‘Tis the season for shitty holiday romance! Every year, Netflix continues to expand its Christmas movie repertoire with the most ridiculous set of romantic comedies. It’s reached a point where it’s even become somewhat of a cinematic universe. Characters make cameos, parallel movies are shown on the TV screens, and fake countries are name-dropped in casual dialogue. Netflix’s Holiday Cinematic Universe forth the perfect amount of predictable and corny goodness necessary for getting into the holly jolly spirit.
Of course, not all of these films are worth tuning in for. I’ve taken the liberty of ranking each romantic comedy from Netflix’s Christmas catalog for all festive folk out there who may, at some point, find themselves in the mood for some cheesy holiday goodness, but might not be sure where to start. Fear not! Nobody else should have to sit through the absolute atrocities rom-coms often commit. Are most of these movies objectively terrible? Yes! Did I still have a great deal of fun sitting through every single one of them? Also yes! Will I rewatch most of these movies during the next holiday season? Probably!
Here is every Netflix Christmas romantic comedy, ranked:
21. Operation Christmas Drop (2020)
Director: Martin Wood
Nothing says Christmas like… military propaganda? Operation Christmas Drop is (very) loosely based on a real-life U.S. Air Force humanitarian mission of the same name, and that is as far as the film’s heartfelt nature goes. Congressional aide Erica Miller (Kat Graham) is sent to a tropical Air Force base in Guam, where she’s assigned with finding evidence to support its closure. There, she meets Captain Andrew Jantz (Alexander Ludwig), who shows her around the base and tries to prove her wrong.
The premise is fine, but it’s difficult to find it any fun when so much of it is structured around a romanticization of the American military bases stationed on the island. The white saviorism combined with the unflattering depiction of Guam locals as primitive natives feels completely disrespectful. Propaganda aside, this isn’t even a fun watch! It’s barely a Christmas movie! The leads have no chemistry, and it’s a disgrace to the famed enemies-to-lovers trope. There’s virtually zero narrative arc that makes their coupling feel believable. Not to mention, they somehow managed to include a CGI gecko as part of the story? It’s a complete mess—I recommend you Operation Christmas Drop this from your viewing list completely.
20. Holiday in the Wild (2019)
Director: Ernie Barbarash
If you’re going to market yourself as a Christmas movie, you should at least try to integrate it more deeply into your plot. Otherwise, it just feels like any other bad rom-com, but without the fun holiday magic. Holiday in the Wild is another white savior movie, only this time it takes place in Africa. After her husband announces he wants a divorce, Kate (Kristin Davis) goes on a solo safari trip to Zambia where she meets pilot Derek (Rob Lowe). During a plane ride to a following resort, the two discover a traumatized baby elephant and accompany it back to the rescue sanctuary. Kate somehow talks her way into a job working with the elephants, even though her only past experience as a vet has been working with mostly dogs and cats. She prolongs her initial vacation to last for a couple months longer into Christmas, and she uses this time to bond with Derek. There really isn’t a lot going on in this movie besides the elephants, so feel free to skip this one as well.
19. A California Christmas: City Lights (2021)
Director: Shaun Paul Piccinino
Out of all the Netflix Christmas rom-coms to have gotten a sequel, A California Christmas is by far the most surprising: There is literally zero need for it. A California Christmas: City Lights takes place a year after the events of the first movie. Callie (Lauren Swickard) and Joseph (Josh Swickard) are now engaged and running their successful ranch and winery. But after Joseph’s mother runs off and abandons the family business, he discovers that he must return to the city to save the company from losing all its investors. This movie’s conflict is far too dramatic considering San Francisco is maybe one or two hours away from the farm, yet the couple still somehow finds it difficult to find a middle ground for their future together. Just commute! It’s not that deep!
