The holidays always bring three things–the jolly fat man, tons of debt, and Christmas rom-coms! Hallmark starts airing those sappy Yuletide flicks in July. That’s pride in a genre, even if some of those offerings should be featured on MST3K. Yet, they rake in cash every year (seriously)!
An estimated 50 million people tune in to the network to watch Christmas rom-coms annually. From streaming to visiting a theater, these films are usually a fun and sappy watch. And whether you’re comfortable admitting it or not, you know dang well that you have been known to clutch a pillow or pluck a heartstring when only Santa is looking.
While none of these tender-hearted holiday hits will ever make the Top 10 saddest movies of all time, they have been known to make even the most macho of cinephile verklempt. Throughout the years, there have been some holiday lovefest movies that have become Yuletide staples. Do you have any of those?
Let’s pass the tissue for the Top 10 Christmas Rom-Coms of all time!
Author’s Memo: As streamers, production houses, and household boo-hoo headquarters compete for your viewing dollars ever holiday season, did you know there is actually a science behind Christmas rom-coms?
S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Cinema and Media Studies, published a study on the psychology behind the popularity of these special films. Simply put, there is a cerebral stimulation about these magical moments in films that “create an idea that all is right with the world.”
He notes that the celebration of holiday movies and Christmas rom-coms spiked back in 1946.
These movies offer a variety of portraits of everyday life while affirming ethical values and social mores along the way. The 1946 classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” – about a man who longs to travel but remains stuck in his childhood town – represent visions of a community in which every citizen is vital.
We all deserve love and during these movies, we all believe we can get it. It’s altruistic and may seem far-fetched, but during the holidays, anything is possible. And if you don’t believe that, then go collect your coal while we watch this austere batch of Noel boohoo films.
HM. Last Christmas (2019)
Imagine being trapped in Christmas and hating it? That’s life for Kate (Emilia Clarke), who plays a year-round elf swamped in the doldrums of life. And then, she meets Tom (Henry Golding), who possesses the strength, charm, and finesse she’s missing in life. Paul Feig has a thing about happy-fun-time movies and shows that he has the Kris Kringle touch with this one.
And don’t let the fact this movie was inspired by the Wham/George Michael Yuletide earworm of the same name, Last Christmas is definitely one to add to your favorite Christmas rom-coms list if it’s not there already. At least, it should be.
10. Last Holiday (2006)
Seems like a typo of the movie directly above it, huh? It’s not, and when you see it stars former old-school rapper icons LL Cool J and Queen Latifah, you may avoid seeing it. That would be a mistake because there’s a gem of a Yuletide romance movie deep inside this trailer. Well, there’s no big surprise because the trailer is one massive spoiler, but the slapstick chuckles and theme motivating it all give you the feels.
What would you do if you only had weeks to live? Many would do what Georgia (Latifah) does in this film, but the charm in this movie is that you may be running from what was in front of you the entire time.
9. Love Hard (2021)
The movie just got here. How could it be in a Top 10 list of the best Christmas rom-coms of all time? It takes modern moments, like being catfished while looking for love, and wraps them in timeless holiday tropes–friend-zone love, searching for a mate who doesn’t exist, and holiday magic. There is something wonderful about people meeting face-to-face that causes sparks.
Because this is a Netflix film, you may sit waiting for those sparks to smolder into a sparkling stick during July 4. Yet, you’ll be waiting for a long time. This movie works with Natalie (Nina Dobrev) and Josh (Jimmy O. Yang) discovering love is not in what you see but what you’ve known all along. Together, they give hope to many people searching for what can only be found in the movies because this film looks like a life they live.
8. You’ve Got Mail (1998)
What is it about Meg Ryan that makes a delightful Yuletide classic? Add Tom Hanks, and there’s magic. Many people thought this would be a knock-off of one of the best Christmas rom-coms ever (we’ll talk about that in a moment), but this was a refreshing glance at what it takes to find what Santa leaves under your tree.
Admittedly, this is not a “true holiday film,” but there are timeless holiday scenes in this movie that get stuck in your brain. Why? Not one, but two Ephrons write this charming script composing a true “love-hate” relationship into a heartwarming film of two star-crossed people meeting in the middle to find a love that only seems plausible in the movies.
7. The Holiday (2006)
Proving that the holidays is a global event of love and magic, The Holiday examines the lives of two bitter and distrusting women (Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz) who end up swapping Airbnb homes during the holidays. What could go wrong? Each woman meets an unsuspecting guy in the community (Jude Law and what the what…Jack Black) who asks each respective scorned tourist, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
This cat-and-mouse movie poses two unsuspecting men–well, okay, Jack Black is unsuspecting; Jude Law is a bet-the-bank romance win–chasing two jilted women throughout the film. In the end, love prevails and the seasonal love bug strikes them all. It’s a predictable script ripe with romantic gimmes, but you find yourself rooting for the holidays and holding back the dew-eyed results every minute.
