More options than ever before: What's behind the growing popularity of Christmas movies?

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MILWAUKEE (CBS58) — During the holidays, we cherish loved ones a little extra, spread the gift of giving, and watch our favorite Christmas movies.

Their popularity has risen in recent years, and though new ones pop up every winter, the classics still tug at our heartstrings. But, what keeps them at the top of our lists every year?

"What defines a Christmas movie? Well, I would say they tend to be movies released in the autumn, generally between October and December,” UM-Milwaukee Media Cinema Professor Elana Devine said. "In recent years, they've become a big phenomenon on television, in particular, you know, made-for-television versions."

Devine, who focuses her research on American television history and criticism, says it is not surprising that one Forbes finding shows Hallmark, known for their small screen holiday flicks, has quadrupled the number of Xmas movies they make since 2009.

"I think there are two sides to the holiday time of year. One of that sort of everything is better and brighter and happier and safer. Then there's the fact that a lot of people don't feel that way, because that's not the world that they live in,” she said, “But, everybody is drawn to that. Everybody wants to feel something like that. So, watching these kinds of things can bring those sorts of feelings if you are having them already, or, if you're not.”

The phenomenon of these movies is not just for those who celebrate the holiday of Christmas.

"I think for some people for whom that's the case, there's still a sort of pleasure in these movies because they're often not very much about the kind of religious experience of Christmas, but they're about, in general, a feeling about family about romantic love. Those kinds of things,” Devine said. "But, I think at least in the American context, most people whether they're Jewish or Muslim, or from a background that doesn't celebrate Christmas, Christmas has become so widespread and mainstream, in part through things like these movies, that they find a way to, enjoy what they want to enjoy of it, king of leave out what they don't. It's more sort of selective viewing.”

Though these movies often have similar plots, there are new ones produced every year.

"I think they wouldn't be making them if they didn't think they were moneymakers. They probably make money in a different way than they might have used to make money. I think that they're produced on a relatively low budget. I mean, that's one difference between typical feature films and these, and so they don't cost that much relatively speaking to make, and then they draw audiences to your streaming platform or they draw audiences to be there for your commercials,” Devine said.

However, it is not just the straight-to-tv or streaming service movies that capture people's attention. Physically going to the theaters to see your favorite Christmas movies is also a holiday tradition for some.

"I came to see ['Love, Actually'] because it's on the bigger screen. I got the DVD at home which I've seen constantly. But, to have it on the big screen, which I've never seen on the big screen, is fantastic,” Moviegoer Sherry Warren said.

For Warren, a Milwaukee resident who stopped by Majestic Theaters in Waukesha to watch her favorite movie, there is nothing like the joy films bring.

"It puts everybody in a good mood, which is what we really need right now. There's such bad stuff going on in the world that you need to have some happy and laughs,” she said.

Her feelings are ones the theatre’s General Manager Andy High says are universal.

"People love the holidays,” High said.

“I mean, they like to be with family. They like to remember the nostalgia that goes with a lot of these films. I can remember when I first saw 'Elf,' laughing my butt off and thought it was hilarious. Still to this day bring my kids to see movies, to see 'The Grinch.' It allows people something to do over the holidays when kids are off school, or we get random days off.”

Every year, Majestic shows retro movies like “Elf” and “White Christmas.”

"We have a lot of guests who come back and they're kind of like when 'I was a little kid, I saw 'White Christmas when it was in film back on the screen.' Now, they're able to view it digitally. They're all digitally remastered now. So really clean, really crisp. The sound is really well done. We can get to hear it in full surround sound as well,” High said.

“It brings different visual aspects to the whole thing where they can really get involved and then link back in with things they saw back in the day. Or, for young people who maybe haven't had a chance to see these films on the big screen. They get the opportunity to come back and see them on the big screen and really experience them for the first time because there really isn't a better way to experience a Christmas classic than right on the big screen with your family. The movie theater, popcorn, and all that.”

Christmas movies also fill a recent gap in the film world.

"There's many fewer of what we used to call 'romantic comedies' in the, you know, feature film world. There used to be, in the 80s and 90s, a bunch of these movies that would come out and people go see the theaters and there's many fewer of those being made,” Devine said. “These have kind of replaced that sort of that pleasure of those movies, in some respects. I think even though they have this kind of Christmas or holiday context, they still have a lot of the same feel to them.”

Viewers seem to find an escape in these “rom-com style” Christmas movies.

"It's about friendship, love, getting together. Getting together. Anything that you had like you're angry with somebody, it goes away,” Moviegoer Sherry Warren said about the 2000 romantic comedy movie “Love, Actually.”

Devine says movies like these also provide a nostalgia many crave around the holidays.

"People turn to them for that kind of reassurance just like you want your mom's pie of a certain kind or something like that. Every year you might want the same experience,” she said.

“We use media like that all the time. We don't think of it that way. We think of it as like information or entertainment, but we also use it as kind of a comfort experience or a way to kind of, connect with certain things about ourselves or ideas or feelings that we want to have."

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