18. A Castle for Christmas (2021)
Director: Mary Lambert
Brooke Shields plays a famous author who disgraces herself on the Drew Barrymore show while promoting her new book, then proceeds to hide out in Scotland while escaping her bad press. She makes friends with a local knitting club and decides to buy a castle that her father used to be a groundskeeper in, only to butt heads with the grumpy duke that owns the place. More enemies to lovers, only this time it’s in a castle! The highlight is when The Princess Switch’s Frank and Mrs. Donatelli make brief cameos, but that’s about all I have to say for it.
17. A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby (2019)
Director: John Schultz
Now we’re getting into some serious trilogy business. The third installment of the Christmas Prince movies is by far the most ludicrous. So much is happening in this movie: Queen Amber (Rose McIver) is pregnant, Aldovia is in major global debt and the kingdom’s peace treaty has gone missing. There’s also a deadly curse that threatens the royal baby if the treaty isn’t found and signed on Christmas! It’s all the high-stake ingredients necessary for a great—er, decent—whodunit mystery. Throughout the mayhem, Amber is still flexing her journalistic muscles and successfully maintaining her blog, which is somehow the most unbelievable aspect of the entire film.
16. The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star (2021)
Director: Mike Rohl
The Princess Switch trilogy might be the best, most chaotic franchise that Netflix has ever come up with. It’s unfortunate that the third movie doesn’t add a fourth Vanessa Hudgens character to the mix, but luckily the film is wacky enough as is. In Romancing the Star, the ostentatious Fiona is the one in the spotlight. After Montenaro’s sacred Star of Peace is stolen, Stacy and Margaret enlist the help of Fiona, who is on probation at the orphanage following the kooky events of the second film. Fiona teams up with her ex-boyfriend Peter Maxwell (Remy Hii), a former Interpol agent who runs a private security firm, in solving the case, and the film oddly moves into spy heist territory. Similar to the Christmas Prince franchise, the third Princess Switch completely abandons all tone for the sake of being absolutely ridiculous, yet still manages to be dull. There are far too many subplots that completely muddle the message, and every second is an absolute drag. Moreover, Hudgens’ English accent remains god-awful, but I respect her commitment to the bit.
15. A California Christmas (2020)
Director: Shaun Paul Piccinino
Very bold of this movie to include Christmas in the title when it is, again, barely part of the story. A California Christmas is excruciatingly ordinary. The gist is as follows: A rich city boy pretends to be a ranch hand to trick the mean farm girl into selling her land to his family’s company, only to inevitably fall in love while under false pretenses. The movie ticks all the boxes in the predictable rom-com formula. Mean farm girl has a tragic backstory to explain her behavior (and also has an overprotective and jealous friend who is far too involved in her life). Rich city boy’s chauffeur is his goofy sidekick who makes sure his cover isn’t blown. Nothing about this movie is revolutionary in the slightest, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need.
14. Christmas with You (2022)
Director: Gabriela Tagliavini
Freddie Prinze Jr.’s return to rom-coms should be an occasion worth celebrating, but it’s an unfortunate miss with Christmas with You. Prinze plays a single DILF with a daughter obsessed with pop star Angelina (Aimee Garcia), who is facing massive career burnout. While under pressure to create a hit Christmas song to revitalize her image, she escapes to a small town in New York and ends up staying with Miguel (Prinze) and his daughter. Angelina and Miguel decide to work together on the song, and the two find a connection amid their music. Another decent premise, but its execution is subpar. This movie is like a worse version of Marry Me (2022): Bad chemistry and the song isn’t even good, which is just an extra bummer. Christmas with You also goes a bit overboard on both the costumes and the decorations. Almost every scene sees a vomit of red and green, to a degree that becomes a bit distracting, even for the most avid Christmas-heads like myself. Another flop!
13. The Holiday Calendar (2018)
Director: Bradley Walsh
Besides Vanessa Hudgens, Kat Graham is the only other actress to have appeared in two separate Netflix Christmas movies. In The Holiday Calendar, Graham plays Abby, a Christmas-hating elf and struggling photographer with bigger aspirations. One year, she receives a magical Advent calendar from her grandfather (Ron Cephas-Jones) that starts predicting the future, as the items the calendar presents each day starts to coincide with events in Abby’s life. It has the potential to be charming, and the relationship between Abby and her best friend Josh (Quincy Brown) is especially sweet. However, it’s not enough to raise the movie up to a memorable status, as it is largely a bore.
