Don’t have the Hallmark Channel? Here are Netflix’s best (and worst) 2020 holiday movies

Vanessa Hudgens in Netflix's "The Princess Switch," released in 2018. Not much has changed in the 2020 sequel.
(Gabriel Hennessey/Netflix)

Ah, ‘tis the season for hot chocolate, holiday music playlists, online shopping ... and classic, love-them-or-hate-them Hallmark and Lifetime movies.

Hundreds of options are a quick click away if you have cable or sign up for the signature channel’s new streaming option — Hallmark Movies Now — for $5.99/month. (Lifetime is available to watch on Sling TV and Hulu.) But what if you don’t want to add yet another streaming service to your Christmas list this year?

To avoid paying a new subscription fee, I logged into my tried-and-true Netflix account and rounded up some Hallmark/Lifetime-esque options to satisfy your holiday content cravings this year. Spoiler alert: they aren’t all bad … but most of them are.

Note: Netflix has recently added a lot of old holiday programming, but for the purposes of this article, all of the shows chosen premiered in 2020. Entries are listed in order of release date.

Released: Oct. 28
Ranked: 2/5 stars

It feels like a crime to release Christmas content before Halloween, but I suppose there are no real rules in 2020. (Also, I watched the movie the day it came out, so Netflix knows its audience.)

And, to its credit, the majority of this film doesn’t even take place in December. After a less-than-ideal Christmas, heartbroken and cynical Sloane (Emma Roberts) meets noncommittal Australian golfer Jackson (Luke Bracey) in a shopping mall return line. After sharing mutual horror stories about being single over the holidays, Jackson proposes the idea of being each other’s “holidate,” aka a platonic plus-one for all of the year’s upcoming holidays to get friends and family off their backs.

The film felt more like a box office rom-com than a straight-to-streaming Christmas special. Yet despite it’s high-quality production, hot actors and intriguing premise, “Holidate” fell flat for me. Both Sloane and Jackson were just unlikeable as they were attractive. I didn’t get much satisfaction out of them bumbling through the year to finally figure out what the audience knew all along ... that they would obviously end up in bed together.

But if you’re a fan of foreign love interests, Jackson’s Aussie accent might be enough to get you through to the end credits.

Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey find reasons to see each other only on holidays in the Netflix romcom "Holidate."
Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey in the Netflix rom-com “Holidate.”
(Steve Dietl/NETFLIX)

‘Operation Christmas Drop’
Released: Nov. 5
Ranked: 2.5/5 stars

The week of Christmas, career-minded congressional aide Erica (Kat Graham) is tasked with traveling from Washington D.C. to an U.S. Air Force base in Guam, which her boss is hoping to close. To save its fate, the general pairs Erica with charismatic captain Andrew (Alexander Ludwig) as her tour guide. Andrew proceeds to spend the rest of the film attempting to loosen up uptight Erica by showing her the spirit of the base, island and holiday season.

With a Black female lead and supporting POC characters, I commend the movie for diversity in its casting and setting — the two films this entry is sandwiched between both position their nearly all-White casts in Chicago — but the character development was weak. Arguably the best character in “Operation Christmas Drop” was the terrible CGI gecko; he was the only one who genuinely made me laugh. Worst of all, the chemistry between Erica and Andrew felt forced and unconvincing ... and isn’t believing in true love what Hallmark is all about?

What I did feel an emotional connection with was the film’s unique holiday backdrop: the beach. Swapping winter coats with swimsuits and substituting coconut shavings for snow reminded me of our untraditional experience celebrating the season in sunny San Diego. It was refreshing to see a Christmas flick abandon the cold weather trope and acknowledge that the holiday spirit is alive in every city, even ones that don’t have dramatic seasons.

‘Midnight at the Magnolia’
Released: Nov. 5
Ranked: 2/5 stars

Childhood friends Natalie (Maggie Quinn) and Evan (Jack Russo, who you might remember from MTV’s “Awkward”) host a radio show together, but to everyone’s bewilderment, have somehow never hooked up. When they both get dumped after Christmas, they decide to fake a relationship on New Year’s Eve as a career move, duping their producer, family and former partners. What could go wrong, right?

