Christmas movies are great for snuggling up on your parents’ couch with hot cocoa, no matter how many times you’ve watched them over the years. The plots tend to be funny and engaging, and though they’re not exactly the most innovative films ever, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that everyone always gets to walk away happy at the end.
And, more recently, holiday films are getting queerer.
In fact, last year saw so many queer Christmas movies that it was even hailed as a banner year for LGBTQ+ representation in holiday films. Comparing 2020 to previous years’ Christmas fare, Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of media advocacy group GLAAD, said, “It’s like night and day… We’ve really gone from zero to 100.”
The caveat to that statement, though, is that the numbers are still bleak overall, so it’s not quite at a 100 yet. But given that queer people have had a long history of being erased or otherwise killed off, no one can blame us for taking what we can get.
Indeed, though there’s still a ways to go towards true parity and great representation, 2020 was a pretty good start, and it’s one that’s been followed up this year with some fresh holiday films featuring more queer storylines. The hope, of course, is that someday it won’t feel like a Christmas miracle every time we see a queer person on screen in the holidays.
But while we’re on our way to that reality — in the spirit of Christmas, I trust that this will happen, a few plot points from now — here are some holiday films featuring queer stories, with just the appropriate amount of cheesiness for the Yuletide season.
Single All the Way (2021)
Helmed by Tony-winning director Michael Mayer, Netflix’s first gay holiday movie tells the story of Peter (Michael Urie). He is perpetually single, and it’s an issue that his family back in New Hampshire never lets him forget every Christmas.
That’s why he decides to bring home his best friend Nick (Philemon Chambers) for the holidays as his pretend-boyfriend, but the plan goes awry when Peter’s mother (Kathy Najimy) decides to set him up on a blind date. The date turns out to be a handsome spinning instructor, James (Luke Macfarlane).
I know. We’ve seen this plot before, but never with male leads, and I’m not one to turn down a friends-to-pretend-lovers-to-actual-lovers story. Plus, there’s something about a Christmas-loving mom doing her best to get her son a nice man that’s really sweet and wholesome.
Najimy is joined by none other than Jennifer Coolidge, who plays — of course! — a cool aunt, and this casting choice is only the cherry on top of a film that stars three out actors for its gay characters.
Under the Christmas Tree (2021)
Lifetime’s first-ever lesbian Christmas movie, Under the Christmas Tree is part of the network’s “It’s a Wonderful Lifetime” lineup this year, and tells the story of marketing workaholic Alma Beltran (Elise Bauman) and Christmas tree whisperer Charlie Freemont (Tattiawna Jones).
In the film, Charlie is excited when she finds the perfect tree for the Maine Governor’s Holiday Celebration. The problem is, the tree is right in Alma’s backyard, and she’s pretty attached to it.
They initially butt heads over the tree’s fate, but with the help of some Christmas fairy dust from the town’s pastry chef — who looks like she’s hearing wedding bells in the trailer already — romance ensues. Alma’s parents also see right through her weak attempts at ignoring the attraction, which is funny and refreshing for a queer film.
Plus, the official description isn’t shy about upping the cheese factor. It promises “leaps of faith” and a “fight for love and Christmas magic.” But it’s for lesbians, so I’m here for it.
The Bitch Who Stole Christmas (2021)
Mama Ru has had a very busy 2021. The RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise churned out nearly 100 hours of TV from across the globe this year — with nearly 90 episodes and some 100 queens competing for a crown. Now, she’s capping it all off with her empire’s first holiday feature film for VH1.
The Bitch Who Stole Christmas starts with Olivia St. Lapel (Krysta Rodriguez), a reporter for a big city fashion magazine called Gorge — you have to say it in Gottmik’s voice — being assigned by her grinchy editor Hannah Contour (RuPaul) on a mission. In order to win a big promotion, Lapel must go undercover and smear the merry reputation of the Christmas town of Tuckahoe through their annual Winter Ball contest.
The Hallmark parody feels like one big Drag Race acting challenge — except with a Christmas theme and a bit more coherence. Alongside RuPaul, the film also features judges Michelle Visage, Carson Kressley, and Ross Mathews, plus nearly two dozen Drag Race alumni, including fan favorites Ginger Minj, Peppermint, Manila Luzon, and Kylie Sonique Love.
It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the resulting film is silly, campy, and does not require a single brain cell to watch.
Christmas at the Ranch (2021)
Does the official trailer for Christmas at the Ranch pretty much tell you the whole plot? Yes. But am I still going to watch it? Also, yes.
Directed by Christin Baker, this Yuletide movie tells the story of Haley Hollis (Laur Allen), a corporate city girl who is summoned by her brother (Archie Kao) when their smalltown family ranch is in danger of foreclosure. There, she is reunited with her grandmother (Lindsay Wagner) and meets — and falls for! — the ranch hand Kate (Amanda Righetti).
The film makes the common trope of the city girl finding love at her small hometown queer, which is sweet. Part of the credit for the film’s production goes to an Indiegogo crowdfunding initiative that earned over three times its goal, as well as a Queer Holiday Feature Pitch contest by Tello Films, a network dedicated to queer women’s stories.
