'Tis the season for Hallmark Christmas movies. Fall may have just begun, but it's never too early to get into the festive spirit — thanks to Hallmark's full lineup of 42 original holiday films. Kicking off Friday, Oct. 20, one day earlier than last year, Hallmark's annual Christmas programming event will keep viewers cozy with an ambitious schedule across its family of networks.
Hallmark Channel's Countdown to Christmas, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Miracles of Christmas and Hallmark Movies Now's Movies & Mistletoe slates will feature network favorites like Lacey Chabert (pulling double duty in two yuletide films, bringing her Hallmark haul to a record 14), Catherine Bell and Tyler Hynes, who are both back to ring in the holiday season.
Familiar faces Rachael Leigh Cook (who proclaimed "It’s Christmas o’clock somewhere" in an Instagram posted back in May), Nikki DeLoach, Andrew Walker, Luke Macfarlane, Jonathan Bennett, Bethany Joy Lenz, Ryan Paevey, James Denton, Kevin McGarry, Kimberley Sustad and Kristoffer Polaha will also bring Christmas cheer as they return to headline new films. Making their Hallmark debut this year are stars like Phylicia Rashad, Chris Carmack, Suits alum Rick Hoffman, Bryan Greenberg, Jessica Parker Kennedy and William Moseley.
There's plenty to look forward to — from small-screen reunions (Party of Five's Chabert and Scott Wolf playing siblings in A Merry Scottish Christmas, Good Witch's Bell and Denton in Christmas on Cherry Lane) to lavish international settings (Notting Hill, the Scottish Highlands) to new music team-ups (Ingrid Michaelson, Mickey Guyton) — proving there will be no shortage of Hallmark gifts this winter.
What can you expect from Hallmark's Christmas schedule?
A lot of feel-good movies.
Hallmark's bread and butter is its original Christmas programming — it was the most-watched entertainment cable network for the last four months in 2022 — and this year the expectations are high. Among its 42 original films, 31 of them will premiere on Hallmark Channel, nine will launch on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and two will debut on its streaming service, Hallmark Movies Now. (Last year, Hallmark premiered 40 original films.)
It's the first time Hallmark is incentivizing viewers to try out Hallmark Movies Now by offering extended cuts of popular holiday titles, such as last year's breakout hit, Three Wise Men and a Baby, starring Hynes, Walker and Paul Campbell; one-week early access to select films from this year's lineup; and two original film premieres, including Rescuing Christmas, starring Cook and The Bold Type's Sam Page.
The majority follow a tried-and-true formula (big-city girl falls in love with small-town guy or former flames rekindling an old romance, for example) and star Hallmark-friendly faces. But the network remains steadfast in its commitment to expanding the breadth of the stories it spotlights by continuing to diversify its movies and casts.
Several Hallmark holiday offerings feature differently-abled actors — Katie Leclerc (Letters to Santa), who is hard of hearing; Ben Mehl (My Christmas Guide), who is visually impaired; and Emmy Richardson (Under the Christmas Sky), who has spinal dysgenesis. Others celebrate different traditions like Hanukkah, revolve around nontraditional families or showcase LGBTQ+ romances as the main story driver.
"Some of the plots are trying to stake out some new ground, which after years and years of the locked-in tropes of 'career woman goes to small town and has to plan the Christmas carnival,' it seems like they're reaching out to new and different directions. It's promising," Alonso Duralde, co-author of I'll Be Home for Christmas Movies and movie critic at The Film Verdict, tells Yahoo Entertainment. "A lot of the time with Hallmark, you're like, 'Welcome to the early 21st century.' But they're getting there. They're making an effort.
"I think it's great that we have Hanukkah movies. I think it's great that we have same-sex love stories incorporated into [the movies]. I think it's great that this year we have a wheelchair-using character who is played by a wheelchair-using actor and a visually-impaired character played by a visually-impaired actor," he adds. "These are things you would not have seen on this network five, 10 years ago."
Will there be more competition this year?
Hallmark has earned its place at the top of the holiday movie mantle, but it won't be without heavy competition with Lifetime, Netflix and Great American Family among the networks and streaming services trying to claim a piece of the proverbial pie, despite the ongoing strikes.
"Hallmark has made themselves the industry standard in all of this," Duralde says. "When other networks step up and are trying to do their own holiday slate, however they do it and in whatever ways they do it that's different, it's always going to be 'How does this compare to how Hallmark is doing?' That's always the ideal place to be for any industry. You want to be the one everyone is looking to as the guide."
