Lifetime and Hallmark made-for-TV movies have a reputation of being tacky, sensationalist, or just laughably bad. Whether it’s due to a low budget, a tight schedule, bad acting, or something else, most of these films wouldn’t be winning Oscars even if they were eligible.
Although the rise of streaming services has made this category less popular, since those services invest more in their films, plenty are still made. This begs the question: which made-for-TV movies (with at least 5,000 IMDb reviews) have actually been great works of film?
10 Horatio Hornblower: The Duel – 8.0
Before his portrayal of Reed Richards was one of the few things in the 2000s Fantastic Four film that aged well, Ioan Gruffudd made a name for himself in two ways: playing the lifeboat captain in Titanic, and playing Horatio Hornblower in a series of TV movies.
The Duel is the first in the series, and follows Hornblower, a British Navy private during the Napoleonic Wars, as he begins his rise to captain that is the focus of the original novels. The youthful Gruffudd here gives a performance of stoic but enthusiastic intelligence that makes his casting as Reed Richards make even more sense. Maybe he should return as the character in some form.
9 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – 8.1
Christmas movies are about tied with romance as the most popular TV-movie genre there is, and this began to be the case around when the stop-motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer debuted on television all the way back in 1964.
A must-watch Christmas television special filled with funny quotes, Rudolph holds up quite well despite being almost 60 years old, even if some elements are outdated or make no sense when you actually think about it, like how Rudolph is treated by his father. The movie became even more appreciated when home media meant viewers didn’t have to rely on TV broadcasts to enjoy it.
8 Something the Lord Made – 8.1
Something the Lord Made stars Alan Rickman and Mos Def as Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas, two heart-surgery pioneers who had a volatile relationship, but were also groundbreaking doctors who together changed the world of medicine forever.
Thomas is one of many African-American innovators who have historically been overlooked by history, and Something the Lord Made does a good job of bringing his story to light. The performances are great, the story is fascinating, and both critics and audiences alike, receiving nine Emmy nominations upon release.
7 It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown – 8.2
The cartoonist Charles Schulz created something special with his strip Peanuts, which debuted in 1950 and which he worked on until his death in 2000. Although plenty of fans came to love the characters from the newspaper, the TV specials are what stand out most; they gave voices and movement to these adorable characters.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown first aired in 1966 but was already the third Peanuts special. The movie follows the Peanuts gang as they prepare for Halloween, while Linus in particular is awaiting the mythical Great Pumpkin.
6 An Adventure in Space and Time – 8.2
A great movie for Doctor Who fans to watch is An Adventure in Space and Time, a 2013 BBC-produced biopic written by Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss about the original development of Doctor Who back in the 1960s.
The movie focuses on William Hartnell, who played the first incarnation of the Doctor in the entire series, while also relaying the behind-the-scenes origins of how the show became what it is. Considering how long-lasting and popular Doctor Who is, it’s an incredibly fascinating watch. Even for non-fans, though, it manages to provide a compelling look into a historic show’s creation that has a much wider appeal.
5 Temple Grandin – 8.2
Most known for her star role in the TV show Homeland, Claire Danes portrayed autism advocate and livestock-treatment innovator Temple Grandin in the 2010 HBO movie of the same name, co-starring alongside Schitt’s Creek‘s Catherine O’Hara and Nightmare Alley‘s David Strathairn.
The film is one of the better depictions of autism because of how close it hems to Grandin’s early life, while also giving a nuanced portrayal of what living with autism is like. It isn’t a superpower or something mocked; rather, it’s a different way of experiencing the world.
4 A Charlie Brown Christmas – 8.3
The best Charlie Brown Peanuts special, A Charlie Brown Christmas was also the first TV special in the Peanuts series, airing in 1965 and helping cement the name “Charlie Brown” in viewers’ minds as the name of the franchise, as opposed to the original “Peanuts” for the comic strip.
The special itself received acclaim from critics and went on to influence future Christmas TV specials, provide a classic Christmas song, and be referenced in places as different from it as the FOX comedy series Arrested Development. Not bad for the “made for TV” level.
3 How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – 8.3
It’s amazing to think that the narrator and the Grinch in 1966’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! are both voiced by Boris Karloff, who played the monster in 1931’s Frankenstein and its spin-offs, as well as the titular Mummy in 1932’s The Mummy. He even won a Grammy for his Grinch role.
For IMDb, this 1966 classic is the best Christmas special ever made, as well as one of the best Dr. Seuss adaptations on top of that. Even today, with the Jim Carrey and Benedict Cumberbatch versions, this one holds up as the best.
2 Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm – 8.3
Die-hard fans of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm know that the long-running comedy series actually began with this HBO TV special. It first aired on October 17, 1999, two days less than a full year before the actual series premiered.
Like the show which it began, the special follows a fictional version of Seinfeld co-creator Larry David. Metafictionally, he pitches to HBO the idea of him having an hour-long special, and his experiences in trying to prepare for the special once it’s approved. It’s not as good as the series it spawned, but for fans of the show, it’s a fun look into its beginnings.
1 Heart of a Dog – 8.6
Amazingly enough, the best made-for-TV movie doesn’t come from the United States or United Kingdom like previous ones have; instead, it comes from the Soviet Union during Mikhail Gorbachev’s tenure, and only allowed to be made because of his liberalizing cultural policy of perestroika.
Released in 1988, Heart of a Dog is a black-and-white adaptation of a novel written during the early years of the Soviet Union, as an allegory in the same way George Orwell’s Animal Farm was. It’s an artistic film that enthralls cinephiles, especially those who are fans of Soviet cinema, because of its atmosphere, cinematography, and acting.
NEXT: 10 Best Direct-To-Video Movies Of All Time, Ranked By IMDb
10 Classical Disney Movies To Rewatch According to Your MCU Preferences
About The Author