It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Hallmark will launch its biggest roster yet of original holiday movies with the kickoff of its annual Countdown to Christmas lineup on October 20, 2023. Heavy has compiled all the details on what makes this year’s movies unique and how to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
Here are five fast facts you need to know…
1. There are Several Ways to Keep Track of the Countdown to Christmas Schedule
Over the course of the next two months, 42 new movies will premiere across Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, and the streaming service Hallmark Now. If you’re worried about losing track of premiere dates, there are multiple ways to stay on top of the schedule.
For starters, tech-savvy fans can download Hallmark’s Movie Checklist app on their phones for free. If you want to have an extra reminder on your home screen about upcoming movies, you can download a widget for that. There are instructions inside the app as well as how-to videos for Apple devices and for Android phones.
If you prefer to print out a checklist of Hallmark’s Christmas premieres, the network created a full-color downloadable guide for the Hallmark Channel premieres and another for those airing on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, themed as the “Miracles of Christmas.” Meanwhile, Jen of The Suburban Mom offers a free one-pager incorporating both channel’s movies, as well as printouts for UPtv and Great American Family’s holiday schedules.
In addition to airing its premieres every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening — a plan that executives came up with last spring — Hallmark will air holiday movies around the clock throughout Countdown to Christmas. It regularly updates its online schedule.
But the fan-run site Countdown Until Christmas provides daily lists with links to info about each classic Hallmark movie including preview videos, upcoming air times and where it can be purchased. The woman who runs it, named Danielle, offers a separate schedule for the Christmas programming on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
2. Multiple Hollywood Stars Will Make Their Hallmark Debuts This Season
Many Hallmarkies are relieved to see many of their favorite stars on the network headlining cozy and comforting Christmas movies. But they’ll also get to see a few new Hollywood celebrities making their Hallmark debuts.
For starters, actor/director Phylicia Rashad, best known for her role as Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” will appear in her first Hallmark movie, “Heaven Down Here,” on December 14. The movie, which also features Krystal Joy Brown, Tina Lifford, Juan Riedinger, and Richard Harmon, will air on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Rashad will play an “obstinate patient” in hospice care, according to a synopsis of the movie.
Accomplished actor and dancer Vincent Rodriguez III, who starred in the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” from 2016 to 2019, will be paired up with longtime Hallmark star Jonathan Bennett in “Christmas on Cherry Lane” on December 10. Rodriguez and Bennett will play one of three couples who live on the same street, all at different life stages as they celebrate the holiday together. The Hallmark Channel movie will also star James Denton, Catherine Bell, Erin Cahill and John Brotherton — all who have multiple Hallmark projects under their belts.
Rick Hoffman, best known for his recurring roles on “Suits” and “Billions,” will co-star with Vic Michaelis and “One Tree Hill” alum Bryan Greenberg, also making their Hallmark debuts, in the Hanukkah-themed “Round and Round.” Premiering on December 10, the movie synopsis says, “Rachel’s (Michaelis) stuck in a time loop, reliving the night of her parents’ Hanukkah party. Can Zach (Greenberg), the ‘nice boy” Grandma’s trying to set her up with, help her make it to tomorrow?”
Jonathan Frakes played “Star Trek” Captain William T. Riker for over 35 years and has worked on “more iterations of ‘Star Trek’ than any other person alive,” according to Variety. He’s also a beloved director among Trekkies, but took a small detour to appear in the Hallmark time-travel romance “A Biltmore Christmas.” Premiering on November 26 and starring Hallmark favorites Kristoffer Polaha and Bethany Joy Lenz, the movie follows a screenwriter who discovers she’s able to travel back to 1947 as she finishes a script about the era.
3. Countdown to Christmas Movies Will Feature Lots of New Hallmark Hunks
The casts of Hallmark’s 2023 holiday lineup will include the debuts of at least eight swoon-worthy actors who easily fit the bill as new “hunks of Hallmark.” Their Instagram feeds are full of good hair days, bulging muscles and killer smiles, the Hallmark newbies are also accomplished actors.
Included in the list is “Virgin River” star Mark Ghanimé, who will appear with Kimberley Sustad in “To All a Good Night” on December 7.
William Poseley, known for his roles in the “Chronicles of Narnia” movies and the E! series “The Royals,” will co-star in Hallmark’s “Christmas in Notting Hill” with Sarah Ramos on November 25.