There won't be "an explosion" of holiday movies that were released last year, he forecasts, which could help Hallmark. (There were well over 170 holiday TV films in 2022.) "I think we reached 'peak saturation Christmas' last year. The people who stuck a foot in are going to think twice about spending the money and the time on it."
While Hallmark is seeing success as a ratings leader in holiday programming, there could be obstacles moving forward. "They are dominating the fourth quarter of the year in the ratings for cable in non-news and sports, but those ratings are always shrinking," Duralde says. "It's great that Hallmark is dominating that realm but they're going to have to figure out what that next realm is to dominate if they want to stay in business and stay relevant."
Which Hallmark movies should viewers circle on the calendar?
Sometimes it's difficult to predict which Hallmark movies will break through. But going off solely on cast lists and the official plot descriptions, here are six titles that could potentially be holiday standouts.
Never Been Chris'd (Hallmark Channel)
Premieres: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 8 p.m.
Stars: Janel Parrish, Pascal Lamothe-Kipnes and Tyler Hynes
Home for the holidays, BFFs Naomi (Parrish) and Liz (Lamothe-Kipnes) reconnect with high school crush Chris Silver (Hynes). A complex love triangle forms, forcing them to take stock of their lives and find the value of friendship.
A Merry Scottish Christmas (Hallmark Channel)
Premieres: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 8 p.m.
Stars: Lacey Chabert and Scott Wolf
When estranged siblings, Lindsay (Chabert) and Brad (Wolf) Morgan travel to Scotland at Christmas to reunite with their mother Jo, a big family secret is revealed.
A Biltmore Christmas (Hallmark Channel)
Premieres: Sunday, Nov. 28 at 8 p.m.
Stars: Bethany Joy Lenz, Kristoffer Polaha, Jonathan Frakes and Robert Picardo
Lucy Hardgrove (Lenz) is a screenwriter who lands the job of a lifetime when she's hired to pen the script for a remake of the beloved, holiday movie classic, which was filmed in 1947 at the historic Biltmore House. When the head of the studio isn't satisfied with the ending Lucy wrote, he sends Lucy to Biltmore Estate for research and inspiration. While there, she unwittingly discovers the ability to travel to the 1947 set and while there, she and Jack Huston (Polaha), one of the film's stars, become close. But her sudden appearance has set off a chain of events that puts the production in jeopardy. Before she can return to the present, Lucy must make things right or threaten to alter the future forever.
Rescuing Christmas (Hallmark Movies Now)
Premieres: Thursday, Dec. 7
Stars: Rachael Leigh Cook and Sam Page
In a world where Santa (T. Mychael Rambo) is real and wants to drum up some holiday spirit, two of Santa's elves devise a plan to grant one human on Earth three wishes to kickstart the holidays. Unfortunately, that human is Erin (Cook), who has lost all affection for the season. Even a blind date set up by her sister, with the affable and charming Sam (Page), won't change her mind about Christmas. But when she makes the mistake of wishing Christmas would "just disappear," Erin wakes up to a world where the holiday never existed! Horrified, she realizes that she's taken away everyone's joy, so she enlists Sam to help her reinvent the festivities from scratch.
Christmas on Cherry Lane (Hallmark Channel)
Premieres: Saturday, Dec. 9 at 8 p.m.
Stars: Catherine Bell, Jonathan Bennett, John Brotherton, Erin Cahill, James Denton, Vincent Rodriguez III
A young couple preparing to welcome their first child (Brotherton, Cahill); an empty-nester (Bell) and her fiancé (Denton) ready to start a new chapter; and a couple (Bennett, Rodriguez III) who unexpectedly have the chance to expand their family on Christmas Eve celebrate the holiday as they navigate these turning points in their lives.
Friends & Family Christmas (Hallmark Movies & Mysteries)
Premieres: Sunday, Dec. 17 at 8 p.m.
Stars: Humberly Gonzalez and Ali Liebert
Daniella (Gonzalez) has recently moved to New York to pursue an art career and decides to stay in town to share the holidays with her circle of artist friends, instead of going home to see her sweet, if overbearing parents. Amelia (Liebert) is a talented entertainment lawyer trying to stay focused on her work after a broken engagement. When Daniella and Amelia are set up by their parents, they agree to pretend that they are dating, to appease them for the holidays. However, as they spend time in each other's worlds, they soon build a connection that is deeper than either of them could have hoped for.