After a dreadful finals week filled with plenty of studying (or not,) winter break is finally upon us! It’s time to sleep, spend time with family and friends, and most importantly, binge watch. There’s a plethora of amazing, top-notch movies and TV shows available, but why not venture into the Hallmark holiday movie genre? Here to protect you from cheesy plotlines and mediocre acting, PULSE magazine is diving into the action and ranking all the Christmas classics for you. But first, let’s get an inside look on the process of making these notorious, iconic, addicting holiday movies.

Summertime With Santa Claus: Behind The Scenes with Zak Sharif

“Here’s a Hollywood secret: those executives don’t really read your scripts. They read what I write about it.”

A Christmas Prince. Holiday Calendar. The Princess Switch.  You see the titles pop up on your TV Guide or your Netflix recommendations. You know the covers—green-screen snow, Midwestern white women in cozy red and green sweaters next to the prototypical man-of-your-dreams circa 1954, a general vibe of Christian wholesomeness that your racist-adjacent grandma loves. The Hallmark Christmas movie genre is a behemoth, and, having spent my whole summer helping those Evangelical cheese fests come to life, I can confidently say that in a time where it seems like the world itself is a Shakespearean tragedy, there’s comfort to be found in guaranteed happy endings.

Script development intern at Motion Picture Corporation of America—going into the summer after my freshman year, that job title was about all I knew about the internship. Motion Picture Corporation of America. As a lifelong film fanatic, that title was all I needed to hop on a plane to LA and take an Uber to my ant-filled, Inglewood Airbnb. Given the grandiosity of the name, I was a bit surprised to find that the office was tucked away in a small corner of a nondescript high rise on Santa Monica Boulevard. Despite its rather humble appearance and , that office was filled with life. With only about 7 full time employees in the office on a given day, the small company has one laser focus: the Hallmark Christmas movie. In other words,  MPCA knows Christmas, and, as an intern, I had to learn Christmas too.

What did I do every day, you ask? Read scripts. Christmas scripts. Piles and piles of Christmas scripts. Each day, I would plow through the stacks, writing what the **industry folks** call “coverage”. This entails a summary of the story; thoughts on the script’s story arc, characters, and dialogue; and most importantly, whether it’s something a reader wants to see onscreen.  Though the process was sometimes tedious, it was important. Here’s a Hollywood secret: those executives don’t really read your scripts. They read what I write about it. Interns are the first line of defense for any scripts coming through the door.

Though the stringent rules of the “Hallmark formula” often result in formulaic storytelling, they also provide a comforting level of consistency during the holiday season. No matter what’s going on in the world, when you turn on a Hallmark film, you always know what to expect: the guy and the girl that are meant to be together will end up together, all the extremely low stakes conflict will be resolved neatly, and no problem is too complex for Christmas spirit to solve. The simple innocence of thoroughly G rated romance and humor is refreshing in the age of peak-prestige TV and superhero dominance at the box office. Ultimately, Hallmark’s rules are in place for a reason—they keep the integrity of a certain brand of storytelling alive.

And, don’t get it twisted; the folks who make Hallmark movies love what they create. More than anything, I was impressed with the sheer passion that every executive and writer had for these stories. There was no sheen of irony or cynical sneer; sure, these movies are cash cows, but everyone involved had a sincere belief in the stories they were telling. Bit by bit the passion that this small office brought to work every day began to rub off on me. By the end of my journey at MPCA, my view of “good” storytelling widened and appreciation for all things Hallmark deepened from seeing the love driving the art.

So please, do tune in to our latest Netflix and Hallmark offerings, and just remember that you should feel no shame for your “guilty pleasure.” Whether you catch Vanessa Hudgens pitifully attempt a British accent in The Princess Switch (though let me chill on her a bit, because we met and she was really trying to get those vowel sounds out) or indulge in the budget castle sets of The Christmas Prince, just know those stories take talent and time to craft, and the people who work on them put in passion and effort to make them as best as they can be. Take it from a guy who was one of those people—there’s more than meets the eye in those holiday specials.

