Cracking the Hallmark Christmas movie code

These holiday films shouldn't work, but they do

Hallmark uses the same plotlines over and over again.

Many people rightfully despise the parade of Hallmark Christmas films that snowball us every year, but more than 44 million viewers have already watched dozens of new films this festive season.

It’s not surprising then, that Hallmark produces dozens of new holiday films every year. But how do they come up with new plotlines every single time? 

The simple answer is, they don’t. Every single Hallmark movie is a combination of one or more unchanging tropes, and all the producers have to do is pull a lever to make a film appear.

For example, the female protagonist in a Hallmark film will either be a career woman from the city or a lowly dreamer from a small town. Sometimes, in an unexpected twist, the lowly dreamer from the small town ends up in the city.

The career women usually have charming personality traits like wearing high heels in the snow or dropping their luggage or having lots of money. These cute little quirks, like being employed, only endear these career women (who are usually snobby) to their male love interests, who exist solely to teach them a lesson about the meaning of Christmas before marrying them and holding them hostage in their little mountain towns forever.

Let’s interlude for a quick conspiracy theory: every Hallmark Christmas film has a café run by the local wise woman. Is that what happens to all the female CEOs whose trains break down in little towns where tasks as simple as taking the bus become impossible feats? Do these women give up their careers to live out their days making candy-cane hot chocolates for the next unsuspecting victims of small-town hunks? Are they in on it? Is this their revenge for being stuck in the middle of nowhere? 

If these women aren’t one-dimensional monsters, though, they’re one-dimensional angels who either have an evil ex-boyfriend or an evil fiancé “in the city.” These women are commoners, if you will: lowly teachers, wistful bakers, down-on-their-luck photographers, and journalists out to write their “first big story.” Apparently, “being a creative woman” is the equivalent to “being a poor woman” in the cheesy Christmas world.

Men do have careers beyond being the “local woodsman” as well, but these men are the successful versions of the creative female archetypes. They’re celebrity chefs, famous authors, cynical journalists, royal princes, or mysterious professors.

Another trope in Hallmark films is the frequent lack of sexual chemistry between the two love interests. While there might be some silly meet-cute at the beginning of the film, like “woman has car troubles and flannel-attired man assists,” the comedic spark evaporates before the end of the first act.

The two love interests also always have to save or discover something before Christmas Day, and it must be before Christmas Day. Otherwise, Christmas Day will unquestionably be ruined. Whether that’s rescuing the annual Christmas pageant, revealing the truth about a mysterious object, or figuring out their exact purpose for the entire rest of their lives, the characters usually have 12 to 24 days to do it.

Finally, maybe it’s just me, but the lower-budget Hallmark movies don’t actually have Christmas music in them, which is a bit of a scam. The films feature songs aboutChristmas, sure, but not real Christmas songs.

So, why do a minimum of 44 million viewers return to these tropes every year? Well, the truth for many people is that Christmas is a social and financial burden—not everyone can actually afford the environment a Hallmark Christmas movie is produced in.

These movies act as an escape from the underwhelming promises of Christmas presented to us by corporate marketing.

The predictable ways in which these movies treat their characters and the holiday season overall are like comfort food: none of it is objectively good, but it’s fun while it lasts.


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