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Two Vanessa Hudgenses stand in front of a mirror.
Well, which ones?
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Which Netflix Christmas movies are better than just watching a video Yule log?

An in-depth investigation of Christmas spirit

Among the holiday offerings available on Netflix are various versions of Yule logs — digital fireplaces that will run for hours, contentedly crackling and doing everything a fire ought to, except actually making you warm. Netflix also has an impressive slate of its own original Christmas movies, competing with those logs for holiday viewing. So which should you actually be watching?

To help sort through it all, we’ve conducted an in-depth investigation on all of Netflix’s original Christmas movies, asking about each one: Is it better than a digital Yule log?

We’ve broken each movie into four components. 1) What’s the movie about? 2) What does it have that a Yule log doesn’t? 3) What makes a Yule log better? And 4) On a scale of one to 10 (10 being the most Christmas-y), what’s its Christmas spirit score?

Kurt Russell, as Santa, leaps over chimneys.
Santa, baby.
Michael Gibson/Netflix

The Christmas Chronicles

What is it?
The Christmas Chronicles imagines a world where Santa Claus isn’t just a jolly, happy old elf. Sure, he’s got grey hair and a beard on his chinny chin chin, but Kurt Russell’s depiction of Father Christmas is much more virile. He’s hip, borderline naughty, and filled with an almost uncomfortable sexuality. That doesn’t stop him from helping siblings Kate and Teddy Pierce, who lost their heroic father some years ago, to rediscover the magic of the season.

What does it have that a Yule log doesn’t?
Kurt Russell shines brighter here than any log you’ll find on Netflix. His rendition of “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” aside, it’s an inspired performance that will bring a smile to every face in the family room.

What makes a Yule log better?
While a good chunk of The Christmas Chronicles claims to take place in Chicago, Illinois, very little apart from the establishing shots looks anything like the City of Big Shoulders. By contrast, the Yule log clearly conveys enough warmth to help people tough out a dark, blustery evening along our nation’s frigid third coast.

What is its Christmas spirit score?
6.9. *lowers sunglasses* Nice. —Charlie Hall

Ellen (Taylor) looks lovingly at Jake (Jake Lacy).
Eliza Taylor as Ellen in Christmas Inheritance.
Netflix

Christmas Inheritance

What is it?
Christmas Inheritance was overshadowed by The Christmas Prince (they both premiered in 2017), which is unfortunate, because Christmas Inheritance rules. It’s Netflix’s attempt at aping the pinnacle of the form — the Hallmark Christmas movie — and Netflix nailed it. Ellen is a rich heiress to a “gift business” who must hand-deliver a Christmas card to her dad’s reclusive business partner in the village of Snow Falls (one of the best quaint movie Christmas town names of all time) without spending any money or letting anyone in Snow Falls know who she is. Even though she has a mean fiancé back home, Ellen falls for Snow Falls’ hunky-but-jaded innkeeper, played by Obvious Child’s Jake Lacy, after he teaches her how to demonstrate basic human empathy.

What does it have that a Yule log doesn’t?
Andie MacDowell!!

What makes a Yule log better?
While both Christmas Inheritance and a Yule log video emit a warm, familiar glow meant to lull viewers into an eggnog-induced slumber, Jake Lacy’s approachable handsomeness might be too distracting.

What is its Christmas spirit score?
8. The “Big City Grinch meets Christmas Hunk” formula is a classic for a reason. Don’t think about it too hard. —Emily Heller

Prince Richard (Ben Lamb) and Amber (Rose McIver) arm in arm.
Christmas, plus a prince.
Netflix

A Christmas Prince

What is it?
It’s a standard “journalist pretends to be a tutor in order to get a hot scoop on the royal family of a country that doesn’t exist in real life and unintentionally falls in love with a prince who she originally dislikes until she learns he has a kind side” story. Think Princess Diaries, but the lead woman has slightly more agency. Think Call of Duty, but instead of making up a fake country to avoid politics, they do it for Christmas cheer, and also to avoid politics.

What does it have that a Yule log doesn’t?
The late king hides an incredibly important legal document in a Christmas ornament. Not only is that a terribly irresponsible choice for a monarch, it’s also dope as hell. A Yule log probably isn’t hiding any secrets within it.

What makes a Yule log better?
Sometimes a Yule log crackles and pops in surprising and unexpected ways. There is nothing about A Christmas Prince that is surprising and unexpected.

