The Untold Truth Of Hallmark Holiday Movies

Hallmark holiday movies bring in viewers every Christmas, providing them with their annual fix of feel-good TV comfort. Boasting formulaic storylines and painfully generic titles, these Christmas-themed movies have nonetheless proven to be wildly successful for the channel and its parent company, Crown Media.

Since launching "Countdown to Christmas" in 2011, the brand that was once known primarily for its greeting cards is now synonymous with unabashedly sappy but undeniably addictive holiday flicks that are the entertainment equivalent of a fresh-from-the-oven gingerbread cookie and a mug of steaming cocoa on a chilly winter day. Yes, the Hallmark Channel has become must-watch television. "We own Christmas and we are going to do it in a bigger way and a better way and really speak to the spirit of the season that I don't think any of our competitors do," Hallmark's executive vice president of programming Michelle Vicary told E! News in 2017.

Even for those who've watched dozens of Hallmark holiday movies over the years (you know who you are!), there's still a lot that viewers don't know about that goes on behind the scenes. Prepare to learn the untold truth of Hallmark holiday movies. 

These Vancouver suburbs have become a hub for Hallmark holiday movies

Hallmark holiday movies are typically set in a charming-yet-generic small town in America, yet the vast majority of these made-for-TV movies are actually filmed in Canada, most notably Vancouver. In fact, several Vancouver-area suburbs — particularly the British Columbia cities of Langley, Maple Ridge, and Squamish — can lay claim to hosting dozens of Hallmark holiday movies over the years.

In fact, filming Hallmark productions has become so prevalent in Maple Ridge that the city has its own film production liaison, Marg Johnson, who receives more requests to film there than she can accommodate. "I've actually had to turn away a few productions," she told CBC News. "I have to be a little more discerning now."

Nearby Langley has also been the setting of countless Hallmark productions. Speaking with the Aldergrove Star, Teri James, executive director of the Downtown Langley Business Association, outlined some of the benefits that keep Hallmark coming back year after year, including a special tax break and local businesses that are "very supportive of filming." She added that "the vibe of the 'mom and pop' downtown works very well for many of the movies that are filmed here."

Hallmark holiday movies recreate winter in the middle of July

While most Hallmark holiday movies take place at Christmastime, they're actually filmed in the summer. This creates a unique challenge for filmmakers. After all, how do you recreate a cold, snowy Christmas in the middle of July?

According to the Langley Advance Times"fake snow made out of cotton batting" and other moviemaking trickery are used to create the illusion of winter, along with lots and lots of ice. "We'll go to a plant that deals with packing fish or meat and just get a huge, huge couple truckloads of ice," Troy Scott, an assistant director who's worked on several holiday movies, told CBC News

Still, faking winter in the in the midst of a Vancouver heatwave can be particularly daunting for actors. "It takes a toll on you to film in this heat," Hallmark star Candace Cameron Bure told Good Housekeeping. "Not only are you sweating, but you have to act like you're cold, which takes another element of your energy to pretend that you're shivering instead of just naturally shivering."

What it's like to live in a Hallmark holiday movie town

As weird as it must be for the actors and crew to recreate winter in the heat of the summer, imagine what it's like for the people who actually live in these British Columbia areas as they watch their towns get transformed into magical holiday wonderlands each summer.

According to one resident of Fort Langley, a historic small town of about 3,400 that has hosted at least 30 Hallmark holiday movies over the years, the town is actually more festive in July than it is in December. "There's usually really big candy canes and lollipops," Fort Langley resident Lana Brunner told Chatelaine. "Their decorations are above and beyond what you would even see in the malls."

According to Fort Langley local Shirley Rempel, who owns an antique store, being the home for Hallmark holiday movies is something that makes her personally happy and also reflects well on the town. "People are tired of watching cars crash and things explode," she said. "A lot of people want to escape to a place where Christmas happens." 

Some residents weren't happy about Hallmark holiday movies filming in their town

Having all those Hallmark holiday movies filming each summer hasn't always engendered the kind of "peace and goodwill" vibes usually associated with the holidays. In 2009, long-simmering tensions between Hallmark moviemakers and ticked-off Fort Langley residents threatened to bubble over. 

"As the number of productions escalated, some Fort Langley residents bristled at the way film crews swallowed up parking and closed streets," reported ChatelaineThis led the local Business Improvement Association to hire a liaison who would serve as a conduit between locals and filmmakers in order to nip any concerns in the bud so that problems could be dealt with before they had a chance to escalate. That, "in tandem with scaling back the number of productions, has largely smoothed over tensions," the magazine added.

Clearly, living in a town where umpteen Hallmark holiday movies film each summer can be a mixed bag for those who live there. Maryann Lambert, general manager of Fort Langley's Wendel's Bookstore & Café, offered her assessment of what it's like to live near the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie. "Sometimes it's annoying, sometimes it's cool," she said.

