Singing Up The Season

This is the second in a December series of Christmas film playlists, drawing on some popular – and less so – holiday movie tropes. In writing my new book, Analyzing Christmas in Film, I analysed close to 1000 of these films, examining what they reveal about gender, culture and society. Read the first post on queer Christmas films here. If you seek suggestions for my favourites, I nudge you towards my recommendations list. And if you’re after some Australian selections, click here.

With both secular and sacred Christmas tunes playing such a crucial role in our celebrations of Christmas, it’s no surprise that music is key in films too.

While several films have spawned a range of Christmas hit singles – “White Christmas” from Holiday Inn (1942)“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from Meet me In St Louis (1944), “Silver Bells” from The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) and “We Need a Little Christmas” from Mame (1974) – singers themselves often use holiday movies as an opportunity to have a stab at acting.

In this post, I explore stars known for music who’ve made their modest mark in merry movies.

Olivia Newton-John

As a primary schooler, I would watch a VHS recording of Grease (1978) almost daily after school. While my obsession with the film is still a little fuzzy, I think it left me with a soft spot for Olivia Newton-John who has stumbled her way into a couple of Christmas films.

A Mom For Christmas (1990)

Prior to re-watching it as part of my research, I’d long believed that A Mom for Christmas was my favourite Christmas film. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it doesn’t stand up to viewing it as an adult, but it’s still a cute story about a motherless daughter (Juliet Sorci) who wishes for a mom for Christmas and gets Amy (Olivia Newton-John), a department store mannequin-come-to-life.

A Christmas Romance (1994)

The home-facing-foreclosure-at-Christmastime narrative is incredibly common; here it’s widowed Julia (Olivia Newton-John) and her daughters (including ONJ’s real life daughter, Chloe) facing eviction.

Bank manager Brian (Gregory Harrison) has driven out to Julia’s farm to foreclose; instead he finds for himself a ready made family. At present, you can watch in full online.

Dolly Parton

While I’d rather listen to Dolly sing Jolene than see her mix herself up in the nonsense of Christmas films, nonetheless, she appears in quite a few of them.

A Smoky Mountain Christmas (1986)

Imagine a country-themed Snow White with orphans instead of dwarves and Dolly as a benevolent witch who’s actually a famous singer seeking some rest and relaxation in the wilds of Tennessee. With characters like “Mountain Dan” (Lee Majors) it’s actually quite a dreadful film. Directed by The Fonz.

Unlikely Angel (1996)

Ruby Diamond (Parton) was a “bad girl” who gets punished for her sinnin’ in a fatal car crash. To earn her wings she has to return to earth and serve as a nanny for a family grieving the death of Mom. A familiar story, but Dolly is charming enough to make it watchable. Just.

A Country Christmas Story (2013)

Teen Grace (Desiree Ross) enters a Christmastime singing competition hosted by none other than Dolly Parton. If holly and jolly are what you’re after, I’d give this one a wide berth: Christmas only bookends the film.

Unfortunately I can’t find a trailer online.

Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love (2016)

Dolly plays “The Painted Lady” in the second instalment of her series of autobiographical made-for-TV films: this one with a holiday spin.

Naomi Judd

While Naomi Judd is better known as a country star and mother of Ashley Judd – she also has a fistful of acting credits to her name. These are her Christmas appearances.

A Holiday Romance (1999)

While single fathers raising children is a trope in Christmas films, single uncles do the same in quite a few too. In this one curmudgeonly Cal (Gerald McRaney) is raising niece Fern (The Newsroom’s Alison Pill) solo, and finding a little love alone the way. Judd plays Fern’s music teacher.

No trailer, but there’s a clip online.

Window Wonderland (2013)

Made-for-TV holiday films stage competitions around every imaginable Christmas task, from gingerbread baking to snowman building. In Window Wonderland, the stoush centres on department store window displays. Judd plays store cleaner, Rita.

An Evergreen Christmas (2014)

Another looming foreclosure-narrartive, this time centred on a family tree farm. Judd is the matriarch of the Tennessee estate.

Other Singers-Turned-Actors in Christmas Films

Bing Crosby

Queen Latifah

Will Smith

Christina Milian

Chris Brown

Miley Cyrus

En Vogue


David Bowie

Mariah Carey

Vanessa Williams

Willie Nelson,  Harry Connick Jr. and Lyle Lovett