What is its Christmas spirit score?
9. This is the movie equivalent of eggnog: traditional, overly sweet, and a bit too much for any other time of year. But damn if it doesn’t feel good to consume it at least once during the holidays. —Brian David Gilbert

Richard (Lamb) and Amber (McIver) look shocked.
What’s this? A second Christmas Prince movie?
Netflix

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

What is it?
It’s A Christmas Prince, but the second one, and not as good.

What does it have that a Yule log doesn’t?
There is an evil corporation called “The Glockenspiel Consortium,” which is also a great name for a math-rock band.

What makes a Yule log better?
In this entry in the Christmas Prince-iverse, the main enemy is the economy. Not only is that a boring villain, it’s also an incredibly ambitious concept to tackle in a cheesy Christmas film. A Yule log won’t ever attempt to address concepts beyond its scope.

What is its Christmas spirit score?
5. It’s Christmas. Please don’t make me think of the larger implications of a fake country’s monarchy and its economy. —BDG

Abby (Kat Graham) holds up a camera.
Say cheese!
Netflix

The Holiday Calendar

What is it?
It’s Netflix’s first foray into (Christmas) magical realism à la A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life. In The Holiday Calendar, Abby’s grandfather gives her a magic advent calendar that’s cryptically predicting the future. Each day reveals a new item that connects to something that happens later in the day. (For example: the calendar reveals a toy soldier, and later that day, the love interest’s daughter plays a toy soldier in her school’s Christmas pageant.) It seems to be pointing her toward the handsome, charming single dad, but (spoiler alert!) Abby ends up with her handsome, charming best friend instead.

What does it have that a Yule log doesn’t?
The grandpa from This is Us plays the grandpa in The Holiday Calendar, and he’s just the best.

What makes a Yule log better?
A Yule log can be romantic, and even though The Holiday Calendar stars some attractive people who kiss each other, it isn’t really that romantic.

What is its Christmas spirit score?
7. It’s charming, but should have committed harder to the magic. I want a mall Santa who winks knowingly at the camera and disappears in a poof of glitter, dammit! —EH

Vanessa Hudgens has her hand kissed.
A Christmas fairytale moment.
Netflix

The Princess Switch

What is it?
It’s The Prince and the Pauper, but it stars Vanessa Hudgens, twice. And one of the Vanessa Hudgenses has a pretty iffy British accent. And then there’s a scene where fancy Vanessa Hudgens teaches baker Vanessa Hudgens how to speak in her iffy British accent, and baker Vanessa Hudgens has to speak in an even iffier British accent, and that’s the height of acting, baby.

What does it have that a Yule log doesn’t?
Near the end of this movie, the characters watch A Christmas Prince on Netflix. What does that mean for the larger Netflix canon? Are other Christmas characters watching The Princess Switch on their off time? In one scene, they manage to tear apart the fabric of fictionality in Netflix films. A Yule log could never.

What makes a Yule log better?
If you put on a Yule log, it won’t distract you from listening to Vanessa Hudgens sing on the High School Musical soundtracks, which is really why you’re watching this movie.

What is its Christmas spirit score?
8. They were able to put in a Great British Baking Show-style competition at the end of the movie, which is another thing I enjoy watching during the holidays. That makes this the most efficient “Christmas cheer per view” movie on this list. —BDG

Rob Lowe and Kristin Davis in a car, facing an elephant.
What’s more Christmas-y than an elephant?
Netflix

Holiday in the Wild

What is it?
Kristen Davis plays an empty-nester and recent divorcée who travels alone to Africa on what was supposed to be her second honeymoon. (The exact African country, Zambia, is only mentioned once or twice. Usually it’s just referred to as “Africa.”) Rob Lowe plays the gruff bush pilot who stops to help an orphaned baby elephant while flying her to a resort. Kristin Davis decides to stay at the elephant sanctuary to “help” (she used to be a veterinarian), and of course, to fall in love with Rob Lowe.

What does it have that a Yule log doesn’t?
Lots of shots of adorable baby elephants.

What makes a Yule log better?
The log and the fire have more romantic chemistry than Rob Lowe and Kristin Davis.

