There's a reason Love Actually is actually everyone's favorite holiday movie. Not much else like it exists. A few things that make it great: well-rounded characters across genders; love at all ages; laughs and tears in equal measure; and it doesn't even really have a happy ending. At least, not for everyone. It doesn't neatly tie up all of its various romances. It's a rom-com for people who don't like rom-coms, or do — something that's all too rare among the sickly sweet romantic movies that dominate the genre. (Can you tell I'm not a rom-com person yet?) But, while rare, it's not quite as uncommon as all this might lead you to believe. These eight holiday movies will make you feel like Love Actually : warm, glad, and still grounded in reality.
I admit, they're not all strictly holiday movies. Some, like When Harry Met Sally or Bridget Jones's Diary, simply feature prominent Christmas scenes. But others are more explicitly festive (The Holiday, Four Christmases), and still more (The Family Stone, Serendipity) toe the line between Christmas wishes-coming-true and an all-seasons, timeless romance. That is what is so important about Love Actually: It takes place during the holidays, but it discusses interpersonal relationships in a way that's not just the provenance of mistletoe and holiday cheer. And it's what unites these six movies with everyone's seasonal favorite.
1. When Harry Met Sally
The movie that also originated the now-famous Meg Ryan gif, When Harry Met Sally is one of those not-quite-a-Christmas-movie movies. However, it features a couple prominent holiday scenes, and its burgeoning romance evokes the same warm and fuzzies as Love Actually. Plus, there's a lot of iconic knitwear. (By that metric, Drew Barrymore's oatmeal v-neck in Scream would make Wes Craven's horror movie a holiday masterpiece. Something to consider.)
Stream When Harry Met Sally here.
2. The Holiday
Nancy Meyers knows what she's doing. With a cast that includes Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, and Jack Black, I'm not sure that I can do a better job of motivating you to watch The Holiday than these names already accomplish. Not possessed of the most inventive plot, it more than makes up for its predictability with great comedic-dramatic performances from its cast and that famous Meyers eye for design details.
3. Four Christmases
Four Christmases starts out as an almost-not Christmas movie. Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon play a couple set on escaping home for the holidays, headed instead for a tropical vacation rather than spend Christmas with their families. But sudden weather waylays their plans, forcing them instead to traverse between their divorced parents' homes (thus the four separate Christmases alluded to in the title). Their relationship comes under strain from the secrets that are revealed throughout the day, nearly costing them their future.
4. The Family Stone
This movie has Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Keaton, and Rachel McAdams sharing screen time. Need I say more? The Family Stone is a bit more drama than comedy in comparison to the other films on this list, and the holidays are only tangential to the plot at hand, but that makes comparisons to Love Actually all the more apt. Sarah Jessica Parker and Dermot Mulroney play a young couple planning to spend the holidays with Mulroney's family (the titular Stones). There's a quasi-Shakespearean shuffling of romantic partners with an uplifting yet bittersweet conclusion. Sound familiar?
Christmas season, warm gloves, and New York sweets staple Serendipity 3 all play starring roles in Serendipity, which depicts the relationship between two strangers (Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack) who meet — serendipitously — and become involved years later. It envisions what would happen if the proverbial one that got away didn't actually get away.
6. Bridget Jones's Diary
Bridget Jones's Diary has Colin Firth going for it. In Love Actually, he plays a lonely writer, and in Bridget Jones's Diary he plays the love interest of the titular Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger). Plus he rocks some great holiday sweaters in this one — it's amazing what a prominent role a good festive fashion choice can play in a holiday rom-com. Also Hugh Grant, also a Love Actually alum. It's almost like Bridget Jones was a training ground for rom-coms to follow!
Stream Bridget Jones's Diary here.
A friend once told me that she divided the world into two categories: Elf people and Monty Python people. I'm not sure I agree, but if forced to make the choice, I'd come out on the side of Elf. Starring a blonde Zooey Deschanel and the tallest elf in Will Ferrell, Elf is a wonderful parable about finding your place — or creating it. It will make you cringe at times, yet it's also uplifting. It also features the least-creepy rendition of "Baby It's Cold Outside" I've yet to hear.
8. Sleepless In Seattle
Sleepless in Seattle opens with a fateful Christmas Eve phone call that sparks a cross-continental romance between young Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. More rom than com, this is a year-round classic that becomes particularly resonant in the holiday season.
Stream Sleepless In Seattle here.
Love Actually boasts an amazing cast, and it somehow juggles more separate threads of plot than I can name off the top of my head. None of these movies are quite like it, but nor are they quite like each other. They're wintry without being oppressively festive, and you're sure to get some tacky reindeer sweater inspiration in the bargain.
Images: Time Life Entertainment; Giphy (8)