Christmas Movies with Isabel Dibble!

“…a twist ending ridiculous enough to elevate the plot to the point of nonsense.”

Below is a list of some PULSE-team approved movies available to stream on Netflix.***  You might lose some brain cells over them, but as Zak wrote, remember the love and commitment from the employees who created these movies! Plus, it’s winter break; enjoy the freedom from schoolwork!

***Note: The rating scale here is 0% correlated to quality of acting, plot or dialogue and 100% correlated to holiday spirit.

The Princess Switch – 9/10

If anyone wants a reminder of the good ol’ Disney Channel days, catch our girl Gabriella– uh, we mean, Vanessa Hudgens–in the new Netflix movie, The Princess Switch. She plays not one, but two (!!) characters — A Chicagoan baker, Stacy, and soon-to-be princess of Belgravia, Lady Margaret. After Stacy receives a royal invitation to participate in a baking competition, she encounters Lady Margaret, who looks, shockingly, exactly like Stacy. Mischief and romance brew when the two decide to switch places for a couple of days.

Review: Not terrible. Hudgens’ acting is decent, and there’s potential for not one but two romantic plotlines. Also, points for including a princess who’s actually proactive, rather than being stereotypically incompetent.

Christmas Inheritance – 8/10

Oh, the classic storyline–a spoiled girl from the big city acting recklessly and trying to prove herself! In order to inherit her father’s company, Ellen Langford must complete her father’s tradition: returning to Snow Falls to deliver his business partner a special Christmas letter. When a snowstorm leaves Ellen stranded there, she starts to fall in love with the town, and in particular with one person. 😉

Review: In general, a cute story! Covers trademark holiday themes: finding yourself again, engaging with honest, generous people, and the warmth and love of a small town.

The Holiday Calendar – 6/10

Any Vampire Diaries fans will be glad to see our girl Bonnie’s–aka Kat Graham’s– portrayal of Abby, an aspiring photographer. Frustrated at only covering Santa Claus photoshoots, Abby gets a warm surprise when her best friend, Josh, returns to town after his successful worldwide stint as a travel photographer. During a family dinner, her grandfather gives her a special Advent Calendar, and magical events start to unfold as they count down to Christmas Day.

Review: This movie tries to force tension between the characters and create a “plot twist” that is not that believable. While the ending is obvious as always, it makes up for the terrible “tension” by being cute.

Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding – 7/10

If you were a fan of the Christmas Prince, which debuted last year on Netflix, then you are in luck! Due to popular demand from the first movie, the sequel, The Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding is available to stream. Catch our favorite couple, King Richard and our sneaker-girl reporter, Amber, as they prepare for the ultimate royal wedding of the year (excluding our actual faves, Harry and Meghan). All seems to be going well for Amber, but the pressure and worries of whether she is ready to be Queen of Aldovia start to kick-in.

Review: Like all movies from the past five years (otherwise known as movies-that-aren’t-just-movies-but-entire-series), sequels sometimes just don’t have the same effect as the first movie. This one follows the pattern. It’s cute, sure, but just not quite the same.

Christmas Wedding Planner – 4/10

A naive wedding planner is in the middle of planning her cousin’s wedding when an attractive private investigator enters the picture, stirring up trouble.

Review: To be blunt, this movie is sometimes painful to watch, with a twist ending ridiculous enough to elevate the plot to the point of nonsense. However, what it isn’t lacking is Christmas cheer!

For those of you still hungry for more, our honorable mentions were: Christmas Crush, Christmas in the Smokies, and Christmas with a View.

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If you are a fan of spending all day in bed and simply entering the dark hole of Netflix, then this article is here to let you know about the endless menu of holiday movies available to satisfy your binge-cravings! Special thanks to MPCA, Vanessa Hudgens, and Santa Claus.