What is its Christmas spirit score?
As a movie: 0. As a scam to guilt rich white ladies into donating all of their money to elephant sanctuaries: 10. —EH

Brooke (Hudgens) hangs onto Cole (Whitehouse) atop a horse.
Take me to Christmas!
Brooke Palmer/Netflix

The Knight Before Christmas

What is it?
A medieval knight gets zapped into the present, right into the life of recently single schoolteacher Vanessa Hudgens. She doesn’t believe in true love or time travel, but her literal knight in shining armor may be about to change that.

What does it have that a Yule log doesn’t?
Josh Whitehouse is an easy-on-the-eyes knight with a refreshing lack of angst. Nobody’s mean or trying to get in the way of the protagonists falling in love, and the knight is already perfect. He doesn’t have to learn to be considerate or less arrogant, and he hasn’t been turned into a beast for his transgressions. He’s perfect!

Why is a Yule log better?
The Knight Before Christmas is predictable. A Yule log is predictable, too, but that’s part of the Yule log’s appeal.

What is its Christmas spirit score?
4. It’s festive, but the only part of the movie that really has to do with Christmas is a subplot. —Karen Han

A bunch of teenagers cheer around Tobin (Mitchell Hope).
Hooray, Christmas!
Netflix/Steve Wilkie

Let It Snow

What is it?
Let It Snow is an ensemble piece about a group of teens in rural Illinois coming together for a kegger at the local Waffle House. It stars Dora the Explorer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Joan Cusack as played by Ted Kaczynski. All jokes aside, it’s a thoroughly modern take on upscaled Hallmark classics like The Holiday and Love Actually. The star of the show here is actor Liv Hewson, whose portrayal of the lovelorn Dorrie adds a heartwarming queer storyline to the Netflix holiday pantheon.

What does it have that a Yule log doesn’t?
Teens. Dozens of teens doing teen things. Teens on roofs. Teens in churches. The film is simply rotten with people under the age of 20. Nary an adult to be seen, frankly.

What makes a Yule log better?
I mentioned Joan Cusack above. While I generally adore her, she spends most of this movie mumbling while covered in tinfoil. It’s hard to call her performance in this film anything other than superfluous. By contrast, the Yule log is essential.

What is its Christmas spirit score?
8, for the number of beautiful and diverse teens shown on the cover. —CH

jesper and klaus arguing about something
Santa’s big now.
Image: Netflix

Klaus

What is it?
A Santa origin story, but with a realistic twist. Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), a spoiled postman, is sent to the desolate Northern town of Smeerensburg to set up a postal service. He quickly realizes the town is embroiled in a bitter feud, so sending letters is the last thing anyone wants to do. A chance meeting with lone woodcutter Klaus (J.K. Simmons) prompts Jesper to orchestrate a system where kids write letters asking for toys. Thus, Santa is born.

What does it have that a Yule log doesn’t?
Klaus is traditionally animated but makes use of advanced lighting and texturing technologies, giving the whole movie a lush, storybook feel that looks like it’s lifted directly from an artbook. Also J.K. Simmons as Santa!

Why is a Yule log better?
A Yule log won’t make you start tearing up when Klaus recounts what happened to his wife, or when the children of the town start putting aside their parents’ feuds and make the world a better place, or when the little Sami girl wakes up to a brand new sled outside her tent. A Yule log won’t linger in your mind and make you start tearing up when a coworker asks you to write about it.

What is its Christmas spirit score?
10, because I’m thinking about the moment Jesper and schoolteacher Alma (Rashida Jones) walk into the main square and it’s all decorated and everyone is happy and oh no, I’m fine, it’s just allergies. —Petrana Radulovic

Vincent D’Onofrio and Dax Shepard in a police car.
El Camino but not the Breaking Bad movie.
Netflix

El Camino Christmas

What is it?
Perhaps the most incomprehensible Christmas movie Netflix has released yet, El Camino Christmas is billed as a “black comedy,” which is an affront to both Christmas and the concept of comedy. Various threads come together in what can only generously be called a plot: a single mom with a selectively mute child works at a convenience store; a mysterious stranger comes to town looking for his dad, played, depressingly, by Tim Allen (that’s supposed to be a twist, but it’s so obvious, it barely warrants a spoiler alert); Dax Shepard plays good cop to Vincent D’Onofrio’s unhinged cop. (Side note: D’Onofrio is giving about 40 percent effort, and still acts circles around everyone else.) Also, Jessica Alba is there as a pregnant reporter.