“Midnight at the Magnolia” follows the typical checklist of every traditional Lifetime film, including sticking true to this genre’s roots with an incredibly boring, White and heterosexual cast. At the beginning, I picked up some potential vibes between the two fathers — also lifelong friends and business partners, with one being a widow — but alas, the movie stayed straight as an arrow.

From the first scene, I already knew what to expect for the next 87 minutes: awful acting, basic storyline, predictable ending. Yet the low-budget movie wasn’t as hard to watch as I anticipated ... I suppose there is something so satisfying about a film that offers no surprises in a year chock-full of uncertainty.

‘A New York Christmas Wedding’
Released: Nov. 6
Ranked: 4/5 stars

Jennifer (Nia Fairweather) lives in Manhattan with her wealthy fiancé David (Otoja Abit, who also wrote and directed the film) when a guardian angel Azreal (Cooper Koch) crosses her path just as she’s starting to have doubts about the wedding. Without her permission, Azreal transports Jennifer into an alternative universe — one where she is living back in Queens and engaged to her childhood best friend Gabrielle (Adriana DeMeo) — and is forced to decide which life she wants for herself.

Full disclosure: it may take some time for you to come around to this film. But in the spirit of Christmas, the movie deserves a second chance. While definitely low-budget, it’s more of a film festival wildcard than a movie produced by an algorithm. In many ways it takes after the Hallmark/Lifetime format — especially some cringeworthy acting — but “A New York Christmas Wedding” challenges expectations with an almost entirely POC cast and a complicated LGBT romance.

Plus, this movie has a few twists in store for those who stick around. From the notorious Mr. Big from “Sex and The City” showing up as Father Kelly (Chris Noth) to the secret, eccentric origins of Azreal, the film doesn’t shy away from surprising its audience ... though admittedly that bar is low for this genre.

‘Dash and Lily’
Released: Nov. 10, 2020
Ranked: 5/5 stars

I was immediately sucked into the eight episodes about a budding romance between Dash (Austin Abrams) and Lily (Midori Francis), which gets off to an unconventional start. The 17-year-olds are old souls who share an infatuation of reading coupled with destructive habits of self-isolation. In the four-hour saga, the couple falls together and apart in ways that, at times, could break even a Grinch’s heart.

Though not as diverse as “A New York Christmas Wedding,” the film’s Japanese-American female lead, coupled with a gay brother and Black best friend, definitely breaks the White, heterosexual holiday mold. But “Dash and Lily” is also the least Hallmark/Lifetime-like of the bunch — far more aligned with “A Fault in Our Stars” — so if you’re not a YA fan, it might not win you over.

As the only five-star rated option on this list, I don’t want to give too much of the plot away before I recommend you watch it. Just get ready for a daring red notebook, slices of cheese-covered pie, and an underground Jewish punk show, headlined by the brilliantly named Challah Back Boys.

‘The Princess Switch: Switched Again’
Released: Nov. 19
Ranked: 3/5 stars

Did you watch “The Princess Switch” in 2018? Then you’ve pretty much already seen this movie.

“High School Musical” actress Vanessa Hudgens returns as soon-to-be-queen Margaret and baker-turned-princess Stacy. And the two long lost lookalikes decide to — you guessed it — switch places again. Only now another player has entered the game: Lady Margaret’s cousin Fiona (also played by Hudgens). Fiona, a royal pickpocket who resembles a Kylie Jenner version of Cruella de Vil, raises the stakes with a more sinister approach, but the movie is still very much a G-rated holiday romance.

In short, the sequel is equally ridiculous as the first, especially now that Hudgens is tasked with transforming into yet another distinct character with yet another bizarre accent. (Please, Hudgens, leave that job to Lindsay Lohan.)

However, despite the now tripled unfortunate acting and nearly identical plot, I didn’t hate it. I’m simply a sucker for sequels. Even though 90 percent of the time they are worse than the original, I have a guilty pleasure of returning to characters and storylines that have left the screen but live on in my head. And if the original is awful anyway, then is a bad sequel such a let down?

Whether you love it or hate it or love to hate it, “The Princess Switch: Switched Again” is probably the closest holiday Hallmark dupe — so bake a batch of warm Christmas cookies à la Stacy, curl up in your throne (erm, couch) and enjoy the film.