Christmas is in less than a week…can you believe it? I can’t. And it’s hard to believe 2021 is almost over. I’m not going to make any predictions about 2022. I tried that with 2021 and it was still a roller coaster, although not as much as 2020. It’s probably safer to just see what happens, I guess.
Naturally, we’re all in the thick of decorating, getting out of school, shopping, going to parties, maybe building a gingerbread house.
And watching Christmas movies.
Yeah, speaking of which, who hasn’t noticed how formulaic Christmas movies are? They’re like biopics that way, only Christmas movies rarely win Oscars.
Actually, they might be closer to horror films, except they aren’t scary and there’s no Last Girl Standing. More like Last Family Smiling. Or Last Couple Kissing.
Oh, let us count the tropes. There’s always a tree, decorated or not. There are mountains of cookies and delectable feasts. There’s always a kid wanting a certain toy or maybe a pet. There might be a workaholic relative or main character. There’s a montage or two. There’s always a reunion with family members or old friends and a return to the past. There’s always at least one troubled soul. There’s always a beloved business or tradition to save. There might be a ghost. There’s always snow and playing in snow. There’s always a mishap or five, large or small. There’s always a break with the mundane. There’s always a “Bah! Humbug,” element somewhere. Finally, there’s always redemption, typically laced with smiles and hugs. And it all happens to lilting music punctuated by bell choirs and jingle bells.
Whew. Yep. We’ve gone down this road many, many times.
Even movies that seem to break the mold, like say, Home Alone, end up following this formula to some extent, with the protagonists ending up better off than when they started. Sure, there are Christmas movies out there with less than idyllic endings, but they’re not going to ruin anyone’s mood.
Christmas movies date back to 1898 (here’s a list of some of them), when, in the short entitled, Santa Claus, Father Christmas visits two children who stay up waiting for him. In traditional fashion, he doesn’t arrive until they’ve both fallen asleep, because the mystique must be preserved. Other very early films include retellings of A Christmas Carol and The Night Before Christmas, but it was also when the Let’s Set A Trap For Santa trope came about.
The question is, why do filmmakers keep making Christmas movies? This is not often discussed in the movie world, although Hollywood’s overall history can be traced in holiday films, so I’m going to take a gander:
As long as they include at least some of the expected elements, they don’t require a ton of originality.
Christmas movie scripts can be written without much reliance on making up characters from scratch, which means rapid churn-out. Content hounds like Netflix, Lifetime, and Amazon Prime love that, although they’ve got nothing on Hallmark, the grand pumbah of Christmas movies.
They’re relatively cheap to make.
With some exceptions, the average Christmas movie has no guns, no car chases, and very few explosions (if any), so they’re easy on the budget. An entire Hallmark Christmas movie costs a lot less to make than a single episode of the average TV show. Most of the cast wear regular clothes or easily-constructed felt and wool suits. Locations can be pre-existing and recognizable, such as Rockefeller Center. Snow is inexpensive, and depending on the location of the shoot, completely free (They’re often filmed in Canada). They’re also quick–the average Hallmark movie takes three weeks to shoot.
And let’s face it: A lot of Christmas movies take place in home environments with items that can be found at any retailer. No one’s going to construct a casserole dish from scratch when they can easily buy one at Big Lots. 🙂
The subject matter is more than safe for most audiences.
Christmas movies are the Magic Erasers of the movie world because they’re clean (Black Christmas doesn’t count). There might be a grinch here and there, but for the most part, everyone minds their manners.
Santa, trees, snow, coziness, madcap hijinks, happy endings…what’s not to like?
They’re big business. Massive, colossal, gargantuan business.
Christmas movies always do well, whether they’re features or of the streaming and cable variety. The first two Home Alone movies and the last two Grinch movies are the highest-grossing Christmas films of all time, raking in millions of dollars. And I hate to keep harping on Hallmark, but their movies never fail to get great ratings.
(On a side note, these movies are also ripe for parody and satire. One of my favorite recent discoveries is a 2019 TV movie entitled A Christmas Movie Christmas that both skewers and celebrates the genre. It’s a cute and cringe-y film that I’ll have to review someday.)
Even though Christmas movies are formulaic, a lot of us look forward to going back to them. When I started planning and researching this post, I was feeling kinda blah about getting ready for Christmas. I won’t go into specifics, but I’ll just call it lethargy.
It only took a few minutes of The Nightmare Before Christmas before I felt my knots untying and started looking forward to the season. It was like downing a really good hot chocolate.
These movies might be predictable and formulaic, but they’re also comforting. Even though they’re not going to win many awards, if any, they serve an important purpose, and that’s more than good enough. They inspire goodwill and reconciliation, plus they’re a nice tradition of the holiday season.
Another post is coming up tomorrow. Thanks for reading, all, and merry Christmas…
Films featured in this article can be seen on various platforms or are available from Amazon:
- While You Were Sleeping (1995) (DVD only)
- Christmas In Connecticut (1944) (DVD only)
- A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding (2017) (Netflix)
- The Christmas Chronicles (2018) (Netflix)
- The Night Before Christmas (1905) (YouTube only)
- The Twelve Dates of Christmas (2011) (Free to stream for Prime customers)
- Home Alone (1990) (DVD and Blu-ray)
- The Preacher’s Wife (1997) (DVD and Blu-ray)
- Elf (2004) (DVD and Blu-ray)
- Dr. Seuss’s ‘The Grinch’ (2018) (DVD and Blu-ray)
- A Christmas Movie Christmas (2019) (DVD or free to stream for Prime customers)
- Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938) (DVD only)
- White Christmas (1954) (DVD and Blu-ray)
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