El Camino Christmas ends in a police standoff at the aforementioned convenience store on Christmas Eve. I watched the whole movie, and still can’t really explain how everyone gets there.

What does it have that a Yule log doesn’t?
It is technically a movie.

What makes a Yule log better?
A Yule log is joyful, warm, and comforting. El Camino Christmas is none of those things.

What is its Christmas spirit score?
0. It’s set in the desert, and therefore doesn’t even benefit from looking Christmas-y. It’s not smart enough to be offensive, and not earnest enough to be charming. —EH

Romany Malco as DJ Rush Williams.
Cue up a set for Christmas!
Netflix

Holiday Rush

What is it?
Radio DJ and single dad Rush Williams (Romany Malco) loses his job right before Christmas. To make ends meet, he and his four spoiled kids have to downsize. They move in with his Aunt Jo, played by the incomparable Darlene Love. He and his producer, Roxy (Sonequa Martin-Green), decide to buy the radio station where they got their start in broadcasting, promising they’ll play the music the corporate suits wouldn’t allow, like the incredibly popular “Christmas in Hollis.” But their former station’s manager tries to sabotage the launch. Also, Rush talks to the spirit of his dead wife a bunch, and she says it’s okay for him to smooch Roxy.

What does it have that a Yule log doesn’t?
The always-delightful Sonequa Martin-Green, surprisingly funny jokes for a Netflix Christmas movie, and Darlene Love absolutely slaying “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

What makes a Yule log better?
At a couple of points in the movie, Romany Malco does a weird voiceover reciting a Night Before Christmas-style poem about the family, and it’s never really acknowledged. Most Yule logs don’t have that.

What is its Christmas Spirit score?
9. Holiday Rush proves that hiring funny, talented actors who have actual chemistry with each other can elevate generic material. (This is a Holiday in the Wild subtweet.) —EH

Bill Murray and friends (Paul Schaefer, George Clooney, Miley Cyrus).
The hottest Christmas party ever thrown.
Netflix

A Very Murray Christmas

What is it?
An hour-long Christmas musical directed by Sophia Coppola and starring Bill Murray, Maya Rudolph, Chris Rock, Michael Cera, Amy Poehler, Jason Schwartzman, and Rashida Jones, along with musicians Miley Cyrus, Jenny Lewis, David Johansen of the New York Dolls, and Phoenix. Bill Murray plays a fictional version of himself, existentially hobbled by the decision to host a tacky live holiday special from a ritzy Manhattan hotel on Christmas Eve. When a blizzard kills the power, cancels the special, and traps Murray, he goes on a quest for Christmas cheer — mostly in the hotel bar.

What does it have that a Yule log doesn’t?
A Very Murray Christmas crafts a bubbly (and a bit bitter) adult beverage from the conflicting emotions of the holiday season. Sure, it has a splash of the mandatory peppy Christmas cheer, but it rests atop a sadness deeper than an oceanic trench. The Netflix special spotlights the very human tendency to, at the end of each year, reflect on one’s life. How did I get here, of all places?

The wealthy characters in Coppola’s films can be read as ungrateful sad-sacks, maddeningly oblivious to the luxury that coddles them like a warm blanket. But for this reason, I’ve come to appreciate her work, and in particular, this film. A decadent hotel room and glamorous Hollywood friends don’t guarantee happiness. In fact, luxury is a distraction, a false comfort. Happiness, the film suggests, is something we must choose to pursue — to open ourselves up to — every day, Christmas or otherwise. Happiness isn’t bought. It’s claimed.

What makes a Yule log better?
The gradual, mindless burn of a Yule log is livelier than the first 10 minutes of this film. I won’t say you should skip the intro, in which an exhausted Murray mopes around a beautiful hotel suite, but perhaps use this time to scoot to the kitchen and prepare hot cocoa with extra marshmallows. When you hear Michael Cera performing the role of a smooth-talking Hollywood agent, you’ll know to get back on the couch.

What is its Christmas spirit score?
5. A Very Murray Christmas isn’t as cynical as Murray’s other holiday film, Scrooged, or as saccharin as Netflix’s countless Hallmark knockoffs. It’s just right. It’s my ideal movie for 9pm on Christmas Day, when I’m feeling peak Christmas joy, but know the long winter season is mere hours away. —Chris Plante