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Ranking Netflix Original Holiday Films From Worst To Best

The Christmas lights are twinkling, the eggnog is flowing, and the mistletoe has been hung with care. What's missing from this picture? A fabulous holiday movie, of course — and Netflix, that omnipresent purveyor of streaming entertainment, is here to provide. But we're not talking about old favorites like A Christmas Story or Die Hard. We're talking about Netflix's original content, and all the ball gowns, liquor stores, and European baking championships they've seen fit to stuff into their wealth of holiday films.

The last few years have seen quite a few additions to the category — some of them, like A Christmas Prince, making headlines for their impressive success. But how does the twinkly-eyed viewer looking to put on their favorite pajamas and indulge in some cinematic cheer decide which of Netflix's offerings are worth spending their finite seasonal time on? By joining us as we rank them from worst to best, of course! From identical cousins to magical advent calendars, we're here to point you toward the endearingly twee and away from the cynically disappointing. Here's a look at some of the most memorable Netflix holiday movies, ranked from worst to best.

A Christmas Inheritance

One can imagine A Christmas Inheritance being assembled in a factory more easily than the idea that it's an actual story, written by actual people, attempting provoke actual emotions. No, the image of it being assembled by robotic arms comes far more readily: There goes the heartless heiress down the conveyor belt to her ever-so-charming hometown, here comes the good-hearted artist who will teach her how to love, and finally, down sprinkles a dusting of the True Meaning of Christmas, Which is Love Instead of City-Slicker Success. 

It's not just rote, following a formula passed down from the hallowed halls of Career Gal Learns A Lesson films — check out the entire Hallmark Original catalog for variations upon that particular theme — it's outright heartless. We watch Ellen, set to inherit a boodle from her father's gift empire. We know she's going to learn about the importance of friendship, community, and selfless love. She does. Who cares? Not the audience, and seemingly not even the talent behind the movie. Even the worst schlock often comes with real feeling behind it, a passion that even skeptical audiences can engage with — how else would we have guilty pleasures? But one senses that the cast and crew of A Christmas Inheritance were sleepwalking through the motions to get this story done and dusted. Ellen learns a lesson in love, but audiences will only learn how to more efficiently fast-forward.

The Holiday Calendar

Christmas is steeped in fantasy. There is, of course, Santa Claus — symbol of a spirit that entertains children and ennobles adults — but beyond him are the many varied stories, fables, and myths we've woven into the Christmas season, from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to a truly immense wealth of TV specials. We love Christmas in large part because it takes us away from reality for a while. The Holiday Calendar begins in this spirit, then promptly trips over its own conceit.

Photographer Abby is feeling low about her life when her grandfather gives her an antique advent calendar. Suddenly, she's torn between a handsome boyfriend and the best friend who's been there for her for years — and the calendar somehow seems to be able to predict the events of her life. It is, of course, a Christmas miracle, and Abby does, of course, end up with the warm friend of her youth instead of the flashy doctor. It's fine. It's cute. It's a nice little dose of magic. But that's just about all it is, and in being so utterly safe, its fantasy falls flat. Kat Graham, at least, is charming as Abby, but one wishes she'd been given something truly fabulous to sink her teeth into. Christmas is the time to go all-out on stories of flying reindeer and tiny, toy-making elves — leave the mildly noteworthy wooden cabinets home where they belong.

El Camino Christmas

Right out of the gate, El Camino Christmas establishes itself as something different. The story of Eric, a young man in search of his father, is sparked with action that mostly involves the accidental standoff situation he creates in a barricaded liquor store. El Camino Christmas desperately wants to convince you of its offbeat charm, pitched perilously between the realities of life on the edge and a genuine, if hard-won sense of holiday hope. Fall in love with these misfits, the movie demands, and revel in how sharply they're contrasted against the saccharine excess of other Christmas films! 

It's a deeply cynical movie, but not quite smart enough to get away with it — instead of being a wicked uppercut to the jaw of mainstream cheese, El Camino Christmas is petulant, even a little juvenile. A stronger script could have mended this rent in the fabric of the film, as the performances are strong and one gets a sense of actors doing the absolute best they can with the material provided. But in the end, the story is tattered: too many ideas, too little structure to keep it all together. If you're the sort of person who balks at snowglobes and mistletoe, get your iconoclastic Christmas fix from standbys like Die Hard or Tokyo Godfathers instead.

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

Any sequel has its work cut out for it, but one for A Christmas Prince has an especially hard road to hoe. After all, Prince is a cheeseball delight, as honest about its schmaltz as it about its romance. That's a delicate balance to maintain, between sly irony and earnest celebration — few can do it without plunging into either smarmy sarcasm or tiresome tropes. It's no surprise, then, that Prince couldn't quite top itself. The Royal Wedding knows its strengths, but in merely re-emphasizing them, the audience's patience is tested beyond the breaking point.

Journalist Amber, in love with the Aldovian Prince Richard, is still the Converse-sporting, vase-breaking peasant with a heart of gold she was in the first film. Richard is still the dashing prince-turned-king. But now, economic turmoil and the stifling demands of protocol threaten to snuff the couple's passion out before it can be officiated — which, of course, it is, when protocol bends to Amber's lovably modern ways, and the failure of Richard's New Aldovia growth initiative is revealed to be the fault of a scheming Lord who is thrown into a literal dungeon. It's all perfectly okay, but it doesn't dare to dream of the dizzyingly soapy heights the first movie scaled. Where are the allegorical tree ornaments? The secret proclamations of dead kings? The wolves that apparently live in the palace's backyard? Nowhere to be found — and the movie is weaker for it.