How to find the actual locations where Hallmark holiday movies were shot

One of the fan perks of Hallmark filming holiday movies in actual small towns is that the locations used in those movies can be visited in real life. In fact, Hallmark superfans planning a trip to Vancouver can visit numerous houses, shops, and streets that have served as the backdrops for the best and worst Hallmark Channel holiday movies — if they know where to look.

One such fan, who identified herself as Kerry, made it easy to find these locations courtesy of her I've Scene It On Hallmark website. The site is broken down into separate sections for Hallmark holiday movies, non-Christmas movies, and TV series, with Kerry sharing photos of the places she's visited and personal anecdotes about her experiences.

Among the locations listed is the Victorian house in Fort Langley that was featured in Trading Christmas and Langley's Hilltop Cafe, which was heavily featured in Hallmark Channel's Home for Christmas Day, in addition to several other Hallmark movies and episodes of such TV series as Supernatural, Fringe, The X-Files, and Bates Motel.

What it's like to be an extra in a Hallmark holiday movie

Writer Amanda Garrity got the inside scoop on what it's like to work as an extra in a Hallmark holiday movie, and she chronicled the experience for Good Housekeeping. Garrity was an extra in the Candace Cameron Bure-starring Christmas Town, which premiered in December 2019. Set in the fictional town of Grandon Falls, the movie was actually shot on the backlot of a movie studio in the suburb of Burnaby, which had been "transformed into a fictional town center that looks just like the movies with stores outlined in twinkle lights, market stalls displaying an assortment of sugary sweets, and a trimmed tree in the middle of all things holly and jolly."

As Garrity revealed, the Hallmark Channel churns out its movies at a rapid pace. "The turnaround on Christmas Town is exceptionally fast," she wrote. "By the time I arrive, they're already halfway through the 15-day shoot, which explains why when they're shooting a romantic scene in the gazebo, another group is manually (yes, manually) moving the clock hands on the town center's clock tower to prepare for the main event: Grandon Falls' tree lighting."

There were 40 new Hallmark holiday movies in 2020 alone

If it seems as if every Christmas season there are more and more Hallmark holiday movies to watch, that's because there are.

According to Entertainment Weekly, Hallmark revealed that 40 brand new holiday movies would be released in 2020. Previously, as TheWrap reported, the Hallmark Channel announced its most ambitious slate of holiday movies ever with 40 new Christmas movies debuting in 2019. In fact, Hallmark Channel's annual "Countdown to Christmas" programming event didn't waste any time in getting out there, with Yuletide programming kicking off in late October. In fact, 2019's 40 movies set a new record for for the Hallmark Channel, topping the 37 that were produced in 2018 and a big increase over the 21 produced in 2017. Considering that there were just six Hallmark holiday movies made in 2010, the runaway success of these feel-good flicks pretty much speaks for itself.

With its holiday movies more popular than ever, Hallmark Channel shows no signs of slowing down the pace. According to a 2017 report from The Wall Street Journal, at that time, the Hallmark Channel had produced 136 holiday movies since 2008. When you factor in 2018 and 2019 movies, that number balloons to 213.

A company offered to pay a fan $1,000 to binge-watch Hallmark holiday movies

One lucky fan of Hallmark holiday movies had the opportunity to watch these seasonal treats while earning a few bucks at the same time.

As Business Insider reported, tech firm Century Link held a contest, with the prize being that they'd pay the winner $1,000 to binge-watch 24 Hallmark holiday movies in 12 days. Applicants to the contest needed to be at least 18 years old, able to document their movie-watching on social media, and, of course, must really love ChristmasAccording to Business Insider, Century Link also provided the winner with a subscription to Hallmark's streaming service in order to access the movies, in addition to "hot cocoa, Christmas cookies, a string of fairy lights, a mini Christmas tree and more Hallmark swag than you could ever need."

The winner of the contest would be expected to share his or her feelings about the movies on social media. "We want you to have opinions — lots of them!" stated Century Link. "Think the grumpy Grandpa turned jolly Santa was a little overdone? Felt like the plot was a bit half-baked? Be as honest as possible in your review."

Why the same actors keep starring in Hallmark holiday movies

Aficionados of Hallmark holiday movies will have noticed that many of the same faces keep popping up in movie after movie. This is certainly the case for Mean Girls' Lacey Chabert, who had appeared in 16 Hallmark holiday movies by 2018. "Hallmark has really become like family," she said a 2018 interview with Glamour. "I really respect the programming. I feel really blessed to be a part of it. I'm really proud of the content, so it's become a very close relationship. The values that are represented in their films are very much intrinsically who they are as a company." 

"It's fun to come out with a movie where every day you have a happy ending and it's a sweet love story [or] family story," added Hallmark Channel star Alicia Witt, who has also appeared in several Hallmark holiday flicks along with such darker fare as Justified and The Walking Dead. "I just spent the last week in winter clothes and people I really enjoy working with and Christmas lights everywhere and snow and gingerbread cookies and vegan eggnog. There's very little heaviness on my psyche right now."

