What’s the recipe for a perfect Christmas movie?

From sweet snowy romances to fun for all the family, these winter warmers are the perfect antidote to the real-life stresses that Christmas can bring.

The best Christmas flicks have the feel of something that has been lovingly handmade, like a batch of warm cookies or a specially crafted toy straight from Santa’s workshop. The worst feel like they’ve been cranked out in a factory to meet ever-rising market demand. But they all have a certain number of heartstring-tugging traits in common, with a universal emphasis on the importance of love and family.

The Lifetime and Hallmark channels have turned the holiday romance (or “Christmance”) movie into an annual event, with such gems as A Wish For Christmas, A Boyfriend For Christmas and The Road To Christmas. Netflix has gotten in on the action over the last few years too, offering up Christmas Inheritance, A Christmas Prince and The Princess Switch. The streaming giant’s festive offerings skew pretty close to the mass-produced end of the seasonal spectrum, but the very fact that they are churning them out so gamely means there is an audience out there hungry for cookie-cutter Christmas couplings.

‘Christmas Inheritance’ (2017)

Michael Varrati is the screenwriter behind a number of Christmas movies, including A Christmas Reunion, A Christmas In Vermont and Hallmark’s Broadcasting Christmas, as well as two more coming out next year. He believes these films are so popular precisely because of their comfort food formula.

“Movie Christmas and actual Christmas aren’t exactly the same thing; when you watch a movie, you don’t worry about the financial or familial stress that come with the season, you just submit to the magic,” he says. “Movies allow us to romanticise the holidays and imagine a time of year when everyone is kinder, sweeter and loving, and I think we need that. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a warm blanket and cup of tea. In some ways, that’s really what the iconography of Christmas is all about: warmth, comfort, love. So it makes sense to me why we project such fondness and romance onto this time of year, and dream that our actual Christmas may be a bit more like movie Christmas.”

‘A Christmas Reunion’ (2015)

His personal favourite Christmas film, however, is a little out of leftfield: Batman Returns. “Catwoman reclaims agency over herself during the holidays, stands up to the men in her life, and in the end decides the truest love she can have at Christmas is herself,” he explains. Which certainly broadens the definition of holiday film. And with that in mind, here are three picks from across the Christmas canon that make for perfect holiday viewing…

For a sprinkle of romance: Holiday Inn

Starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds, and featuring star-crossed lovers, a winter romance and a Christmas concert, this 1942 classic is an early archetype of the holiday romance. “There’s a whole generation of holiday flicks that exist because of this film’s legacy,” says Michael. “It even directly spawned 1954’s White Christmas.”

Alternately, there’s always the now-traditional viewing of Love, Actually, which flits so swiftly between its many romantic storylines that you won’t have time to dwell on how problematic they all are.

For festive family fun: Home Alone

This tale of child neglect and home invasions is a festive family classic because it actually eschews schmaltz for much of its running time, instead revelling in shenanigans as young Kevin enjoys having the house to himself and then defends it from burglars with a series of pranks. There’s enough seasonal sentimentality present thanks to Catherine O’Hara’s highly strung performance as the mother determined to be reunited with her son, but the undercurrent of humour keeps this (and its New York-based sequel) from ever being too cloying.

And if you prefer swearing to sweetness: The Long Kiss Goodnight

Plenty of people like to bang on about how Die Hard is a Christmas movie, due to it being set at a Christmas party. But not enough people talk about The Long Kiss Goodnight, an action film about an amnesiac assassin which also takes place over the holidays, and is arguably much more Christmassy than Die Hard. After all, this is a film featuring an epic climactic scene in which a blood-spattered Geena Davies saves an entire Christmas parade from getting blown up. But additionally, amid all of its foul language and gratuitous violence, The Long Kiss Goodnight tells the story of a woman learning an important lesson about who she truly is and reconnecting with her child. If that’s not a Christmas movie, what is?

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