In a charming small town filled with Christmas spirit, there are a boy and a girl destined to fall in love underneath the mistletoe. That's the basic formula of nearly every Hallmark holiday movie, and there's a very good reason why viewers can't stop watching. With titles like Christmas at the Plaza, Holiday Date, and The Mistletoe Secret, it seems that Hallmark's Countdown to Christmas can't start too soon.
The predictability of each film's plot and the inevitable happy ending is exactly what keeps viewers coming back for more. Pamela Rutledge, behavioral scientist, director of the Media Psychology Research Center and Media Psychology faculty at Fielding Graduate University, told NBC News that "the human brain loves patterns and the predictability is cognitively rewarding. Those predictable story arcs that draw on the standard patterns we recognize from fairytales offer comfort by presenting life as simple and moralistic."
The feel-good factor and simple storylines are a necessary distraction during the busy holiday season. Hallmark knows that viewers can't get enough—the network created a whopping 24 new films for 2019 alone. The endearing characters, merry settings, and heartwarming endings have key emotional benefits. "The genre is well-defined, and our expectations follow. This enables us to suspend disbelief," says Rutledge. Suspended disbelief is a literary term dating back to 1817 that defines the willingness of a viewer to let go of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment. It refers to one of Aristotle's principles, in which an audience can accept, and embrace, fiction as a way to experience catharsis.
"While few of us are going to switch places with a doppelgänger, save Christmas for ourselves or someone else, marry a prince/princess, fall for a person who turns out to be a billionaire or find true love in the span of an hour, [Hallmark movies] still allow us to experience the emotions associated with social validation, the yearning for connection, compassion and empathy," Rutledge told NBC News. "The movies provide simplistic solutions to all those stressors that the holidays can bring: family conflict, isolation, or financial pressures."
At the end of each film, the protagonists often realize the true meaning of Christmas, which can be powerful for viewers. "[Hallmark movies] give us hope for things like love, 'true happiness,' overcoming obstacles, and compassion," says Rutledge.