Ah, the festive season. It’s a time for merriment and happiness and… awful movies, apparently. Of course, not all Christmas movies are bad – some are certifiable classics – but not all traditional winter watches are festive, either (the Die Hard debate rages on). The truth is actually far more complicated than it probably should be, all things considered.

There are many common traits that most Christmas movies seem to share, and this has led to the creation of a subgenre of movies specifically made for December viewing. For example, most Christmas movies feature dysfunctional families, an abundance of snow, and at least one major opportunity for a huge moral dilemma that facilitates personal growth. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the ever-growing list of Lifetime Christmas movies, most of which are objectively awful films.

However, even with that in mind, there’s rarely any such thing as a bad Christmas movie. There’s even now an art to making movies that would be considered truly abysmal at any other time of year that perform exceptionally well in the festive period, leading to an incredible phenomenon that can only accurately be described as a swelling of secretly amazing but still awful movies. The reasons for this are at once complex and ridiculously simple, which is ultimately the same juxtaposition that these movies exploit to achieve their “guilty-pleasure” status.

Why Even The Worst Christmas Movies Can Still Be Great

A man and woman under an awning in winter

Whereas the vast majority of cinema is judged on a fairly uniform set of merits – writing, acting, direction, cinematography, and the like – Christmas movies must work toward a different set of criteria. The bar is infinitely lower for films released as Christmas movies (even more so for TV movies) because their success is only really contingent upon their ability to evoke that festive feeling. Christmas movies are largely free of the expectations that bind regular cinema, and that’s because we as the audience want only one thing: to feel Christmassy.

What’s more, the vast majority of Christmas movies are variations on a very select few stories. Typically, they’re either fantasy stories about children/elves/regular people saving Christmas by helping Santa, they’re romantic comedies with a dusting of snow and ridiculously over-decorated small towns, or they’re just another retelling of A Christmas Carol. Strangely, this works, because this is what we’ve come to expect – Christmas is a time for tradition, so it’s fine for Christmas movies to be entirely unoriginal.

The thing is, it’s fine for Christmas movies to have bad messages at their heart or to have been made with scripts so wooden they may well have been whittled. As long as there’s snow, love, and a handful of familiar Christmas songs on hand, any movie can pass for an enjoyable winter romp that helps us slip into the Christmas spirit. Ultimately, that’s the beauty of Christmas – it’s the only time of year that bad movies are enjoyed by all, uniting audiences in the spirit of the season. Touching, isn’t it?