12. The Noel Diary (2022)
Director: Charles Shyer
Adapted from Richard Paul Evans’ novel of the same name, The Noel Diary is far more dram than it is com. Justin Hartley plays famous novelist Jake, who returns to his hometown to clean up his late mother’s estate. He meets Rachel (Barrett Doss), a mysterious woman in search of her birth mother, who also happened to be Jake’s former nanny. They end up going on a road trip to see Jake’s estranged father, who happens to be the only person who would have any answers about her. Whereas most Netflix Christmas rom-coms fall very neatly into a category of excessive sweetness, The Noel Diary tries a bit too hard to be earnest. The film’s romance is sidelined for the overarching family arc, which is completely fine, but leaves their eventual coupling feeling especially unsatisfying. It’s hard to root for the duo when audiences are given so little to work with. That, and the added infidelity plotline that happens to be part of the story.
11. A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding (2018)
Director: John Schultz
My biggest gripe with this movie is in the very title itself. At the end of the first movie, Prince Richard (Ben Lamb) has been crowned King of Aldovia. So why is this movie still called A Christmas Prince? Title aside, this is a very silly sequel. A year after the events of the first film, Amber is struggling with juggling her new royal duties alongside writing her blog (a highly essential aspect of this film, for some odd reason). Meanwhile, Richard is dealing with the country’s financial crisis and getting major political blowback from the Aldovian public. Professional blogger and Queen-to-be Amber decides to put her investigative journalism hat back on and looks into the missing money. The funniest part of this movie is the portrayal of Amber as a serious reporter, especially during the scene where she quite literally writes out the word “fishy” in her little notepad. Please be serious!
10. The Princess Switch: Switched Again (2020)
Director: Mike Rohl
Nothing says Christmas like not one, not two, but three Vanessa Hudgenses. The second Princess Switch movie sees Margaret’s cousin Fiona entering the picture. Completely out of money, Fiona and her minions decide to kidnap and switch places with Margaret for a couple hours, just so she can write herself a hefty check with Montenaro funds that will have her set for life. It seems that Netflix is really into Christmas movies that explore economic wrongdoing, considering this is yet another holiday rom-com that includes financial fraud. Fiona’s plan sounds simple enough, except a twist: Margaret turns out to actually be Stacy! The duo decided to switch places yet again as a way of mending Kevin (Nick Sagar) and Margaret’s relationship, so Stacy ends up being the one in trouble. The Princess Switch: Switched Again is marvelously screwy, with Hudgens continuing to make the most absurd acting choices in her three distinct characters. Plus, Queen Amber and King Ben make brief cameos at the end, which is such a happy bonus. Call this movie what it is: It’s camp!
9. Holidate (2020)
Director: John Whitesell
Is it a Christmas movie if it covers almost all the major holidays? Holidate asks this question. Regardless, the movie is Netflix’s holiday entry into the raunch-com. Sloane (Emma Roberts) and Jackson (Luke Bracey) are two single strangers who make a pact at the returns line in a mall, of all places, where they decide to be each other’s platonic plus one at every major holiday event. A “holidate,” if you will. And boy, do we really see every holiday event. I’m talking Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day—even Cinco de Mayo. It’s an intriguing enough and festive take on a classic rom-com formula (see Hulu’s 2019 film Plus One), as well as a welcome diversion from the other, more repetitive holiday movies on the streaming site.
