in A CHRISTMAS ARRANGEMENT. Courtesy of Lifetime.

Premise: The first of our “so bad it’s good” movies! Poppy (Nicky Whelan) owns a flower shop (yeah, really — her name is Poppy and she does flowers). She enters the Christmas Floral Show to help her struggling business and faces off against Garrett (Miles Fisher), a protege of her main business competitor. Amidst the beautiful flowers and beautiful Christmas scenery, these beautiful people find love, I guess.

This premise is classic bad Christmas movie. You could replace “flower show” with basically anything: baking competition, talent show, selling real estate, whatever. It all plays out the same way. And that’s why we love it so much.

Dialogue: Not as cliche as a movie about flowers could be. It’s stilted and generic, but every now and then you’ll get a gem like, “It’s dogwood eat dogwood” in the floral industry. For some reason, all the dialogue sounds like bad ADR, adding to the overall uncanniness of the acting.

Acting: Ok, here’s where we get into the exceptional badness of this movie. Every choice these two actors make is just wrong. I only get Patrick Bates serial killer vibes from Fisher. Even when he’s trying to be charming and romantic, it reads as luring his prey into his trap to me. Because he and his love interest are also competitors, it then becomes hard to tell if he’s actually interested in her or if he’s just trying to mess with the competition. When he’s not being terrifying or emotionally confusing, he just comes across as an entitled whiny man baby.

And I love it.

Watchability level: 6/10

5. CHRISTMAS HARMONY

bad christmas movies
Sally Struthers, Kelley Jakle, and Adam Mayfield in CHRISTMAS HARMONY. Courtesy of Lifetime.

Premise: Get out your Bad Christmas Movie Bingo cards, because this one’s a doozy. Harmony (Kelley Jakle), a songwriter, (an on-the-nose name, check) gets dumped by her boyfriend (check) and returns to her hometown (check) at the urging of her over-enthusiastic best friend (check) where she confronts her daddy issues (check) and her dead mom (check), and finds out what love really is (check) with the help of a charismatic child actor (check). Also there’s a lot of unnecessary music-related scenes and the overall cinematography is often indistinguishable from a car commercial.

If it weren’t so poorly executed, this premise would be unbearably boring. The ex-boyfriend is just the worst and the new romantic interest is just the perfect man, allegedly, and Harmony is just so average. It’s those contrasts that make a bad Christmas movie so great.

Dialogue: Surprise, surprise — it’s bad. I’ll give the writers credit in that each character sounds different in terms of dialogue, so there is some development there. But there is no actual variety for each character, so everyone essentially says the same thing over and over again.

Acting: Not the worst of the bunch, to be honest. Jakle is really annoying, but that’s as much due to the writing as to the acting. The ex comes across as emotionally abusive rather than just a dick, but again that’s largely in the writing. The saving grace is the supporting characters: Aden Schwartz as the kid who facilitates the leads’ relationship, and of course GREY’S ANATOMY’s Chandra Wilson and GILMORE GIRLS’ Sally Struthers.

Watchability level: 6/10

4. THE TRUTH ABOUT CHRISTMAS

bad christmas movies
Kali Hawk and Damon Dayoub in THE TRUTH ABOUT CHRISTMAS. Courtesy of Freeform.

Premise: Jillian (Kali Hawk) is a political consultant running her boyfriend George’s (Damon Dayoub)  upcoming campaign for mayor. She lies her way out of problems with ease, until Santa makes it so that she is incapable of lying, just in time to meet George’s family.

We’re back into the actually kind of good batch of movies. This is a smart premise for a movie because compulsive truth-telling is a comedy classic and it gives the actors a chance to shine. In addition, this movie aired on Freeform, which generally has a younger audience and is free to be a touch edgier than Hallmark or Lifetime originals. The more creative concept is aided by that extra freedom, so it doesn’t feel as artificially sanitized as other bad Christmas movies.

Dialogue: Dare I say it is actually good? No, I daren’t. But it isn’t bad. It doesn’t always go for the obvious choice the way a lesser movie would. Even when Jillian has to tell the truth, she doesn’t stop at just the bare minimum. She goes for the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in what feels like a fun writing exercise for the screenwriters. The moments of comedy are much more satisfying than the moments of drama, but it’s well-directed enough to find a healthy balance between the two.

Acting: Again, actually not half bad. The movie as a whole is a comedy rather than a drama and Hawk is clearly comfortable in that arena. Her take on her compulsive truth-telling adds an extra layer to the dialogue, but she also drives home her character’s personal growth. She’s easy to watch, which is probably the most important thing in a bad Christmas movie.

Watchability level: 7/10

3. THE PRINCESS SWITCH

bad christmas movies
Vanessa Hudgens and Sam Palladio in THE PRINCESS SWITCH. Courtesy of Netflix.

