I am loath to admit it, but my resolve has finally eroded, and I have become — to my great astonishment — a made-for-TV Christmas movie consumer. Despite the formulaic plots, the schmaltzy scripts, and the requisite suspension of disbelief, I just can’t get enough of them.
Cheesy Christmas Movies Are Commercially Successful
Turns out, I’m not alone. Plenty of networks and streaming services produce these kinds of movies today, but Hallmark Christmas movies alone are a multi-million-dollar enterprise — $600 million to be exact. The network produced 40 new holiday films just this year and boasted top viewership ratings.
And their demographics may not be quite what you’d expect, either. Millennial and Generation Z women make up a sizable chunk of the network’s viewers, and not necessarily those who would ascribe to the “traditional family values” portrayed in the films. The same type of woman who “leans in” to her “womanprenuer” life unplugs to the latest installment about an overworked professional who needs to let up on her career and let love in her heart.
How is it that a network devoted to producing stories that are so different from the lived experiences of its viewers became so perennially popular?
Some have noted how we find comfort in the predictable. Psychologists have even observed the benefit of holiday movies for your mental health, how the stress of the season abates with the endearingly warm, fuzzy, and familiar.
But maybe there’s something more.
The Movies Hit a Nerve
Today’s women under 40 are more connected than ever before. The ubiquity of social media platforms and notifications has us posting, tweeting, uploading, banking, and purchasing from Amazon Prime/Fresh/Wardrobe/whatever else with just a few clicks on our phones. We’ve made efficiency and productivity art forms.
So why do so many of us feel disconnected and chronically behind? Just ask a woman how her “work-life balance” is going and you’ll hear all the ways she isn’t doing “enough,” but strives to keep it together. Perhaps that’s why so many women’s magazines talk about “self-compassion,” and Brené Brown quotes appear on coffee mugs. Despite being connected to thousands of friends, Millennial and Gen Z women are characterized by feeling alone.
Enter the quaint charm of a made-for-TV holiday film.
Watch a few made-for-TV Christmas features and you’ll find some of its most common themes may be just what women are looking for, with or without a charming stranger who just so happens to be heir to a throne.
You’ll see themes like living in a tight-knit community, where you know your neighbors and have a sense that you belong; or realizing that the all-consuming climb of the corporate ladder may not be as fulfilling as slowing down and connecting with others; parents who are caring and supportive and engaged; relationships that communicate face-to-face and not solely behind a screen; men who treat women with honor, respect, and an understanding of her value; a woman who finds joy in contributing to people’s lives in seemingly small, but deeply meaningful ways; and the sense of hope that, whatever happens, everything is going to be ok.
They may be advanced and ambitious, connected and productive. But if the popularity of sappy holiday flicks tells us anything, it’s that we all still crave the simple things that make life truly rich – community, family, and love. Because when all the holiday cheer comes to an end and we begin another year, it’s the simplest things that are the real stuff of life.