(WGHP) — Even if you never have watched one of its movies, you can’t avoid the commercials: Hallmark Channel is heavily invested in Christmas.
Since its days of presenting heartwarming tales in the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” on mainstream network channels, Hallmark has translated its gift-card sentimentality into hundreds of Christmas movies for its branded cable channel (and its subsidiary Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and streaming service).
Starting at the end of October the network debuted 41 new movies this year (which continue through New Year’s). And by conservative estimates the network now has produced nearly 300 new movies since 2008, a significant percentage of the thousands of Christmas-related movies and TV shows that have been developed.
If you’ve watched Hallmark’s movies, you know they generally are consistent in themes and formats, bringing together former friends/lovers, damaged family members, nostalgic properties (usually in a small town where there’s always snow) and even miracle workers (think angelic assistance) for happy endings. Coming home is always a big theme, and a handsome prince and modern Cinderella sometimes are involved.
The movies typically fade out with a difficult decision or a dramatic change of heart/mind, many tears and smiles and a chaste, often-first kiss in a holiday setting, sometimes under randomly but conveniently hung mistletoe, all within a precise two hours.
For good measure, the women usually are named Holly, Joy or Noelle, with an occasional Kris, and the guys tend to be Nick or Chris or some very trendy and popular new-age name (like Logan or Jackson or Justyn). Sometimes the actors swap identities or even residences.
And, more often than not, the faces behind those names are very consistent, with dozens of actors returning for a variety of roles, sometimes even singing and dancing. There are famous faces, child actors who are now adults and even relatives in the same movies. You see the patterns.
We are not making fun here, just reporting the facts. But all of this had us looking for answers about just how successful and popular these movies have been what’s behind that success.
Here are a half-dozen questions we answered:
1. So exactly how successful are these movies?
Marketplace reported in 2017 that more than 85 million people were expected to watch the Hallmark Channel that year. The kickoff for “Countdown to Christmas” that year drew 17.6 million viewers, up from 15.2 million in 2016. According to AdWeek, in November 2017 Hallmark was the most-watched cable network among 18-to-49-year-old and 25-to-54-year-old women, two very desirable markets for advertisers. Those numbers only have risen.
2. Which Hallmark Christmas movie is considered the best of all time?
There are several outlets that have ranked the movies, but the most recent is Parade magazine, which earlier this month ranked its top 35 and placed “A Royal Christmas,” a movie from 2014 starring the former James Bond-movie heroine Jane Seymour, at the top. It’s Nos. 3-5: “Christmas In Evergreen” (2017), “Let it Snow” (2013), “The Note” (2017) and “Northpole: Open for Christmas” (2014). Good Housekeeping liked a remix of “A Royal Christmas” (with Lacey Chabert starring) as its No. 1, followed by “Let It Snow,” “The Christmas Train,” “The Christmas Ornament” and “The Christmas House.” There also are rankings by Cosmopolitan, Screen Rant and the Decider. Some are more complete and current than others.
3. Who has starred in most of those movies?
Well, yes, there are many actors (females and males) who have appeared in various movies. But the most recurring appearances have been among the female stars, and some of them had careers as child actors before becoming holiday heroines. Candace Cameron Bure, who cut her teeth on the “Full House” sitcom of the 1980s and ‘90s, has been in 29 of those movies and counting, nosing out Lacy Chabert (27) and Danica McKellar of the original “Wonder Years” fame, who has been in 16. Among the men, Andrew Walker is the king, with 21 roles, and Brennan Elliott has been in 18.
4. Wasn’t Lori Loughlin in a lot of these movies, too?
Loughlin, who played Candace Cameron Bure’s aunt on “Full House,” also had regular turns with Hallmark before being sent to prison, with her husband, for bribing a college official to help her daughters gain entry into Southern Cal. But this year she made her return to acting since serving her sentence, on Dec. 18 in “A Country Christmas Part 1,” in which she reprised her character Abigail Stanton from her Hallmark series “When Calls the Heart.” She had been in at least four prior Hallmark Christmas movies, and her “Northpole: Open for Christmas” has been ranked among the best.
5. Haven’t I seen a lot of other famous faces?
You could argue that “The Christmas Train” in 2017 had the deepest cast of accomplished actors. That story was about two journalists reunited on a transcontinental holiday train trip, starring Dermot Mulroney and Kimberly Williams-Paisley (who with her sister Ashley starred in two movies this year). They traveled with an ensemble that included Danny Glover and Joan Cusack. You also may have noted appearances by numerous TV stars who gained fame in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Maureen McCormick, Cheryl Ladd, Donna Mills, James Brolin, Ed Asner and Henry Winkler. There are plenty of former soap opera stars, too, most prominently Genie Francis and Cameron Mathieson.
6. So who has been the most famous person to appear in a Hallmark Christmas movie?
Well, that’s subjective of course. You could make an argument that a musical entertainer such as Wynonna Judd was pretty big (her mother, Naomi, was in another movie), but that pick would be dimmed by megastar Dolly Parton, who had “Christmas in Dollywood” as a headline event. That movie starred McKellar in the key acting role. Dolly played, well, Dolly. But for sheer acting power the two headliners might be two Academy Award winners: the late Ernest Borgnine (“A Grandpa For Christmas,” with Katherine Helmond and Jamie Farr, and “Love’s Christmas Journey”) and Shirley MacLaine (“A Heavenly Christmas,” with Kristin Davis and Eric McCormack). Maybe Treat Williams (who has 131 acting credits) would argue with that. He has been in two Hallmark holiday movie, too, and the more recent, “The Christmas House,” broke ground by having a gay couple as part of the plot.