Hallmark Christmas movies remain as cozy as ever, with tree-lighting, cookie-decorating and magical snowfall still the currency of the realm. But since the arrival of Wonya Lucas as the new CEO of Hallmark Media (formerly Crown Media) in 2020, the network’s offerings have branched out in many ways: Lots more diversity, of course — including, this year, Hallmark’s first holiday romance centered on a same-sex relationship and the network’s first film focused on Kwanzaa — but also new and different plots.
The memes (about stressed big-city women finding love with a small-town hunk, not to mention Hallmark’s design clichés) show no sign of dying, but the movies themselves don’t always match the traditional roadmap. Two of this year’s new movies didn’t end with a kiss, a change previously unthinkable in Hallmark-land.
How do I know all of this? Because, as a veteran viewer of the network’s seasonal entertainment, I watched all 43 new 2022 Hallmark holiday movies (including the three that premiered in July on Hallmark Channel and the nine that premiered on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries during the holiday season.) Your aunt’s mileage may vary, but here’s my ranking of this new crop of cozy classics:
43. “Christmas Bedtime Stories”
What starts out as a decent romance between a widow (Erin Cahill) and an old friend (Steve Lund) — Disney animation has nothing on Hallmark when it comes to dead parents and spouses — takes a hard turn into Crazytown in the last five minutes with a happy ending that’s shameless even by Hallmark standards.
42. “My Grown-Up Christmas List”
This love story between a soldier (Kevin McGarry, “When Calls the Heart”) and his girl (Kayla Wallace, McGarry’s real-life partner) suffers from terrible writing and a lack of chemistry. (A common occurrence among actual couples who act together.) Our leads fall for each other after having known each other a few days, there’s a whole lost-in-combat plotline that makes zero sense, and it culminates (spoiler!) in an outdoor wedding in the middle of winter, at which all the attendees look utterly miserable.
41. “The Most Colorful Time of the Year”
Why is a schoolteacher (Christopher Russell) so grumpy at Christmastime? Because he’s color-blind. But not the regular kind — he has an exceedingly rare condition in which he sees everything only in black and white. Along comes optometrist Katrina Bowden to the rescue, whether he wants her to or not.
40. “Long Lost Christmas”
Taylor Cole and Benjamin Ayres make a great on-screen couple, but they’re saddled with a ridiculous plot about Cole’s character searching for her lost uncle. It’s the kind of movie that would be over in two minutes if everyone just came out and said what was on their minds.
39. “A Royal Corgi Christmas”
Hallmark has scored in the past with movies about cute animals and movies set in English-speaking Ruritanian kingdoms, but the two flavors don’t mix in this cheap-looking, nonsensical love story.
38. “A Magical Christmas Village”
Now that “Bros” has given Luke Macfarlane the opportunity to show his range, this movie (co-starring Alison Sweeney and Marlo Thomas) looks to be his last Hallmark effort for a while, so it’s too bad “Village” is such a depressing compendium of clichés and nonsensical characters.
37. “Inventing the Christmas Prince”
Or, “Inventing an HR Nightmare”: Grumpy boss Ronnie Rowe must pretend to be a mythical Christmas prince to charm the daughter of an aerospace engineer (Tamera Mowry-Housley) he wants to retain. It’s the kind of weird tonal mishmash that has a NASA-type agency being run out of what looks like a mini-mall.
36. “A Christmas Cookie Catastrophe”
Hard-boiled CEO Rachel Boston tries to recreate her grandmother’s legendary cookie recipe with the help of widowed baker Victor Webster, and it works only because of the heavy lifting by a charming ensemble.
35. “Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas”
The latest in one of two Hallmark franchises based on sappy country songs features another committed performance by Tyler Hynes but gets bogged down in some of the most contrived “misunderstood overheard conversation” tropes Hallmark can muster.
34. “When I Think of Christmas”
aka “The One I Don’t Think Of from This Year’s Christmas Movies” — there’s nothing wrong per se with this tale of ex-lovers and ex–singing partners (Shenae Grimes-Beech and Niall Matter) reconnecting after years apart, but boy does it smack of pre-2020 Hallmark.
33. “Christmas Class Reunion”
There’s a valiant attempt at a different kind of storytelling, and an appealing cast (led by Aimee Teegarden and Tanner Novlan), but the whole thing gets subsumed by contrivances and character choices that defy logic.
32. “Undercover Holiday”
What if a Hallmark fake-boyfriend movie were also “The Bodyguard”? Pop star Noemi Gonzalez returns home and passes off security professional Stephen Huszar as her fella, and the results are middling.
