While we might generally associate holiday movies with festive and feel-good emotions, Magid’s newly available EmotionalDNA® Movie data paints a more multi-dimensional picture of the holiday movies audiences love.
By classifying emotional attributes into eight dimensions, eDNA Movies captures a film’s Emotional Signature relative to other films in the eyes of audiences. This provides a systematically quantifiable measure of emotional tonality that can help networks and advertisers alike when it comes to holiday programming.
In this commentary, we provide analysis of these emotional dimensions on the top holiday films as ranked by EmotionalDNA (eDNA) evaluation score.
Leading the top 12 list is the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life, which predictably ranks in the 100th percentile of the emotional dimension Heart, a measure primarily defined by being seen as uplifting, touching and inspiring. As expected, nine of the top 12 films on this list rank in the 70th percentile or above in Heart. It’s the holidays after all.
As one might also expect, holiday movies also rank high in either Relatability (real, relatable and not fake or mean) or Passion (sexy, romantic, glamorous). One of the highest-ranking films for Relatability on this list is Home Alone (99th percentile) which grossed $476.7 million worldwide on a tiny-in-comparison production budget of $18 million. It was the highest-grossing holiday film for 28 years until The Grinch took the lead in 2018 ($511.6 million). Love Actually ranks lowest of the Top 12 in terms of Relatability but ranks in the 97th percentile for Passion making it the second-highest performer on that emotional dimension.
One surprise is the number of films in the 70th percentile or above in Edge, a classification for outrageousness and humor. Nine of the top 12 films on the list make that cut with National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation maxing out in the 100th percentile (as good an example as you could want of the not-so-touching holiday movie).
Two films that make the cut for high Edge deserve further mention. While Black stars have lent their talents to holiday films such as Pharrell Williams and Rashida Jones in The Grinch, the holiday film genre has been notably lacking in representation. Featuring star-studded ensemble casts and stories told by Black storytellers, both The Best Man Holiday and This Christmas were nominated for NAACP Image Awards in acting and directing categories. They rank highly in audience evaluation and both performed well at the box office on modest budgets. The Best Man Holiday also takes top ranking for Passion at the 100th percentile, beating out perennial favorite Love Actually.
Another surprise was the presence of Originality, a measure of the extent to which a film is seen as original, imaginative and fresh. Five of our top 12 highly evaluated holiday films ranked in the 70th percentile or above in this classification. Despite being three-quarters of a century old, It’s a Wonderful Life astoundingly ranks highly in the 94th percentile, edged out only slightly from the top slot with the unique tale The Nightmare Before Christmas in the 95th percentile.
Honorable mention for Originality goes to the controversial is-it-or-isn’t-it-a-holiday-film, Die Hard. With its high rankings in Relatability (commonly found with successful franchises), Passion, and Originality, it certainly features similar emotional resonance as many of its holiday film peers. Where it diverges is in ranking high in Gravity (disturbing, scary and dramatic) and Adrenaline (exciting, fast paced and thrilling).
Above all, Die Hard and the others in the Top 12 drive home the point that there is no set formula. The holidays provide a fairly blank creative canvas for films across a broad emotional range. When it comes to programming, advertising and sponsorship, recognizing a holiday movie isn’t just a holiday movie is the key to delivering engaging, emotionally resonant holiday experiences.