David Elsendoorn, known for playing soccer player Jan Maas on AppleTV’s hit series “Ted Lasso,” will co-star as an amateur detective in “Christmas in Norway” with Rhiannon Fish on December 1. The movie will air on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
4. Stars Have Been Filming Hallmark Christmas Movies All Year Long — Not Just in the Summer
Some fans worried the writers’ and actors’ strikes would cut into the number of Christmas movies that Hallmark could produce for 2023. But the network was prepared for a possible interruption and filmed year-round, even receiving interim agreements from SAG-AFTRA to keep filming some of its productions during the strike, according to Variety.
That strategy allowed some of its holiday movies to be filmed in winter weather, which has not been the case for many productions over the years. For instance, “A Biltmore Christmas” was filmed in January while the famed Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, was still decorated for the holidays.
Kevin McGarry and Kim Matula filmed “Checkin’ It Twice” in March. The Canadian production, which premieres on October 20, features scenes filmed on outdoor hockey rinks, which was possible because the ice is still frozen that time of year.
Hallmark actors have long complained about having to film Christmas movies in the heat of summer, bundled up in sweaters, jackets and hats with fake snow all around.
After filming 2022’s “A Magical Christmas Village” in the August heat, Hallmark star Alison Sweeney told “The Today Show” that her trick was stuffing her layered clothes with ice packs.
“When you’re dripping down sweat from under your knit cap, it does ruin a bit of the Christmas magic,” she said.
The cast of the “Haul Out the Holly” sequel got a bit of a break from the most intense heat this year, filming in Utah in early May instead of in the middle of summer, like they did in 2022.
Meanwhile, when the Countdown to Christmas lineup was announced in September, some movies on the Countdown to Christmas roster weren’t even finished filming yet. Multiple productions just wrapped in Canada including Benjamin Ayres and Laura Vandervoort’s “Christmas in Bethlehem, PA,” which filmed in Winnipeg. Other just-wrapped productions include the Mahogony movie “Christmas With a Kiss” in Toronto and “Magic in Mistletoe” in Vancouver.
5. For the First Time, Hallmark Stars Can’t Promote Their Christmas Movies
Most actors aren’t allowed to talk about their past or present movies while the actors’ strike continues. So Hallmark had to develop creative ways to spread the word about this year’s Countdown to Christmas movies.
On July 13, film and TV actors across the United States began a months-long strike after negotiations broke down between studio executives and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), which comprises 160,000 members, according to The Washington Post. Recent negotiations came to a halt on October 11, per Variety, with the two sides too far apart to reach a deal.
Before the strike started, Hallmark asked many of its actors, including “A Merry Scottish Christmas” star Scott Wolf, to film short promos for their movies, which are now being shared by the network on social media. Hallmark also posted a montage of movie scenes with Taylor Swift’s holiday song, “Christmas Tree Farm,” playing in the background. Meanwhile, Nikki DeLoach and Brennan Elliott filmed a candy shop themed commercial airing across cable TV.
Fans have stepped up to help promote their favorite stars’ movies during the strike. In a podcast interview with celebrity photographer Joshua Schultz, actor Andrew Walker credited his fans for making his August movie, “A Safari Romance,” a success.
“There’s no fans like these fans that we have,” Walker said of the Hallmark fan base. “I’m reminded of it constantly, but when my movie was airing last week and not being able to do any of the promo, the amount of fans that reposted press bites and movie bites was just like, it went viral. It was crazy. And it was all of these people!”
Walker is among more than two dozen Hallmark stars who will appear at Christmas Con in early December. Because the fan convention is run independently, fans and stars are allowed to convene there during the strike.
Last year, Walker and his “Three Wise Men and a Baby” co-stars Tyler Hynes and Paul Campbell performed their quirky dance from the film at Christmas Con. Videos of that moment and clips they shared from the movie went viral, helping “Three Wise Men and a Baby” become the most popular cable TV movie of the year.
In October 2022, Hallmark hosted a star-studded Countdown to Christmas kickoff event in New York City, per the New York Daily News, which included the premiere of Broadway star Ginna Claire Mason’s “A Holiday Spectacular.”
Since actors couldn’t attend this year’s festivities, Hallmark hosted a glitzy Christmas party on October 18 for fans, influencers, creative partners and reporters. They gathered at PEAK, sky-high restaurant and event space in New York City, to mingle among special displays dedicated to soon-to-premiere movies. Music star Norah Jones also gave an intimate performance of a Christmas song she wrote, which appears in the film “Navigating Christmas.”