31. “A Maple Valley Christmas”
Some mature themes sneak in — a wealthy character recalls his dysfunctional family Christmases as including “Bailey’s on cornflakes” — but this is otherwise a by-the-numbers romance between a rancher (Peyton List) and the city guy (Andrew Walker) who wants to buy her land.
30. “Christmas in Toyland”
One of those movies that asks you to forget everything you know about how toy-store chains operate, but if you can shove reality aside, there’s a not-bad romance between numbers-cruncher Vanessa Lengies and starry-eyed retailer Jesse Hutch.
29. “A Fabled Holiday”
A handful of adults who find their lives at an impasse make their way to a Christmas village they all recognize from a storybook; another big swing, by Hallmark standards, but leads Brooke D’Orsay and Ryan Paevey are miscast as, respectively, a motor-mouthed neurotic and a tortured MD.
28. “Our Italian Christmas Memories”
The grandchildren of a man (Beau Bridges) slowly losing his battle with dementia encourage him to find their grandmother’s legendary sauce recipe. Some of the sentimentality on display works, but the big-hand-gesture Italianisms start to feel insincere.
27. “My Southern Family Christmas”
A strong cast — including Jaicy Elliot, Ryan Rottman, Moira Kelly and Bruce Campbell — run headlong into a gumbo-pot of contrivances and head-scratching decisions in yet another searching-for-my-lost-relative plot, this one set in Louisiana.
26. “A Cozy Christmas Inn”
For all the delight of seeing a Candace Cameron Bure movie without the former Hallmark queen — Jodie Sweetin joins most of the rest of the cast of 2014’s “Christmas Under Wraps” — this one’s a fairly hokey retread.
25. “The Royal Nanny”
You can’t say this one’s not trying to break the Hallmark mold — it’s about a spy with MI5 going undercover as a nanny for the royal family — but it’s rarely as fun as its high concept would suggest.
24. “We Need a Little Christmas”
Definitely gets points for 1) not ending with a kiss, since the lead character is a recently widowed mom who’s just opening herself up to the idea of dating again and 2) giving Lynn Whitfield a juicy role as a supportive neighbor who’s also an accomplished stage magician. Otherwise, it’s just fine.
23. “Holiday Heritage”
Hallmark’s first Kwanzaa movie is a step in the right direction, particularly in how it explains the holiday without dragging the proceedings to an expositional halt, but neither the family dynamics nor the love story leap off the page.
22. “A Tale of Two Christmases”
A “Sliding Doors” variation, in which Katherine Barrell gets a peek at spending the holidays with hometown pal Chandler Massey and with office crush Evan Roderick, offers up some ski-lodge grandeur but doesn’t quite stick the complicated landing.
21. “The Gift of Peace”
Hallmark’s first movie branded to their DaySpring line treads further into faith-based storytelling than usual, and it lands without too much sermonizing, thanks to engaging romantic leads Nikki DeLoach (who, despite her comedic talents, seems to be the network’s Queen of Grief) and Brennan Elliott, backed by several Hallmark-fave character actors, including Cardi Wong and Beverley Elliott.
20. “All Saints Christmas”
Another pop star with a fake boyfriend, but this time it’s Ledisi and Roger Cross — between the jazz music and farcical shenanigans, the results are fairly fun.
19. “We Wish You a Married Christmas”
Strained married couple Marisol Nichols and Kristoffer Polaha rediscover each other when they get stuck at a cozy B&B in an idyllic town; it’s a mix of bold choices, honest character moments and wild contrivances, but it mostly works, particularly thanks to a scene-stealing supporting turn by Brian Sills as a hotelier.
18. “Noel Next Door”
Natalie Hall and Corey Sevier do the “we hate each other” / “we love each other” deal in this story of a grump and his charming neighbor, and they’re charismatic enough to make it work.
17. “The Holiday Stocking”
A recently-deceased man returns to Earth as an angel (B.J. Britt) to mend fences between his long-estranged sisters (Tamala Jones, Nadine Ellis), and while most of the sentimentality lands, there are some plot turns that would have benefited greatly from another draft of the script.
16. “Campfire Christmas”
This rare summertime Christmas movie, about a camp reunion, frequently felt new and different, not the least for featuring a queer subplot involving rivals-turned-boyfriends Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman and Alec Santos.
Hallmark has never had the best luck when trying to tackle contemporary technology (case in point, this movie has a title that’s next to impossible to Google), but this social-media spin on “Christmas in Connecticut” felt shockingly up-to-date.
