Freeform’s “25 Days of Christmas” is the perfect mindless TV to turn on during the holidays. It’s always on, it’s innocuous to entertain the whole family, and it comes with just about every cable package. From comedies to dramas to TV specials, there’s something on for just about everyone. But that’s not to say it’s all good. This year’s slate is a mixed bag to say the least, so to help you navigate the seas of yuletide entertainment, here is every movie slated for 2020’s “25 Days of Christmas”, ranked from worst to best.
Not Ranked: Almost Christmas (2016)
Some of the scheduled programming isn’t included on this list: some Simpsons holiday specials, the Kung Fu Panda holiday special, and a few Disney fairy tale wedding specials. Also excluded is Almost Christmas, only because I was so baffled while watching it that I don’t feel comfortable calling it good, bad, or somewhere in between. Big names like Gabrielle Union, Mo’Nique, and Danny Glover swap in and out with mid-tier names like Omar Epps, Keri Hilson, and J.B. Smoove like they are running in some bizarre cinematic relay race. By the time Gladys Knight showed up, the revolving door of celebrities made me so dizzy that I could barely pay attention to what was going on. So Almost Christmas almost makes it on the list.
The Pointless Sequels
- Jingle All the Way 2
- Snow 2: Brain Freeze
- Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
- Life-Size 2
- Santa Clause 2
- Daddy’s Home 2
- Prancer Returns
Most of these cash-grabs are interchangeable schlock, with a few exceptions: Prancer Returns, for all its made-for-TV cheapness, does have its charms. On the other end, Jingle All the Way 2 takes an already fairly caustic premise and commits the cardinal sin of the entertainment industry: casting Larry the Cable Guy.
- Disney’s A Christmas Carol
By some miracle, Freeform has opted out of the dead-eyed motion capture horror film that is The Polar Express this year. In its place is another of Robert Zemeckis’ ill-advised forays into Christmastime CGI: A Christmas Carol. As we’ll see later on this list, Jim Carrey can ham it up in a holiday movie to great effect, but this movie is an affront to the eyes and ears as Carrey plays just about everyone on screen, each with their own uniquely awful accent. Pass.
The Hallmark Wannabe’s
- Holiday in Handcuffs
- The Mistle-tones
- The Truth About Christmas
If I wanted to see hackneyed holiday flicks, I know where to find them. Even in my shitty apartment that gets cut-rate cable, I still get the Hallmark Channel. And sometimes that’s exactly what I want. But not on Freeform. So these rancid romance movies are occupying the bottom tier of this list.
- Love the Coopers
- Deck the Halls
- Christmas with the Kranks
Basically the same movie, Deck the Halls and Christmas with the Kranks are two mid-2000s, mid-budget, big studio Xmas flicks that spent all their money paying major actors to pratfall. Ostensibly comedies, but with nary a single laugh between them, this is prototypical “25 Days of Christmas” content: memorable names, cheap to acquire broadcasting rights to, and nothing more than filler to ensure there’s always a Christmas movie on.
One of a handful of films produced by the network during a previous “25 Days of Christmas” season, this movie works as nostalgia for when Freeform was ABC Family and “25 Days of Christmas” was a bigger deal than it is now. Unfortunately, that’s all it’s good for.
The Dubiously-Animated Kids Films
- The Star
- The Magic Snowflake
- Santa’s Apprentice
- Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice
A strange mix of French animated flicks, a middling TV special, and a recreation of the Nativity of Jesus with anthropomorphic animals, nothing in this group inspires anything beyond indifference. The one surprise is how many stars were convinced to participate in The Star. Everyone from Kelly Clarkson to Tyler Perry to frickin’ Oprah are in this cinematic sunday school lesson.
- The Perfect Holiday
The funniest part about this movie is that Charlie Murphy plays a rapper named J-Jizzy and the oldest kid character is named John-John. That’s a pretty low bar to clear, but The Perfect Holiday can’t quite do it.
The Toy Story’s
- Toy Story 3
- Toy Story 2
- Toy Story
These are undoubtedly the three most well made, beautifully animated, thoughtfully written, and expertly executed films to be appearing in this year’s “25 Days of Christmas”. So why are they ranked so low? Because they’re not really Christmas movies. Sure, they might have scenes that involve Christmas, but that’s not enough to cover the fact that Freeform is just flexing its Disney connection.
- The Preacher’s Wife
We’ve gotten to the point where the rest of the movies on this list are capable, well-executed, sometimes even highly entertaining features. The Preacher’s Wife isn’t exactly the best of these, but it does have Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston, and director Penny Marshall, all of whom contribute enough charisma and competency to make this overlong remake bearable.
- The Grinch (2018)
How many times are we going to retell and retool the story of Dr. Seuss’ favorite hilltop curmudgeon? Made by the same studio who cursed us with the Minions, The Grinch is in no way a movie you should pay money for, but it has enough zip and visual splendor to merit a midday watch.
- Black Nativity
Traditional christmas carols in a gospel style? It’s a match made in… I guess purgatory or limbo, because Black Nativity isn’t good enough to praise the heavens and not bad enough to curse it to eternal damnation. A feature length tribute to Langston Hughes’ legendary stage production of the same name, this film is best enjoyed when you ignore the plot and just watch Mary J. Blige belt out some classic holiday songs.
- Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Nowhere near as heartwarming as the legendary 1947 original, this remake is comfortable with hitting all the familiar beats of the story without straying too far from the first film and its indelible charms. It does get credit for casting Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle, the only worthy successor to Edmund Gwenn’s Oscar winning portrayal from the original.