8. Love Hard (2021)
Director: Hernán Jiménez
Love Hard is Netflix’s attempt at depicting the digital age of dating. Natalie (Nina Dobrev) is an L.A. journalist stuck in a never-ending cycle of disaster dates, all thanks to the Flirt Alert app. The only thing her failed romantic prospects have gotten her is a successful column titled “Always a Bridesmaid,” which her readers and editor can’t get enough of. Opening her search for Mr. Right to the entire country, she finally matches with someone she believes to be her hunky soulmate. In an attempt to surprise him, she flies across the country to spend Christmas with his family, only to discover that her dream man “Josh” has actually been catfishing her. In a normal world, this is where the movie would end, because how could you ever come back from being catfished? But Love Hard pushes forward. Instead, Real Josh (Jimmy O. Yang) convinces Natalie to pretend to be his girlfriend in front of his family for a week, and he in turn will set her up with the guy whose picture he had been using, who happens to be his best friend Tag (Darren Barnet). The film works hard to erase the film’s muddled morals, most particularly by giving both Natalie and Josh questionable traits. Even through its cringiest moments, Love Hard remains surprisingly tender.
7. A Christmas Prince (2017)
Director: Alex Zamm
In the franchise’s first entry, A Christmas Prince sees the origins of how Amber and Richard became a unit. Amber begins as an aspiring journalist hoping for her big break. She gets sent to Aldovia to cover Prince Richard’s press conference where he’s a no-show. That just won’t do for Amber, who ends up snooping around the palace and ends up being mistaken for the young princess’s American tutor, Martha. Aha! A chance for undercover reporting, she thinks, and decides to go along with the scenario in order to uncover hidden Aldovian secrets. It’s baffling that nobody thinks to check her credentials, but anything to move the romance forward. And then there’s our male lead. Richard, notoriously labeled by the public as an irresponsible playboy, turns out to have a heart. Shocking! Somewhere along the way, Richard and Amber fall for each other, and Amber struggles with finding a way to tell him the truth. Out of the three Christmas Prince movies, this is the only one that feels somewhat cohesive. You can’t really beat the original.
6. Single All The Way (2021)
Director: Michael Mayer
After a tedious amount of cookie-cutter straight holiday romances, Netflix finally decided to release a gay holiday film last year. Single All The Way sees Peter (Michael Urie) bringing his best friend and roommate Nick (Philemon Chambers) home to New Hampshire for the holiday. The family senses unexplored chemistry between the two and start completely meddling and plotting ways to get them together for the holiday season. What’s especially heartwarming about Single All The Way is that it embraces being corny. When so many LGBTQ+ films depend upon coming out as part of the storyline (Happiest Season), it’s nice that Single All The Way abandons that as an option, instead choosing to portray queer romance in a manner that feels familiar. Clichés exist for a reason, and they definitely shouldn’t be limited to straight couples.
5. Let It Snow (2019)
Director: Luke Snellin
Based on a book written by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle, Let It Snow is essentially a YA version of Love Actually. The film follows three main threads that seem to intersect, all of which take place in a small town on Christmas Eve: There’s a normal girl/pop-star story between Julie (Isabela Merced) and Stuart Bale (Shameik Moore); a love triangle between Tobin (Mitchell Hope), Angie (Kiernan Shipka) and JP (Matthew Noszka); and a secret romance between closeted cheerleader Kerry (Anna Akana) and waitress Dorrie (Liv Hewson). Joan Cusack also plays a delightful tinfoil-headed tow-truck driver, who drives around with Dorrie’s best friend Addie (Odeya Rush). Let It Snow is yet another fun departure from Netflix’s usual rom-com route, with characters that consist of sincerity, warmth and even (some) depth. It’s also the only YA rom-com in the mix, which is surprising considering how much the streaming service adores teen romance.
4. Christmas Inheritance (2017)
Director: Ernie Barbarash
Before we had Jake Lacy in The White Lotus, we had Jake Lacy in Christmas Inheritance. There is nothing inherently special about this movie, the premise being one that has been overused far too many times. Rich socialite Ellen Langford (Eliza Taylor) travels to her father’s New England hometown to deliver a holiday letter incognito, with only $100 in cash to spend. She meets Jake (Lacy), manager of the Snow Falls inn and becomes close with him and his Aunt Debbie (Andie MacDowell). There is absolutely zero reason for Christmas Inheritance to be ranked so high in this list other than the fact that I deeply enjoy it. The film embraces all the best parts about Christmas as a holiday, serving pure comfort and bliss. Plus, this movie graces us with Andie MacDowell’s divine presence, who is just an absolute gem.
