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A Cynic’s Guide to 5 (Totally Real) Supernatural Christmas Rom-Coms

Last month, NPR compiled a list of all the new holiday movies arriving on our screens for 2020’s festive season. And there were 89 of them. EIGHTY-NINE.

At this point, in the vast and endless sea of Christmas rom-coms, it’s almost impossible to tell one apart from another. Which might be why a weird sub-genre exists in which the Christmas rom-com tacks on a supernatural element. Because nothing livens up eggnog and longing glances over the fire like throwing a dead guy and some time travel into the mix. Here are five that are streaming right now. (There will be spoilers. And also cynicism.)

The Family Man, 2000, HBOSupernatural something: A parallel universe

The Family Man is basically a vicious two-hour assault on anyone who doesn’t want to have kids. Nicolas Cage plays Jack, a successful, womanizing businessman who gets sent to a parallel universe by Don Cheadle. (I sat through two hours of this crap and never once figured out who or what Don Cheadle is supposed to be.) Anyway, Cheadle (Magic man? Angel? Demon?) meets Jack, Jack goes to sleep in his shiny New York apartment wearing tiny manties, and when Jack wakes up, he’s in the suburbs (where everything is wood-paneled for some reason), wearing regular old boxer shorts. (Oh, the humanity!)

In his new life, Jack is married to his college girlfriend Kate, living in New Jersey, and selling tires for a living. He also has two loud children, a big dog and a life-advice-giving Jeremy Piven who lives up the street. (The horror!) I think the people who made The Family Man want us to think this is better than Jack’s old life. The problem is, it patently isn’t. It’s a nightmare. This is the only movie in history that has ever successfully made me sympathize with The Man.

The Knight Before Christmas, 2019, NetflixSupernatural something: A time-traveling knight

The Knight Before Christmas is basically a romantic remake of Encino Man. Sure, there’s a 14th-century knight instead of a caveman, and snow instead of sunshine, and a romance-starved schoolteacher instead of Pauly Shore. But other than that? It’s goddamn Encino Man.

In case you’re too young to know what Encino Man is, here. Have this.

Link the caveman and Cole the knight do a lot of the same crap, including but not limited to:

learning about life from TV, lighting fires in inappropriate places, spitting out food they don’t like, hoarding food they do like, picking up and imitating American slang, being babe magnets.

I was genuinely surprised when the knight didn’t have a triumphant dance routine at the end.

A Christmas Prince 3: The Royal Baby, 2019, NetflixSupernatural something: A curse

It’s going to sound like I’m being hyperbolic when I say this, but I promise you, I am not. A Christmas Prince 3 is the most boring movie in the history of the world. (Even in the country of Aldovia where this is set, a nation that doesn’t even exist.) It’s about baby showers (meh) and lost international treaties (yawn) and a very non-eventful blizzard. The extremely dull premise is not helped by the fact that the prince here is basically what would happen if someone built a human man out of dry toast. (White bread, naturally.) Why in The Crown’s good name did anyone make three of these?! I can’t. I just… I can’t and you shouldn’t either.

Last Christmas, 2019, HBOSupernatural something: Ghost boyfriend

The protagonist in Last Christmas is a total asshole. Whether she’s killing her friend’s pet fish, outing her sister at the dinner table (!) or getting her boss’ small business broken into, she’s so awful it is impossible to care about anything she does, no matter how much acting her eyebrows do. (Even while George Michael’s delightful greatest hits are playing in the background!)

One day a bland archetype of a Handsome Man shows up and tries to make her less of an asshole. He takes her ice-skating, gently touches her heart transplant scar, and sings pop songs with her. Later she finds out that Handsome Man is, in fact, dead and—here comes the extra twist!—he’s the guy her heart transplant came from. Because nothing says seasonal movie fun like dragging the lyrics from Wham!’s “Last Christmas” out to their most literal conclusion.

The Spirit of Christmas, 2015, HuluSupernatural something: A(nother) ghost boyfriend

Kate is a callous attorney with a string of failed relationships and no plans for the holidays. (Whattabish!) Her boss tasks her with getting an old inn sold before the end of the year for reasons that are too boring to go into. But appraisers keep bailing on her because the building is haunted by a ghost named Daniel (awesome ghost name) who looks like a hipster barber from Brooklyn. It’s not an accident either—at one point he literally asks where the Fernet Branca is.

Anyhoo, Kate decides to stay in the inn, where she discovers that Daniel turns into a real boy (because sure, okay) every year between Dec. 12 and 24. Kate and Daniel decide to figure out why this happens to him every year and, wouldn’tyaknowit? After a spot of gratuitous shirtlessness (ghosts iron clothes too!), some bauble dangling, and some mystery uncovering, Kate does some spirit smooching. This movie is truly awful and everyone should watch it immediately.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Copyright 2020 KQED