I don’t actually think this counts, because
- It’s not a Christmas movie, and
- It technically comes on at midnight on December 26th, putting it outside of the 25 days
But hey, it’s listed on the official schedule, and I feel like it’s appropriate to put the two films of child actor extraordinaire Mara Wilson together. Plus, Matilda gets better and better every time I watch it, making its goofy whimsy perfect for a post-Christmas watch.
- The Holiday
Rom com stalwart Nancy Meyers gives the world a well intentioned and fairly well done, if not highly predictable, holiday lovefest that pairs together the unlikeliest of couples: Kate Winslet and Jack Black. Jude Law and Cameron Diaz, the movie’s other couple, were always going to get together, but Winslet and Black’s weirdly antithetical chemistry is the hook that makes this film worth seeing when it comes on.
The Holiday Classics
- The Little Drummer Boy
- Frosty the Snowman
- Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
- Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Freeform is smart enough to load up their schedule with a few classic Rankin/Bass TV specials that everyone watched as a kid. They’re quick, easily digestible, and highly rewatchable, enjoyed by children and adults alike. Admittedly, The Little Drummer Boy is my least favorite. It’s ponderous and less entertaining than its peers. All the specials look relatively crude compared to modern animation, but that’s part of the charm. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them.
- Decorating Disney: Holiday Magic
A pedestrian documentary? Yes. A shameless plug for the evil Mouse House? Yes. Riveting in its presentation and splendor? Absolutely. It’s not exactly “cool” to be caught up in the extremely forced and highly corporate grandeur that is the Disney Theme Parks, but it’s also hard to not to be swept away with the sheer size and attention to detail that comes with transforming the parks into a winter wonderland. It’s wholesome and corny, but it’s also fascinating and surprisingly entertaining. Plus, it’s hosted by Whoppi Goldberg, so it gets a thumbs up from me.
- It’s a Very Muppet Christmas Movie
I’m afraid that the irreverent and self-referential stylings of The Muppets have lost their connection with younger generations as they grow older and older. Which is why it’s worth it to revisit their Christmas movie, which is overflowing with early 2000s references and guest stars including the previously mentioned and always welcome Whoopi Goldberg, Shaggy Rogers himself Mathew Lillard, and even the cast of Scrubs. The Muppets have always been more surreal than they get credit for, and it’s a welcomed sight to watch an Xmas special that’s as bizarre as it is sentimental.
The Home Alones
- Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
- Home Alone
How bad of a parent do you have to be to lose the same kid on two separate family vacations? I’m starting to think that Catherine O’Hara was purposefully trying to get rid of that little shit Macauley Culkin. Speaking of Culkin, Kevin McCallister is a straight up psychopath. There’s a fine line between “I’m defending myself from hapless criminals” and “I’m trying to murder these people.” I’m giving the edge here to the first film, not because the second is mostly a retread of the same gags that were featured in the original, but because the second film has a Donald Trump cameo, and I never want to see his smug mug on my TV ever again.
- The Santa Clause
The space between the Santa Clause movies on this list is pretty vast, so it’s worth revisiting what gave the series the ability to stretch itself out to a trilogy in the first place. That would be the first film, which is a very effective slice of wholesome family comedy. This is Tim Allen at peak Home Improvement likeability, before he became America’s favorite right-wing nut, and in The Santa Clause he’s paternal, incredulous, and glib, which translates into a very warm and hilarious performance. The movie is warm cocoa on a winter night: supremely cozy and fulfilling.
- Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas
Sometimes the problem with Christmas movies is that they’re just too focused on Christmas. The Nightmare Before Christmas solves this problem by equally focusing on both Xmas and Halloween (for my money it’s actually more of a Halloween movie, but the programmers at Freeform obviously beg to differ). When there’s a little too much cheer, a little too much sappiness and happiness around, try falling down Tim Burton’s gothic rabbit hole into a world of creepy stop motion and unsettling imagery to jostle yourself out of those pesky warm and fuzzy yuletide feelings. With a dearth of truly unique films this year, The Nightmare Before Christmas will serve as a much needed palette cleanser.
- Love Actually
It seems like every season has its own Love Actually ripoff. Valentine’s Day has its own eponymous film, as does New Year’s Eve, both of which saw Love Actually’s star studded cast and decided that was the most important element of the film’s success. The reality is that Love Actually has some fantastic writing propelling it forward, juggling multiple story lines without dropping the ball on any of them. The film was written off as just another dime a dozen rom com when it came out in 2003, but now it somewhat improbably holds a distinctive place as a Christmas classic. I don’t think any movie has ever exceeded my expectations like Love Actually did. Sure, that’s because my expectations were abysmal, but I was happy to be proven wrong.
- Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Story time: there was one thing that I truly petrified of as a child, and it was Jim Carrey’s Grinch. I couldn’t walk past the DVDs at Blockbuster (ah, simpler times) because I would literally be terrified to look at that yellow-eyed monster. When “25 Days of Christmas” ads came on ABC Family while I was watching Whose Line Is It Anyway? at midnight, I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep if the big green Whoville resident made an appearance. Maybe that connection has just been permanently seared into my brain, but to me, there’s no other movie that is so singularly synonymous with “25 Days of Christmas” than How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Freeform will be playing the movie 12 times over 25 days, often in primetime slots. There are enough sardonic Jim Carrey quotes in this film to make gifs out of for years to come. For many, it’s become the sole reason to tune in. It’s not the best, the funniest, or the most Christmas-y movie on this list, but it’s the one movie you can’t take away. “25 Days of Christmas” would be incomplete without it.