Made for TV always conjures up thoughts of a B quality movie but these five movies went above and beyond the call of duty, a few of them went on to see a run in actual movie theaters after their TV debuts. Brian’s Song was an early made for TV movie that set the standard that many made for TV movies never followed.
Only two recent made for TV movies actually made the list of top five made for TV movies. Both made for TV movies that were filmed recently were made by HBO Films, Recount and *61. HBO Films does not make as many movies as they should but when they do, their made for TV movies are movie theater quality.
Best Made for TV Movie of All Time: Brian’s Song (1971)
The movie Brian’s Song begins as two rookie running backs are drafted at the same time by the Chicago Bears. Brian Piccolo and the legendary Gale Sayers. While both are competing for the a spot in the Chicago Bears starting line up they become unlikely friends and confidants. Gale Sayers is injured and Piccolo is instrumental in assisting with his recovery.
Later it is discovered that Brian Piccolo has an aggressive cancer and Sayers is by his side encouraging him in his darkest hour. The made for TV movie is an infamous tear jerker that stars a young James Caan as Piccolo, a role that defined his acting career. Billy Dee Williams also stars in a role that was supposed to be played by Louis Gossett Jr. Gossett tore his Achilles heel and could not work on the made for TV film.
Second Best Made for TV Movie All Time: Duel (1971)
Stephen Spielberg’s directorial debut was the made for TV movie Duel. Spielberg’s first movie was a success in creating a suspenseful story that kept the TV audience on the edge of their seats throughout the thrilling diesel truck versus car scenes. The made for TV movie starred Dennis Weaver as the harassed motorist but the predator was the huge menacing red diesel 1955 Peterson 281 tanker trailer 18 wheeler and driver that are trying to run him of the road.
The made for TV movie was shot with a low budget but the suspense generated by Spielberg was a harbinger of great things to come from the young director. Shooting angles and suspenseful camera shots of the 18 wheeler created shots that gave the truck a life all its own. Duel is considered a classic and a must watch in film classes across the country.
Third Best Made for TV Movie All Time: Sybil (1976)
Sybil aired as a two part made for TV movie in 1976. The movie dealt with a dissociative identity disorder that the main character suffered from. Sybil is played by Sally Field in a riveting performance that won Field an Emmy Award for her incredible performance. The subject matter was an unusual subject to deal with in a made for TV movie at the time but it handled the disease and getting to the root of the problem with tact.
Fourth Best Made for TV Movie of All Time: *61 (2001)
As a New York Yankees fan from the time he was a small child Billy Crystal idolized all the New York Yankees, even players such as Roger Maris. Maris was vilified by most Yankees fans because they felt he was not a true Yankee. Billy Crystal’s made for TV movie dealt with the quest of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle to break the beloved Babe Ruth’s unreachable Major League Baseball home run record of 60.
The made for TV movie *61 appeared on HBO in 2001, 40 years after Roger Maris broke the magic home run record. The movie focused on the pressure Maris had to deal with from fans that were rooting for Mickey Mantle to break the record and the public outcry that someone of Maris stature could possibly be the all time home run leader. Maris was not a social being and an opposite of Mantle but both were friends and roommates in that fateful summer of 61.
Fifth Best Made for TV Movie of All Time: Recount (2008)
A story about the back room dealings and party politics defines the made for TV movie Recount. The story deals with the Presidential election of 2000 and the voting discrepancies the state of Florida. Ironically the state governed by George Bush’s brother, Jeb.
Kevin Spacey plays the role of the Democratic campaign leader Rob Klain who pushes for the recount of votes in Florida. Spacey was nominated for an Emmy but Laura Dern won the Emmy Award for her portrayal of the eccentric Florida Attorney General Katherine Harris. Dennis Leary and Bob Balaban were also nominated.