14. “Five More Minutes: Moments Like These”
Another country-song-inspired series, another grieving widow, but this one benefits from Ashley Williams, usually one of Hallmark’s most reliable comic performers, injecting wit and life into a story that could have been a sappy bummer. (Her palpable chemistry with Lucas Bryant helps, too.)
13. “Christmas at the Golden Dragon”
The only thing wrong with this story about a family closing down their venerable Chinese restaurant was an excess of ambition; “Golden Dragon” tries to weave together several overlapping stories, “Love Actually”–style, and it’s more than it can handle. The central family story is an absolute winner, though.
12. “In Merry Measure”
Former high-school rivals Patti Murin and Brendan Penny come together as choir directors who decide to work together rather than in competition, and as much as that sounds like an old-Hallmark premise, the writing and performances elevate this to a whole other level.
11. “A Kismet Christmas”
There’s a temptation to eye-roll a lot of this story — about a magical cookie recipe that lets people dream of their true love — but the granular moments of the relationship between Sarah Ramos and Carlo Marks prompts a great deal of forgiveness for some of the sillier script choices.
10. “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”
This is a Hallmark movie that tries to throw its arms around a lot of ideas — it’s about two people falling in love while staging a play that debates the authorship of “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” and the ghost of Clement Clark Moore shows up — but it all somehow comes together, thanks mainly to the chemistry between leads Torrey DeVitto and Zane Holtz.
9. “A Holiday Spectacular”
If you’re willing to accept some historical inaccuracies — this period piece integrates the Radio City Rockettes several decades before it really happened — this ambitious movie mixes epic scale for Hallmark (shooting inside and onstage at the real Radio City) with lovely, old-fashioned romance.
8. “A Big Fat Family Christmas”
Along with “Christmas at the Golden Dragon,” this was Hallmark’s other Asian-American–centric holiday movie, and this ensemble piece mixed San Francisco detail with some charming performances (let the Tia Carrere-assaince begin) and typically assured direction from Jennifer Liao.
7. “Lights, Camera, Christmas!”
Hallmark goes meta with a Christmas movie that takes place on the set of a Christmas movie — at last, an excuse for those fake-looking snowballs — providing an opportunity for John Brotherton and the ebullient Kimberley Sustad to demonstrate their rom-com chops.
6. “Jolly Good Christmas”
The decision to make British actor Will Kemp do an American accent notwithstanding, this London-set Hallmark movie (which paired Kemp with Reshma Shetty) was a real delight, making some of the best use of location settings ever seen on the network.
5. “The Holiday Sitter”
Hallmark made history by finally, in 2022, giving us a Christmas movie with a love story between two men (played by Jonathan Bennett and George Krissa); just about everything else about this rom-com plays it safe, but that was no doubt an intentional strategy so as not to overwhelm Hallmark viewers with too much shock-of-the-new.
4. “Hanukkah on Rye”
It’s a big bowl of “Shop Around the Corner” with a dollop of “Crossing Delancey,” but with lovely lead turns by Yael Grobglas and Jeremy Jordan, a sprightly screenplay by Hallmark vet Julie Sherman Wolfe and a brand new Hanukkah song by Lisa Loeb, what’s not to like?
3. “Haul Out the Holly”
The “com” half of Hallmark rom-coms very often dies on the vine, but this tale about a homeowners’ association and its emphatic rules about excess decoration delivered genuine laughs; it certainly helped to have comedy vets like Stephen Tobolowsky and Melissa Peterman backing up charismatic romantic leads Lacey Chabert (cementing her Hallmark Christmas Queen status) and Wes Brown.
2. “Ghosts of Christmas Always”
Like this year’s “Spirited,” “Ghosts” tackles the behind-the-scenes bureaucracy of all those Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet-to-Come who visit every Christmas in the hopes of redeeming humanity’s worse. It’s a great example of Hallmark switching things up and telling different types of stories, right up there with…
- “Three Wise Men and a Baby”
Popular “hunks of Hallmark” Tyler Hynes, Andrew Walker and Paul Campbell unite in this comedy (scripted by Campbell and Kimberley Sustad) as estranged brothers forced to come together when they suddenly find themselves taking care of an infant over Christmas. Old Hallmark habits die hard (all three siblings have love interests before the final fade-out), but this charmer was as far as away from “overworked city lady plans a Christmas party with a hunky widow who owns a pick-up truck” as you could get.