Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movies have become a surprise juggernaut, drawing tens of millions of viewers worldwide each year. As Hollywood grows more complex, Hallmark uses a simple stroke to keep viewers coming back every holiday season. With familiar stories and a rock-solid brand, the family-friendly channel consistently turns small budgets into massive hits. A decade after the phenomenon began to take shape, Hallmark’s Christmas movies are showing an ROI that would make most film producers blush.
The Rise of the Hallmark Christmas Movies
The made-for-television Christmas phenomenon began with ABC Family targeting holiday crowds in the 1990s with “25 Days of Christmas,” reports Mental Floss. As ABC Family began to focus on other programming, the Hallmark Channel began to fill the void after its official launch in 2001. As of 2017, Hallmark released as many as 33 original films for the holiday season, each with a production price tag of about $2 million, according to Business Insider.
Since then, the tradition has taken firm root and is now a must-try for much of the English-speaking world. What began primarily as an American phenomenon has quickly spread, and Hallmark Christmas movies are now popular across Canada and Europe, reports An Historian About Town. With Hallmark now extending the season into October, audiences have about two straight months of original Christmas content each year.
In the frantic production of Hallmark’s Christmas lineup
By focusing on straightforward love-finding stories around the holiday season, Hallmark has significantly streamlined the production process.
According to an anonymous producer who spoke to Vancouver Magazine, the typical production schedule is a masterclass in producing content. Producers could begin the planning process in mid-August and begin filming by October, with filming typically only lasting a couple of weeks. Including the editing process, the entire end-to-end production is typically completed in less than three months.
While circumventing some union laws and taking advantage of special tax considerations, producers are able to keep budgets remarkably thin. Though Business Insider’s breakdown points to an average price tag of $2 million, the producer, who spoke anonymously to Vancouver Magazine, says budgets are often kept under $1 million in Canadian dollars — about $725,000 . Going further, the anonymous insider explained that the risk-reward dynamics are excellent for a film like this, saying, “At worst, they’re balanced.”
The production calculus is similar to that of some Hollywood giants who have relied on tight production schedules and low budgets. The classic example is Clint Eastwood, who filmed the smash hit Gran Torino in just five weeks in 2008 on a tiny budget of $25 million (via The Numbers). But even the legendary fast-moving Eastwood can’t measure up to the Hallmark blueprint, which typically requires the entire process to be filmed and edited in just a month or so. Even the indie sensation My Big Fat Greek Wedding It cost $5 million to produce (in 2001 dollars) and took three times longer to film than the typical Hallmark Christmas movie (according to The Numbers).
On the other hand, a Hollywood tentpole has a production process that is the opposite of Hallmark’s model. For example, Jurassic world The film took about five years from concept to premiere and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce and market, according to Filmmaking Lifestyle.
Balancing the traditional brand with new expectations
Rather than relying on a bloated marketing budget, Hallmark simply leverages brand awareness alongside a few familiar faces to showcase new content each year. One of the most effective promoters was Candace Cameron Bure, who Full house and fuller house Actors called Vox “the queen of Hallmark Christmas movies.”
However, since helping carry the Hallmark torch, Cameron Bure has bailed out for rival network GAC Family and directly competes with Hallmark in the Christmas movie space.
Hallmark doesn’t only have competition from GAC Family. As Netflix jumped headlong into production, it has begun to build a reliable stream of holiday content that picks up where Hallmark leaves off. Although Vox pointed out that Hallmark has a mixed record of cast diversity, Netflix welcomes feel-good stories featuring main characters from LGTBQ and non-white communities. As the Vancouver Magazine insider explained, Netflix is filming stories that are difficult, if not impossible, to produce with Hallmark.
As Hallmark slowly adds variety to its offering, its holiday movie brand remains as popular as ever as we head into the 2022 holiday season. The channel has 39 new Christmas movies and a Hanukkah-themed release scheduled to air in time for the holiday this year.
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