Premise: Stacy (Vanessa Hudgens) is competing in a baking contest in the fictional country of Belgravia. She runs into Lady Margaret (also Vanessa Hudgens), who is engaged to the prince of Belgravia and just happens to look exactly like her. They switch places to see how the other half lives and, you guessed it, find love in the process.

This isn’t a new concept by any means, but it’s always a crowd pleaser. This particular movie is one part THE PARENT TRAP and one part THE PRINCESS DIARIES, which is a surprisingly good combo. It never quite makes the most of its concept (it still thinks the “Look! They’re shaking hands! How did they do that?” thing is shocking). But it allows for fabulous costumes half the time and some Christmas sentimentality the other half.

Dialogue: The writing is not smart enough to pull off the concept, either. But it’s unoffensively trite, the exact level of cheesy that we expect.

Acting: Vanessa Hudgens is a weird choice for this role because she isn’t exactly a star but she’s also not a good enough actress to pull off the role. She doesn’t bring nuance to her split roles. Looking at Lindsey Lohan in THE PARENT TRAP, she managed to bring distinct personalities to the two characters and to create another layer in one pretending to be the other. Hudgens just falls a little flat.

Luckily, we have another charismatic child actor to save the day. Alexa Adeosun plays Stacy’s partner’s daughter and she is the heart, soul, and brain of this movie. She gets the best lines and does the most with them. I won’t say she saves the movie, but she certainly helps its watchability.

Watchability level: 7/10

2. NO SLEEP TIL CHRISTMAS

bad christmas movies
Dave and Odette Annable in NO SLEEP TIL CHRISTMAS. Courtesy of Freeform.

Premise: Lizzie (Odette Annable) and Billy (Dave Annable) are insomniacs who can only fall asleep around each other. They are also strangers, that is until Lizzie hits Billy with her car and their sleeping arrangement is born. The problem: Lizzie is getting married on New Year’s Eve and won’t tell her fiance about Billy. Will sleeping with someone else still ruin her relationship, even if she’s not sleeping with him?

This premise is bananas and I love it. It’s such specific nonsense but it has just enough of that sprinkling of Christmas magic that I can still buy into it. It has a bit of that classic Hollywood vibe in that it’s all a thinly veiled metaphor for sex, which is refreshing for a bad Christmas movie. The only drawback is that, on the whole, it isn’t very Christmasy. It’s more of a straightforward rom-com.

Dialogue: These people talk like people, which I appreciate. It’s a low bar, I know, but the minimal cliches and overwrought dialogue are rare. Like THE TRUTH ABOUT CHRISTMAS, it’s a Freeform original, so they can make the obvious “sleeping together” jokes and they do so effectively.

Acting: The main actors are married in real life and their chemistry makes the movie. I actually felt emotions, which never happens during these movies. They are accompanied by some great sidekicks, too, Lizzie by her very involved lesbian assistant and Billy by his married friends and their adorable daughter. Lizzie’s mother-in-law-to-be is a formidable frenemy, as well.

Watchability level: 8/10

1. CHRISTMAS PERFECTION

bad christmas movies
A very sane person, Catilin Thompson, in CHRISTMAS PERFECTION. Courtesy of Lifetime.

Premise: Darcy (Caitlin Thompson) is obsessed with achieving Christmas perfection, which includes the perfect toy Christmas village. When a piece of the village breaks, she wakes up inside her village. Her parents are still married, she has the man of her dreams, and everyone is Irish. But perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

This movie is one part A CHRISTMAS CAROL, one part GROUNDHOG DAY, and one part THE GOOD PLACE. It’s a crazy hodgepodge that’s so bad it works. It’s one of those movies where if you changed the score you could easily make it a horror movie. The “perfection” of the village is terrifying and the actors’ accents are confusing (some are actually Irish but have to be American in the real-life segments, and vice versa). The “perfect” boyfriend, Tom, sounds like a sociopath when he’s Irish, despite trying to be charming. It’s bonkers and it’s great.

Dialogue: If you’re playing the at-home drinking game, take a sip of eggnog every time they say “perfect.” Then you’ll be drunk enough to enjoy this dialogue. There’s a certain level of self-awareness to the campiness which makes it tolerable, but it’s still so bad it’s good.

Acting: At first I thought this movie would be unwatchable because Darcy’s perfectionism was so grating. But once she’s in the village, Thompson taps into some kind of unhinged performance that is wonderful. Darcy loses her mind while coming to her realizations about perfection and Christmas and flaws. It is so much fun to watch so long as you don’t try to take any of it seriously. The contrast of her slow descent into madness with the constant stiltedness of everyone else is just perfection.

Watchability level: 9/10

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