3. Falling For Christmas (2022)
Director: Janeen Damian
Lindsay Lohan gives the performance of a lifetime in her triumphant return to the screen, where she plays a haughty heiress who crashes down a ski slope with zero memory of who she is. She finds recovery in Chord Overstreet’s North Star Lodge, and the duo become increasingly charmed by one another. Falling For Christmas is essentially the exact same movie as Christmas Inheritance, though made a tad goofier with the added amnesia plotline. The film also revels in its references to iconic Lohan roles, including a wonderfully nostalgic Mean Girls reference, where she sings “Jingle Bell Rock,” that has audiences pointing at the screen with joy. The movie’s biggest setback is Overstreet, who seems to have lost all his acting chops since Glee. His character feels half-baked and underwritten, and Mr. Trouty Mouth doesn’t seem to add much substance to his personality either. It’s hard to root for the main couple when the male lead is so painfully adequate in comparison. Nevertheless, Falling for Christmas is an effortlessly merry addition to Lohan’s rom-com canon, and definitely one of Netflix’s better holiday movies.
2. The Knight Before Christmas (2019)
Director: Monika Mitchell
It’s difficult to make the most overutilized fish-out-of-water rom-com trope feel fresh, but The Knight Before Christmas somehow manages to do so. Vanessa Hudgens stars yet again, except this time there’s only one of her (though all the overlapping threads imply that this movie exists in the same universe as The Princess Switch, so there’s sure to be crossover potential!). Hudgens plays Brooke, an ordinary science teacher who, quite literally, almost runs the male lead over with her car. It’s not just any male lead, but Josh Whitehouse’s Sir Cole. Sir Cole is a 14th century knight who, upon meeting an old crone, is transported to modern-day Ohio to complete an unnamed quest. Everyone sort of assumes that Sir Cole is suffering some form of amnesia, because why else would a bumbling grown man with no form of identification act like a medieval knight? Brooke offers her guest house to the strange man, and he has the goofiest interactions with modern technology. His one-sided beef with Brooke’s Alexa is actually funny, to a point where it almost cancels out the shameless product placement. As a holiday romance, this movie has all the necessary elements for a great time. Time Travel! Himbos! Romantic leads with believable chemistry! The Knight Before Christmas is wildly outlandish and completely lacking in realism, which is exactly why the movie is so extraordinary.
1. The Princess Switch (2018)
Director: Mike Rohl
This may be a controversial opinion, but I wholeheartedly believe that The Princess Switch is one of the best Christmas rom-coms of all time. Let me defend myself. Vanessa Hudgens character #1 is Stacy de Novo, a Chicago pastry chef who travels to the fictional country of Belgravia for a prestigious baking competition. She bumps into Vanessa Hudgens #2, who happens to be Lady Margaret Delacourt, Duchess of Montenaro and fiancée of Belgravia’s Crown Prince Edward (Sam Palladio). Vanessa #2 wants a break from the spotlight and convinces Vanessa #1 to switch places with her until the competition, which completely rationalizes her bad British accent. What a great writing loophole! Anyways, the two Vanessas begin to fall in love with each other’s respective lives, giving us not one, but two holiday romances to become invested in. The two Vanessas also share a secret handshake, which is greatly reminiscent of Nancy Meyers’ 1999 hit film, The Parent Trap. Ugh, I love a reference! All of this is to say that The Princess Switch is unabashedly sweet, festive and just straight-up silly. Netflix has yet to make a movie that can top it. Merry Switchmas, indeed.
Dianna Shen is an entertainment writer based in New York. When she’s not crying over a rom-com, she can be found on Twitter @ddiannashen.