Lifetime movies get an undeserved bad reputation, with many people dismissing them as being alarmist and overdramatic. Admittedly, some Lifetime original productions fit that description, but because all the public attention is focused on them, many hidden gems end up slipping through the cracks. While these five titles might not have the high production values of big-budget movies, they have that undeniable ‘’TV movie’’ charm that cinema buffs love and strong actors that give brilliant performances.
Since the network has released a lot of strong original productions throughout the years, you might have a hard time deciding between them. As a result, we have rounded them down to just five top quality movies that will surely make for an enjoyable evening in front of the TV. If you have watched them and can’t get enough, you can always read through other comprehensive guides dedicated to the best lifetime movies on air. Without further ado, here are a few titles that will surely satisfy you.
#1 Fifteen and Pregnant
Let us debut this list with a Lifetime classic, Fifteen and Pregnant (1998). Starring a young Kristen Dunst as Tina Spangler, the movie is based on the true story of a 15-year-old who found herself pregnant with her new boyfriend. Abandoned by her boyfriend, Tina realizes she has three options: terminating the pregnancy, putting the baby up for adoption or living the life of a single parent.
Do not get fooled by the premise of the story because it is not a sappy, alarmist movie about the perils of teenage pregnancy. While the movie does address these issues, the writers made sure to present all facets in a balanced, mature way, without getting preachy or judgemental. In fact, the movie paints a very sympathetic and compassionate picture of Tina, who has to make a series of tough choices.
Fifteen and Pregnant does not only highlight Kristen Dunst’s acting abilities but demonstrated she is able to carry an entire movie and add layers of complexity to all the roles she assumes. If you are curious to see an early Kristen Dunst before her brilliant performances in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the second season of Fargo, this is the right movie for you.
Directed by Jessica Sharzer and based on the novel of the same name, Speak follows the story of Melinda Sordino (her last name, interestingly enough, means ‘’deaf’’ in Italian), a high school freshman who stops talking after suffering a traumatizing experience at a party.
Like the novel, the film’s story is told through Melinda’s eyes, who will endear audiences with her sardonic humor and ruthless honey. Kristen Stewart does a great job of capturing that teenage angst that we have all been through, the main difference being that here it has a dark layer.
#3 Secrets of My Stepdaughter
Secrets of My Stepdaughter is another excellent nail-biting Lifetime thriller that will captivate you. The story focuses on the Kent family, who members are enjoying a seemingly happy and quiet life. Cindy (played by talented actress Josie Davis) is a strong and loving mother, while Greg Ken (Cameron Bancroft) is an attentive father. The kids, Rachel and Addy (played by real-life sisters Tiera and Ali Skovbye) seem to have a very close relationship with their parents.
Unsurprisingly, it is soon revealed that their family situation is not so simple after all. We find out that Rachel is, in fact, Greg’s daughter from another wife, who gained custody of Rachel only to disappear suddenly. Adding another strange layer to their unusual family arrangement is the fact that Rachel has been living with her father and stepmother for only a few months before the start of the movie.
The movie takes a dark turn when Rachel witnesses the murder of her best friend and is found tied up to a table by the police. Her stepmother steps in and tries to protect the traumatized teenager, only to be faced with the possibility that Rachel, in fact, committed the murder. The actors do a decent job portraying their characters, and fans of cop flicks will surely enjoy the performances of the detectives, who do not believe that the murder case is as clear as initially thought.
The movie does a great job of building up tension through careful pacing, and the moody atmosphere alone will give you a sense of dread and uneasiness. If you like stories that focus on family turmoil and secrets, Secrets of My Stepdaughter might be just the thing you are looking for.
#4 Flowers in the Attic
Based on the novel of the same name, Flowers in the Attic is an interesting mash-up of different movie genres, including elements of drama, romance, thriller, and horror.
It has a stellar cast of household actors – Heather Graham (Twin Peaks, Austin Power series, Boogie Nights), Kiernan Shipka (who most famously played Sally Draper in the critically acclaimed tv show Mad Men) and renown actress Ellen Burstyn, who you might recognize from The Exorcist, Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and Requiem for a Dream.
Flowers in the Attic is a period movie set in the 1950’s. The story follows the lives of the Dollanganger children, who are living happily with their parents. After their father dies in a car accident and the family ends up in serious debt, the mother sends the children to live with her wealthy parents in Virginia.
This is where the movie gets truly disturbing, as their grandmother (played flawlessly by Ellen Burstyn) slowly proves to be a demented psychopath who torments the children with every occasion. The movie itself is a comprehensive exploration of truly dysfunctional families and deals with issues such as domestic abuse and mental illness.
While it is always enjoyable seeing the esteemed character actress playing this type of role again, the true surprise of the movie is Kiernan Shipka, who steals most of the scenes with her charisma and acting abilities, proving she has a bright future ahead in the industry.
#5 Call Me Crazy: A Five Film
Call me Crazy: A Five Film is an interesting title both from a story and format perspective. It is an anthology of five back to back short movies that focus on the discrimination and stigma that people with mental illnesses face on a day to day basis. Call me Crazy is split into five segments titled Lucy, Grace, Allison, Eddie, and Maggie, after the main characters.
The film deals with a wide variety of mental disorders, from depression, schizophrenia, to post-traumatic stress disorder. While it is cheesy and a tad unrealistic in some parts, it is an interesting experiment in moviemaking and storytelling that gets its message across in a sensible and effective way: that with all the progress we have made as a society, we still tend to trivialize or ignore the experiences of people diagnosed with mental disorders.
Lifetime has a long history of delivering quality TV movies with strong casts and interesting plots, and the five titles featured in this write-up only support this argument. If you feel like taking a break from big-budget Hollywood productions or Netflix original series and want to try something new, make sure to give these movies a shot.