Why fans won't be seeing Lori Loughlin in any more Hallmark holiday movies

A frequent star of Hallmark holiday movies has been former Full House actress Lori Loughlin, who once offered her theory about the movies' popularity to Glamour. "We're a society now where we're news 24/7 no matter where you turn," she said. "There are a lot of sad or depressing stories out there. I think you want a place to escape and feel good and be transported. Hallmark's a really good place to do that."

Sadly, Loughlin found herself in the middle of that very 24/7 news cycle in 2019, when she and husband Mossimo Giannulli were hit with criminal charges of bribery, fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy over allegedly paying a $500,000 bribe in order to get their two daughters, who grew up to look just like Loughlin, accepted into the University of Southern California. 

The scandal led Hallmark to sever ties with Loughlin. "We are saddened by the recent news surrounding the college admissions allegations. We are no longer working with Lori Loughlin and have stopped development of all productions that air on the Crown Media Family Network channels involving Lori Loughlin," the company said in a statement to USA Today

The reason why viewers flock to Hallmark holiday movies

The increasing number of Hallmark holiday movies each year is a testament to how much they resonate with viewers. But why? A BuzzFeed News reporter tried to find out by asking fans what it was about the movies that kept them coming back. "It's just something to watch that's mindless and doesn't stress you out," said viewer Christina Vineyard, adding, "It's something somebody can watch and just be happy about, something that can take your mind off the world for a little bit."

"People need to feel good. They need to feel positive," explained Michelle Vicary of Crown Media Family Networks, corporate parent of the Hallmark Channel. "There's so much good television that is dark, edgy and fantastic. But in the huge spectrum of the human experience, things can also turn out OK. Life can be good and life can be positive, and people need that too. That's where we come in and that's where our brand comes in and delivers on an emotional experience that says, 'You know what, things are going to turn out OK, and you're good and life is good.'"

Hallmark Channel execs have addressed controversy about Hallmark holiday movies' apparent lack of diversity

While Hallmark holiday movies seem to be universally beloved, the Hallmark Channel encountered controversy when their Christmas movies were accused of lacking in the diversity department, particularly with LGBTQ representation onscreen. As TheWrap pointed out, not one of the Hallmark Channel's 40 new movies for the 2019 holiday season featured an LGBTQ character in a main storyline. 

Crown Media executive Michelle Vicary insisted the network was aware of the issue and was working to remedy it. "We are continuing to expand our diversity," Vicary said in a statement. "We are looking at pitches for LGBTQ movies ... and we are looking to expand and represent the United States as a whole." Fortunately, in 2020, Hallmark released The Christmas House, the first Hallmark holiday movie to feature LGBTQ characters as leads, as noted by Decider.

However, Hallmark Channel exec Bill Abbott took issue with criticism of its lack of diversity in 2019. "I think that generalization isn't fair either, that we just have Christmas with white leads," he told The Hollywood Reporter's TV's Top 5 podcast, pointing out that four of Hallmark Channel's holiday movies in 2019 featured people of color in leading roles. "In terms of broadening out the demographic, it's something we're always thinking about," he added.

Hallmark holiday movies generate big ratings and big bucks

Hallmark holiday movies have become a big part of the bottom line for the Hallmark Channel, and they are becoming more profitable every year. "We had 85 million people watch us last year and we're already halfway to that before Thanksgiving," Crown Media exec Michelle Vicary told BuzzFeed News of the channel's 2019 viewership. 

As Hallmark Channel exec Bill Abbott told Vox in 2017, the network's holiday movies not only deliver big ratings, but they can also act as a gateway to get those viewers hooked on the Hallmark Channel's other programming. "[Christmas] serves as a great promotional platform to tee all of [our programming] up for the following year," he explained. "It falls at the perfect time for really looking at our strategy around our franchises and laying out the calendar, almost like a retail company would."

In the end, this all translates to huge profits for Hallmark Channel. According to a 2017 report from AdWeek, that year saw Hallmark Channel become the most-watched cable channel among women 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, bringing in $390 million in ad revenue and another $146 million from the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel.

Hallmark holiday movies have featured Hanukkah... but there's a problem

In response to criticism that the Hallmark Channel hasn't produced any Hallmark holiday movies aimed at those who don't celebrate Christmas, 2019 saw the debut of two Hanukkah-themed films: Holiday Date and Double Holiday"Our audience is very vocal, and they tell us when they'd like to see more of something," Crown Media's Michelle Vicary told the New York Post. "We've heard over the years that they would like to see [a Hanukkah movie] if a script came in that we liked. And that happened this year — twice." 

Despite Hallmark Channel's best intentions, The Washington Post pointed to a big "problem" in both movies: "Neither movie is a Hanukkah movie. They are Christmas movies with Jewish characters. And they rely on some of the oldest anti-Semitic tropes in the book."

According to Crown Media Family Networks CEO Bill Abbott, the goal has been to take a secular view of the season. "It's hard if we start to ... make movies based off of specific holidays ... because we don't look at Christmas from a religious point of view, it's more a seasonal celebration," he told The Hollywood Reporter's TV'Top 5 podcast. Hallmark Channel tried again with 2020's Love, Lights, Hanukkah!, but viewers seemed less than impressed.