A Very Murray Christmas

A Very Murray Christmas manages to shepherd an absolute parade of stars down the narrow path of its story. When Murray's planned Christmas special is cancelled due to a smothering snowstorm, he wanders the Carlyle Hotel is despair — but the building is packed with charming individuals just waiting for Murray to sweep them into his magical embrace and leave them better than he found them. He sings songs with a waitress played by Jenny Lewis and a lounge singer played by Maya Rudolph, unites a bride and groom, and even manages to sneak in a slice of the canceled event via a dream sequence featuring Miley Cyrus and George Clooney. It's a fantasia of modern comedy, shamelessly showboating its glittering cast and elegant environs.

Which works, for the most part. It's a bona fide treat for Murray fans, who are likely to enjoy the work of the cast, most of whom he's collaborated with before. Unlike the mainstream joy pursued by other entries on this list, this special hearkens back to Old Hollywood, blending wry modernism with classic appeal. Yet this doesn't always gel. Many of the songs are rough, and the weakest jokes reveal a cast more concerned with having fun than creating quality entertainment. For the most part, that fun gets through to the audience — but too often, it's like watching an inside joke writ large. Murray fans should check this one out, while those less acquainted with the performer can safely skip.

The Christmas Chronicles

Putting "Chronicles" in a movie title takes a certain degree of confidence. And indeed, this movie takes risks other Netflix holiday films do not: characters speak Elvish, a cosmology of Santa and his operation at the North Pole is suggested, and the costumes are a lot more elaborate than the hoodies and occasional wedding dresses that other Netflix original holiday movies employ. Rather than a story of people carrying on the spirit of Christmas through their words and deeds, The Christmas Chronicles is about two kids teaming up with the actual Santa to save the spirit itself. The spirit was lost once before, Santa informs the meddlesome moppets, and the Dark Ages ensued. This ain't your grandma's story of a small town with a big heart — it's Christmas with supernatural stakes.

Does it work? Pretty much, actually. The production values aren't quite up to par, and the kids occasionally edge into annoying. But the movie tempers out-and-out fantasy with a strong center. Teddy, the older brother, is genuinely stirring as a kid reeling from the untimely death of his father, and Kurt Russell as Santa is so good, he elevates the movie through sheer star power. When you're tired of Tiny Tim and Cindy Lou Who, you could certainly do worse than getting your Christmas kiddie fix by putting on The Christmas Chronicles.

A Christmas Prince

Here's the thing about A Christmas Prince: everything that makes it dumb is also what will make anyone bother to watch it in the first place. So unlike the ho-hum motions that lesser, similarly formulaic Netflix original holiday films go through, it realizes that absolutely no part of its runtime should be done by halves. Midnight-black stallions? Dazzling chandeliers? Last-minute familial revelations? Put them all in, A Christmas Prince says, then add more.

Journalist Amber is, of course, a clumsy everygirl sent forth to vaguely British Aldovia to report on the royal family. And oh, how Prince Richard vexes her with his spoiled ways — but then, how tragic is his lonely life at the top of the hierarchy! And wouldn't you know it, he's brave as a fairy tale demands — how grandly he drives a pack of wolves away from Amber! But guess what: he's adopted! And he's got a scheming cousin who will use this fact to take the throne! There's a treasured ornament that hides a secret amendment to the Aldovian constitution, legitimizing Richard and enabling a happy ending! 

Where is Aldovia? Why would Richard leap to marry Amber, who turned out to be infiltrating his family for tabloid clickbait? Who hides a government document in a Christmas tree ornament instead of, you know, making it law in the eyes of the public? There are no answers. There is only the genuine joy of A Christmas Prince. And you know what? That's enough.

The Princess Switch

You know what's better than one fantastically adorable heroine with her own trials, romance, and happy ending? Two. Thus succeeds The Princess Switch, an earnestly delightful exercise in Christmas' most enduring truth: if it can be made bigger, brighter, and more plentiful, it should be. 

Vanessa Hudgens plays Stacy, an eager baker given the chance to strut her stuff on the international stage of the Kingdom of Belgravia's prestigious baking competition. But lo, there is a twist: Belgravia's own Lady Margaret, also played by Hudgens, a Duchess set to become a Princess through marriage, looks exactly like Stacy! And she longs to experience normal life as a commoner, much like... the conveniently identical Stacy. They switch places, of course, and find themselves falling in love with men from their doppelgänger's life. Stacy wins the competition, woe descends briefly when love is admitted to but appears impossible to pursue given the gulf between commoner and royalty, but finally, Christmas conquers all and a wedding is held. 

The Princess Switch is all dessert, as sweet and decadent as the pastries Stacy has dedicated her life to. And while no one really enjoys cake for every meal (no matter how ideal that might sound to a child) it's fun, once in a while, to ignore the food pyramid and gobble down one's weekly sugar allotment in a single sitting. The Princess Switch is that perfect slice of cake, and audiences everywhere can relish each and every delectably decadent bite.