Most popular holiday movies 2022

Star-Studded New Christmas Movies Still Can’t Beat the Classics

More U.S. households watch ‘Christmas Vacation,’ ‘Home Alone’ and ‘Elf’ than newer fare

‘A Christmas Story’ was released nearly 40 years ago.PHOTO: EVERETT COLLECTION

By Sarah KrouseFollow

Dec. 16, 2022 9:00 am ET

Top 10:
(1) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989); (2) Home Alone (1990); (3) Elf (2003); (4) Four Christmases (2008); (5) A Christmas Story (1983); (6) Falling for Christmas (2022); (7) The Noel Diary (2022); (8) Die Hard (1988); (9) How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000); (10) The Holiday (2006)

Studios, streaming services and cable channels are pumping out evermore new holiday movies every year, at times featuring big-name Hollywood actors in an effort to draw audiences.

Yet most U.S. households still prefer decades-old Christmas movies, new data show. 

Of the 10 most-watched holiday movies over the past month, only two were released this season, according to data provider and measurement company Samba TV: Netflix Inc.’s “Falling for Christmas” starring Lindsay Lohan and “The Noel Diary” starring Justin Hartley.

Neither attracted even half the households that tuned in to the top movies on that list during the period—1989’s “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” 1990’s “Home Alone,” and 2003’s “Elf.”

Samba TV, which collects data on what people are watching on their smart TVs, looked at how many households viewed holiday fare between Nov. 8 and Dec. 11. “Falling for Christmas” was released on Netflix on Nov. 10, while “The Noel Diary” came out on the streaming platform on Nov. 24.

Nic Nielsen, a father of three in Lancaster, S.C., said every year his family samples a range of new and older holiday films on streaming services including Netflix and Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+. Watching “Elf” and “Home Alone” has become a family tradition, he said, in a household that listens to Christmas music year-round. He and his wife are divided on “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”: She isn’t a fan of the film, and he loves it. 

More U.S. households watched holiday movies during that four-and-a-half-week stretch than they did in the same period last year, Samba TV found. 

“It seems each year like Americans are ready to get into the Christmas spirit earlier and earlier,” said Ashwin Navin, co-founder and CEO of Samba TV. “The growth of streaming and a real desire for a return to normalcy are driving an overall strong growth in holiday movie viewing this year.”

Many consumers now watch holiday classics on popular streaming services like Netflix, Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.’s HBO Max and Disney+.

Over the past decade, Hollywood studios and cable channels have cranked out more holiday content each year, from comedies to more saccharine dramas. 

Hallmark Media made 40 original holiday movies this year, up from 38 in 2021, a spokeswoman said. A&E Networks-owned Lifetime, another major producer of holiday films, made 26 movies this year, compared with 35 last year, and the films cost an average of $2 million per title to make, a spokeswoman said. GAC Family, a cable channel run by Hallmark’s former boss, is releasing 18 movies this year, up 50% from 2021. 

Streaming services are increasingly getting into the action. AppleTV+ released “Spirited” starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds on its platform on Nov. 18, while HBO Max debuted new titles including “Holiday Harmony” on Nov. 24 and “A Christmas Story Christmas” on Nov. 17.

“Elf,” released nearly two decades ago, remains a top Christmas movie.PHOTO: NEW LINE CINEMA/EVERETT COLLECTION

Beyond “Falling for Christmas” and “The Noel Diary,” Netflix also released “Christmas With You,” starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Aimee Garcia, on Nov. 17.

“The Noel Diary” landed in Netflix’s own top 10 rankings of the most-watched English-language films on its service by hours viewed in the week ended Dec. 11, its third consecutive week on that list. “Falling for Christmas” made those rankings for four consecutive weeks through Dec. 4, and rose to the No. 1 spot in its second week of release.

Samba TV said some 3.2 million U.S. households watched “Falling for Christmas,” while 2.8 million watched “The Noel Diary.” By comparison, some 1.4 million households watched Apple‘s “Spirited,” not enough to land it in the top 10 list.

Mike Ernst, a 33-year-old Cincinnati resident, said new holiday films on streaming services are “fighting an uphill battle, because when we were coming up there were just fewer options, and you watched the same movies every year.” That built nostalgic habits that persist, said Mr. Ernst. He recently ran an interoffice bracket in which colleagues voted on holiday movies and declared “Christmas Vacation” the best holiday movie ever made.

A spokesman for HBO Max declined to comment, and Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Samba TV said Christmas movies released by streaming services are attracting a younger audience, while older viewers are more likely to watch older films. 

Samba TV collects data from chips embedded in smart TVs that users agree to let collect information on what they watch on their screens, whether that be streaming content, film rentals or traditional cable. A household is counted as having viewed a movie if it watches at least five minutes.

The data provider also found Americans don’t watch Christmas content to the same degree everywhere: People in colder markets like Boston and Philadelphia watched more holiday films than people in warmer areas like Los Angeles and Tampa, Fla., Samba TV said. [surprised?]

Write to Sarah Krouse at sarah.krouse@wsj.com

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