It’s December, the festive season is upon us, and while these are, in many ways, very different holidays than the ones we’re used to, one thing is certainly the same – Netflix has, as usual, graced us with a collection of seasonal movies and shows to get us in the holiday spirit like nothing else. Now, there’s a lot of Christmas content on the streaming platform, so no one would blame you for being overwhelmed by the options. But luckily for you, this is a handy guide to just some of the best and worst holiday specials Netflix has to offer so you know what's a hit and what to skip next time you want to get yourself in the holiday mood.
- Hit: Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
This movie, which stars Forest Whitaker as a fantastical inventor and toymaker, is refreshing for its primarily Black cast and centering of a traditionally underrepresented community in an instant holiday classic. But it also hits all the right beats of a big, splashy, Christmas fantasy spectacular.
The swinging soundtrack, the magical steampunk aesthetics, and a healthy sprinkle of that holiday magic make this the perfect viewing with a mug of hot chocolate and your family curled up on the couch.
- Skip: Holidate
So full disclosure, I actually quite enjoyed this Emma Roberts-starring raunchy rom-com, but the main reason it gets a “skip” designation is that despite how it’s advertised, it doesn’t really feel like a Christmas film. The story follows Sloane and Jackson, who meet after each having a disastrous Christmas due to their respective romantic dramas and decide to be each other’s “Holidates,” accompanying each other to every single holiday throughout the year.
Only the very beginning and very end of the film feel particularly festive, and while the film’s attempts to be a Bridesmaids-style dirty, potty-mouthed romp can be funny, it does at times seem to try too hard or come off as just plain crass. Still, the lead pair has chemistry, and it’s a fun enough watch overall.
- Hit: Dash & Lily
Okay, this isn’t technically a movie – it’s an eight-episode series adapted from David Levithan and Rachel Cohn’s 2010 YA novel, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares – but I couldn’t not put it on this list. This series leans all the way into the best of cheesy Christmas classic tropes, set against the most indulgent, charming NYC-in-the-festive-season backdrop.
The romance is a cute, quirky callback to the heyday of early 2010s YA when we were all furiously reblogging John Green quote art on Tumblr, and the moments of humour and heart sprinkled throughout the series like glitter will get you right in the Christmas spirit. Also, Nick Jonas serves as a producer on the show, so Jonas Brother fans may want to keep their eyes peeled…
- Skip: Operation Christmas Drop
Ugh, despite this being one of Netflix’s biggest Christmas releases, this was pretty bad. The film stars Kat Graham and Alexander Ludwig as Erica, a congressional assistant in D.C., and Andrew, an Air Force Captain stationed in Guam. Erica is sent to review the Air Force Base – from which Andrew runs an annual humanitarian mission called Operation Christmas Drop, delivering packages and supplies to remote communities – on behalf of her Congresswoman, who wants to shut it down.
The island setting makes this a lot beachier and more tropical than your average holiday flick, but the viewing experience is far from paradise. The whole movie smacks of white saviour-y tropes, with the native people of Guam placed mainly as background props waiting to shower gratitude on Andrew and the Americans for “saving” them. And moreover, the romance falls really flat – the characters don’t have much chemistry, and if anything the central love interest is neither Andrew nor Erica, but the US Military, which is what they both seem most in love with by the film’s end.
- Hit: Midnight at the Magnolia
This unassuming made-for-TV style Christmas flick turned out to be a bit of a hidden gem as far as Netflix’s Christmas offerings go. The second half of the film is pretty much indistinguishable from your standard Hallmark Christmas movie, complete with contrived drama and a questionable musical interlude, but the opening acts of the film are what lands it in the “Best” category.
The film is about Jack and Maggie, co-hosts of a popular Chicago radio show and best friends since high school, who decide to fake a relationship in order to boost their show’s popularity in the hopes of going national. Their chemistry as best friends is winning and surprisingly natural, and the film is genuinely heartwarming and funny, light and charming in just the way you want your Christmas fare to be.
- Skip: The Princess Switch: Switched Again
Full disclosure, I loved this viewing experience, especially because I watched it with my friends online, but it was absolutely bonkers. It takes more concentration than you’d expect to keep up with not one, not two, but three Vanessa Hudgenses all trading off disguising as each other, so if you want to keep up with any semblance of a plot, be forewarned that this requires way more effort than your standard Christmas fare – without delivering much more by way of quality. Still, if you want something to TeleParty with your friends and a glass of wine, this is a pretty entertaining candidate, if only because you’ll all bond trying to work out what’s going on and who on earth the current Vanessa is.
Ultimately, the secret to a good holiday movie isn’t even about the movie itself so much as how you watch it. Grab your favorite viewing buddies, whether you’re living with them or streaming together, don your favorite sweater, and pour out your favorite seasonal beverage – any holiday flick could become a new favorite!