The Psychology Behind Our Love Of Bad Christmas Movies

Image courtesy of Netflix
From The Christmas Prince to Holidate and The Princess Switch, there's a joyful abundance of so-bad-they're-great Christmas movies we religiously watch every year.
Cringeworthy one-liners, predictably romantic plots and somewhat questionable acting are usually what make these the cheesy flicks of our festive dreams.
While some of us may not publicly admit we're fans, the fact that streaming platforms like Stan, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix's epic Christmas lineup feature more of these films every year proves their popularity.
Here we speak to some mental health experts who explain why we're so drawn to these utterly cheesy holiday films.
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They Provide Escapism & Certainty

After a big 12 months, turning to cheesy Christmas movies for some escapism from the pressure cooker that is real life makes a lot of sense, and these films can provide the escape with characters and narratives that are worlds apart from our realities.
"The more imaginative and far from reality the better," says Perth-based psychologist Dr Marny Lishman, who explains many of us come out of watching these movies feeling better about our own circumstances.
"Usually, there is a feel-good element to these movies, we go there expecting to feel better as a result of seeing them," she says. "We want a predictable, don’t-have-to-think-too-much (which adds to stress overload) and know-there-will-be-a-happy-ending movie."
There's often a familiar formula followed in these productions.
"Many movies follow the pattern of the Hero’s Journey, which was originally noted by American Scholar, Joseph Campbell," says Dr Lishman. "A character embarks on an adventure, goes through a crisis and wins a victory, then comes home transformed. Usually living happily ever after."

They Give You Hope

Cheesy Christmas movies are arguably the best Christmas movies for many people as they can offer hope and help guide us in coping with our own challenges.
"Many of these movies leave such an impression on us that they can unconsciously guide us through future life crises that we all inevitably go through," says Dr Lishman.

They Light Up Your Brain

Dr Lishman says the made-for-holiday movies are filled with nostalgia, taking us back to simple childhood memories "when life wasn't so complicated".
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Nostalgia not only brings up emotions we attach to memories of people, events of the past and places we've been but sparks a particular reaction in our brains.
"These types of movies make our brain lighter," explains Dr Darryl Watson, a senior consultant psychiatrist and clinical senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide.
"If you think about it, they have a certain soundtrack to them that might be contemporary or stuck in a past time. That hits our brain through our ears, and schmaltzy music or Christmas music is something that that part of our brain has a memory for but isn't something that most of us hit our brain with 52 weeks of the year."
Hearing these songs for only a few weeks of the year leads to a specific "auditory stimulation" in the brain, as does seeing particular holiday-specific scenes that remind us of Christmas.
An example is seeing snow in movies usually set in the Northern Hemisphere, and because in Australia it's rare to see as much snow, seeing it on screen at Xmas time "sparks toward a memories part" of the brain.
Other imagery such as cooking, buying presents and devouring a turkey feast also evoke memories of our own experiences with those things.
"All of those things light up and they're all connected," explains Dr Watson. "So at the risk of labouring the metaphor, it's like lighting up your own brain Christmas tree. There's a set of Christmas-type memories that these movies are flicking off and then your brain's lighting up metaphorically like a Christmas tree."
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As the world continues to grapple with the reality of being two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Lishman is certain many people "will be yearning for escapism" and "there will be an increase in demand for the cheesy movie" for a relaxing, feel-good fix.
If you ask me, lighting up your brain like a Christmas tree with some bad Christmas movies sounds like a pretty swell idea. Netflix, here I come.
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