It takes time, of course, for a movie to become a classic, which is why it’s easy to say definitively that “Elf” and “Love Actually” deserve that designation. “Probably a decade later you think, ‘Wow, people are still watching that movie at Christmas time,’” Bevan said of realizing “Love Actually” had become a perennial favorite.
And while there are certainly external factors that go into the popularity of both of these titles — including the fact that television programmers throw them on ad nauseam in the winter months — there has to be some unconscious collective decision that a movie deserves to be watched time and time again. Partly it’s that these films were emblematic of a certain communal experience when audiences gathered to watch them way back in 2003. “The sad thing is, had we made both of those movies for streamers today, I would argue we would not be having this conversation in 20 years’ time,” Bevan said.
While he and Kormanicki insisted their movies could get theatrical runs now, “Elf” and “Love Actually,” with their midbudget sensibilities, would probably feel like outliers in the current theatrical landscape. With a few exceptions — like 2019’s “Last Christmas,” based on the Wham! song — there doesn’t seem to be much of a home for holiday entertainment in theaters, unless it is somehow profane or bloody. Even Ferrell’s most recent attempt at Christmas fare, the 2022 Dickens-inspired musical “Spirited” with Ryan Reynolds, was made for Apple TV+, a streamer.
Streaming was ostensibly supposed to make movies more accessible, but instead it just makes them feel more disposable. And that’s not to say the streamers haven’t released some genuinely engaging Christmas material among the heaps of dreck, like the visually inventive Netflix animated feature “Klaus” (2019) or Hulu’s queer rom-com, “Happiest Season” (2020), starring Kristen Stewart. Still, the holidays thrive on nostalgia, and it’s hard to be nostalgic for the latest Vanessa Hudgens princess movie you watched while simultaneously scrolling through your Instagram feed.
If I’m being honest, in the past 20 years I’ve had “Elf” and “Love Actually” playing in the background countless times while I putter around or hang out with family, but that’s largely because I know them both nearly by heart. My mother typically demands a joint viewing of “Love Actually” at some point every year. And yet the reason I have such affection for it is because each subsequent viewing reminds me of a previous one, which in turn makes me think back to when I watched it for the first time in the basement of a multiplex in 2003.