Dashing in December (2020)
Paramount Network’s Dashing in December is to gays as Christmas at the Ranch is to lesbians. It’s essentially the same trope, but this time with New York financier Wyatt Burwall (Peter Porte) falling for the dashing ranch hand Heath Ramos (Juan Pablo Di Pace). The problem is that Wyatt comes home to Colorado to convince his mother Deb (Andie MacDowell) to sell the family ranch, while Heath wants to save it.
Writer-director Jake Helgren, who has plenty of Hallmark and Lifetime holiday films to his name, summarizes the film perfectly: It’s as “if Brokeback Mountain and Sweet Home Alabama and Hallmark all got together and had a love child.”
The film is really sweet, and the winter locations are as gorgeous as the two leads. But best of all, I think, is MacDowell’s performance as Deb, who, like some of the other parents in the films on this list, just wants to find love for her gay kid. I’m not going to lie: There’s just something incredibly therapeutic about that.
Happiest Season (2020)
Clea DuVall’s holiday film was probably last year’s most highly anticipated lesbian rom-com, not that we regularly get a lot of them, of course. But it’s also a pretty heartwarming film once the characters get through the stressful plot and settle down into a happy ending.
The Hulu film features Kristen Stewart (who’s had a big year as Princess Diana in Spencer) and Mackenzie Davis, who play Abby and Harper, respectively. It also stars Aubrey Plaza as Riley and Dan Levy as John, and they both pretty much steal the entire show.
In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of people talk about the importance of telling lesbian stories that aren’t about being stuck in a closet, but I think this movie offers up some pretty good representation for those who need a little more time before coming out.
Not to invalidate the pain this causes to the Abbys and Rileys of the world, but everybody’s coming out story is different. And Happiest Season is a reminder to treat each other with the compassion and understanding that can help us feel safe and confident enough to be our true selves.
The Christmas Setup (2020)
Before this year’s Under the Christmas Tree, Lifetime first rolled out its first LGBTQ+ holiday film in Pat Mills’ The Christmas Setup, starring real-life husbands Ben Lewis and Blake Lee. Here’s a fun fact: They actually met in the men’s room at the premiere of Aubrey Plaza’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World back in 2010.
Ten years later, Ben stars as Manhattan lawyer Hugo who comes home for Christmas with his best friend Madelyn (Ellen Wong) to good old Milwaukee, where his mom Kate (Fran Drescher, who is as radiant as ever) lives. Blake plays Patrick, Hugo’s childhood crush, and with some scheming from Kate, the two eventually fall in love.
It’s a simple and formulaic enough plot for the holidays. And aside from giving us another supportive mom, this movie also offers up a secret high school crush finally requited in adulthood.
Season of Love (2019)
Before making Christmas at the Ranch (2021), director Christin Baker and lead actress Laur Allen first worked on 2019’s Season of Love, which is Tello Film’s version of Love Actually (2003) but for queer women. Alongside Allen, the film stars an ensemble cast of Dominique Provost-Chalkley (of Wynonna Earp fame), Jessica Clark, Emily Goss, Sandra Mae Frank, and Janelle Marie Rodriguez.
As the first lesbian holiday film, it goes hard: Season of Love features not one, but three sapphic couples for a total of six queer women on screen. The 105-minute running time is split among these six women, who navigate their own set of challenges in loosely interrelated tales that take place during the Christmas season.
There are plenty of queer women behind the camera, too. Goss, who plays Iris, shared, “Season of Love has a queer female writer, director, and producers that shape the voice of the film, and it rings so true to a queer woman’s experience because we have queer women all over this cast and crew. It’s a delight to be part of that.”
After the film’s release, Baker also told CBC that she received plenty of messages from viewers on social media, thanking her for making a family-friendly lesbian movie that wasn’t primarily about hardship. Though she recognizes that those stories are important to tell, joy — especially around the holidays — is pretty important, too.
Bonus Short Film: The Syed Family XMas Eve Game Night (2021)
For director Fawzia Mirza (who gave us 2017’s Signature Move and the web series Kam Kardashian), the focus on queer love and joy is something we need to continue.
Her most recent project, The Syed Family XMas Eve Game Night, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Short Cuts Programme earlier this year. In it, writer Kausar Mohammed stars as Noor, a queer Pakistani Muslim woman who brings her Puerto Rican partner Luz (Vico Ortiz, a nonbinary actor who’s starred in the likes of Vida and Soldados o Zombies) home for the holidays — and the yearly family Christmas Eve game night — for the first time.
Also starring Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Pia Shah, and D’Lo, the 11-minute short film is partially based on Mohammed’s own experiences. It’s a refreshing addition to a growing queer holiday film canon that, like the greater film industry, is still largely white and cis.
In a statement released before the short film’s TIFF premiere, Mirza said, “Having a queer Muslim Brown rom-com world premiere at one of the most important film festivals in the world is revolutionary. We need more space for the stories of our love and joy, made by, starring, and written by us.”