6. Serendipity (2001)
Awww, that’s so sweet. Two people (Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack) unwittingly touch hands while spatting and flirting over the same pair of gloves during a holiday shopping jaunt. Cute, right? Then, this wonderful Yuletide lovefest takes an abrupt left turn giving a chance love affair up to fate.
Serendipity is a journey, not so much a plot. Is coincidence really a thing when it’s wrapped so tightly y destiny? If you’ve wanted to search for “the one,” watch this! It’s one of those Christmas rom-coms that sweep you up with charm and keep you floating with a delirious story that would never happen in real life. But who cares? This is the movies, and this film is a wonderful journey of chance and change.
5. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Although this film begins a Die Hard-type debate, “Is this a Christmas movie,” Sleepless in Seattle is the quintessential film to watch during the holidays. This is a beautiful movie that places the idea of love above its magnetic characters. With several stirring scenes taking place during Christmas, how can it not be included on this Top 10 list?
When an errant phone call to a radio talk show by young Jonah (Ross Malinger), Sam (Tom Hanks) and Annie (Meg Ryan) are placed on a kissyface crash course that is impossible to resist. Annie is slated to marry homely Walter (Bill Pullman…more on him in a moment) and Sam feels he is destined to be lonely after the passing of his wife. Then, fate takes hold, and the rest of us go for a holiday ride we never forget.
You could say this movie is…magic.
4. Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001)
Inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with a serious romantic comedy twist, Bridget Jones’ Diary begins like a holiday film trope gift box spilled on the floor. We have a single woman journaling her way through the end of her prime who hates romance. Nonetheless, she (Renee Zellwegger) wants to give up smoking, drinking, unhealthy eating, and poor thinking. Why? To find love.
Add to the fun, we have the focus of two polarizing men (Colin Firth and Hugh Grant) and one big holiday. It’s like there is a playbook for making Christmas rom-coms or something. And this hilarious movie plays it with brilliance. Sure, the franchise didn’t capture the same on-screen magic its progenitor did, but that’s because Bridget Jones’ Diary will be bookmarked in any DVD library for good.
3. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
The matchless Nora Ephron wrote it. The dazzling Rob Reiner directed it. The great Billy Crystal stars in it. And, go sit on some prickly mistletoe Mariah Carey, Meg Ryan is the Queen of Christmas! (Three Christmas rom-coms that should be part of any top holiday whatever list, please.) Film schools use Harry and Sally’s love affair as the preeminent example of on-screen chemistry.
The movie is timing magic with endless quotables (shout out to “I’ll have what she’s having”), constant laughs, and the random lump in your throat. If you don’t believe that, sit through the scene where Harry says to Meg, “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
If there’s no unction to swallow a lump or shed a happy tear, you are destined to stay on the naughty list, you heartless and filthy animal!
2. Love Actually (2003)
Love it or hate it, those polarizing feelings don’t matter. Love Actually will always be on a list of top Christmas rom-coms. The cast is an Oscars’ “who’s who” with Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, and Liam Neeson among this stellar cast. And while we navigate through the sappy labyrinth from Richard Curtis of nine love stories (yes, really), none of them lose its palatability and joy.
Each story is rewarding because each character earns its appeal to the viewer. It may sound as overstuffed as Brendan Fraser in a fat suit, but the on-screen chemistry between characters and these stories is irresistible. Love Actually is an unmatched film featuring the diversity and bewildering effect of storytelling.
Even Firth is lovable and romantic in this movie. I mean, c’mon. If you can make that seasoned Dad-bod Brit cute and cuddly for the holidays, anything really is possible. This timeless film proves it.
1. While You Were Sleeping (1995)
It doesn’t matter what swooning critics have penned or heartbroken, Yuletide flicks proves nothing tops true Christmas rom-coms like While You Were Sleeping. It is the archetypical romantic comedy based around a spoof of an idea–a hopeless romantic named Lucy (Sandra Bullock) rescues a crush (Peter Gallagher) from a certain demise when she is mistaken for his fiancee in the hospital.
The rest of the movie is spent unwinding that lovely knot with laugh-out-loud moments and stirring scenes of wholesome goodness between Lucy and the lovelorn brother of said crush (Bill Pullman). The movie reads like a wonderful script from Frasier wrought with innuendo, misunderstanding, and assumption. And it’s one of those films you never know you’ll end up loving.
There isn’t one moment of “I’ve seen this before” unless you watch this movie for the seventh time in the same holiday season. Even the Randy Edelman syrupy score makes your heart pat as you navigate the maze of hijinks in this film. Remove your film critic’s hat and let this favorite play out. Your life–and holiday season–will be better off for it every time.
Since he saw ‘Dune’ in the $1 movie theater as a kid, this guy has been a lover of geek culture. It wasn’t until he became a professional copywriter, ghostwriter, and speechwriter that he began to write about it (a lot).
From the gravitas of the Sith, the genius of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, or the gluttony of today’s comic fan, SPW digs intelligent debate about entertainment. He’s also addicted to listicles, storytelling, useless trivia, and the Oxford comma. And, he prefers his puns intended.