This week, SyFy debuts the sequel to last summer’s surprise TV movie hit, Sharknado. Sharknado 2: The Second One is expected to be even campier and sillier than its predecessor and will possibly go down as one of the most ridiculous TV movies ever made. But, of course, it’s got quite a bit of competition: there are plenty of other patently absurd made-for-television movies out there. From SyFy’s shark obsession to Lifetime’s melodramatic teen flicks, here are 35 of the campiest TV movies of all time.
Cyberbully (2011, ABC Family)
Cyberbully was part of a “Delete Digital Drama” campaign, in partnership with Seventeen magazine. In the movie, a teen girl named Taylor becomes the victim of cyberbullying that causes her to lose her friends — and her date for the dance! The intention was noble, but the result was impossible to take seriously. A depressed Taylor decides to commit suicide but can’t get the cap off a pill bottle. The entire message is erased by an over-dramatic scene involving a childproof bottle cap.
Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? is a quintessential Lifetime TV movie: a hilarious title, a dramatic premise, and Tori Spelling playing the lead. It’s basically the TV movie of Fear, except this time the mother gets involved and the daughter (Spelling) is abducted by her overprotective, murderous boyfriend.
This is actually a crossover film, bringing together two poor horror franchises: Puppet Master and Demonic Toys. The plot doesn’t really matter here, but based on the title, I’m sure you can figure out that both (cyborg) puppets and toys (that are literally from hell) come to life and battle each other. Viewers lose.
Liz & Dick (2012, Lifetime)
The Liz & Dick TV movie arrived to apprehensive fanfare. Its entire existence, with Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor, was built for hate-watching and live tweeting. The result was abysmal, and it was impossible to tell if it was accidentally or purposely campy — but either way, it was one of the worst moments of Lohan’s career. Which is really saying something.
It’s a little weird that it took until 2014 for Lifetime to adapt the incest-filled Flowers in the Attic, but the network made up for the delay by releasing both the movie and its sequel within a few months of each other (and also by getting everyone’s favorite Mad Men daughter, Kiernan Shipka, to star). The results were… iffy, to say the least, but that didn’t stop Lifetime from ordering two more movies in the series for 2015.
Co-Ed Call Girl (1992, Lifetime)
Tori Spelling is probably the closest Lifetime has to a poster child. In lieu of a logo, viewers watching Lifetime should just see a tiny photo of Spelling look horrified at something. Here, she plays the titular co-ed call girl, a pre-med student who accidentally becomes an escort. One thing leads to another and suddenly she’s in court for shooting a pimp.
It’s almost impressive how much Disney screwed up this direct-to-TV sequel to Harriet the Spy. This modernized version has Harriet competing to become the official class blogger (because that’s a thing) against the popular girl. There’s a weird plot about her stalking a teen pop star in order to get dirt on him, so basically, it’s Harriet the Spy: TMZ, but watered down for Disney. It’s awful.
With a title like “Pizza My Heart,” is there really anything else to say about this ABC Family rom-com? It’s a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet (what isn’t, at this point?), but with a pizza twist! Pizza My Heart is about two people who fall in love even though their parents are rival pizzeria owners.
Kellie Martin, like Tori Spelling, has been a staple in cheesy TV movies from the ’90s until now. One of the worst (and therefore best) was On the Edge of Innocence, where she played a manic-depressive student whose outbursts land her in a mental hospital around the same time rebellious Jake (James Marsden) is committed. It’s a classic mental institution love story turned into a Bonnie & Clyde affair.
This TV movie (known by different titles in the US and UK) was based on a true story about a teen girl murdering her 15-year-old classmate. It’s a double-whammy of all-star made-for-TV actresses: Kelli Martin’s character stabs Tori Spelling’s character because she’s rejected from the cheerleading squad.
Cyber Seduction: His Secret Life (2005, Lifetime)
This might be one of Lifetime’s greatest campy achievements. It centers on a 16-year-old boy who becomes addicted to porn. No, he doesn’t just watch porn like the way all teen boys do — he watches it in public, keeps it on his girlfriend’s PDA, can’t stop talking about it, and hacks into his school’s computer because of it. By the end of the movie, he’s beat up by a group of classmates and tries to drown himself in a pool — all because of porn sites.
Jersey Shore Shark Attack (2012, SyFy)
You have to hand it to SyFy for knowing what its viewers want: shark attacks and injured guidos. Riffing on the success of MTV’s Jersey Shore franchise, Jersey Shore Shark Attack takes a group of Snooki and Pauly D lookalikes (Vinny actually makes an appearance), places them on the boardwalk, and unleashes the sharks. Campy bonus point: Joey Fatone plays himself.
Desperate Lives (CBS, 1982)
Ah, the cheesy anti-drug TV movie. A perfect family is torn apart when the two teenage children get quickly and devastatingly addicted to drugs. The daughter (Helen Hunt) takes angel dust and jumps through a window; the son, while high with his girlfriend, drives his car off a cliff. The above clip might be the all-time funniest “serious” scene in a TV movie. (By the way, Rick Springfield sings the theme song.)
I secretly really love The Craigslist Killer, and not just because it stars Greek‘s Jake McDorman. It’s based on the true story of Philip Markoff, a medical student who was indicted for murder and robbery in 2009 but committed suicide while awaiting trial. The movie is a highly dramatized version of these events, but it’s hard to take the charming McDorman seriously.
This is the perfect campy PSA movie. Within days, college freshman and track star Jesse goes from being a super-smart straight-A student to a topless binge-drinker — all because of peer pressure! It hits every cliché right on the nose and, of course, ends with a friend dying in a frat house. Lifetime is a perfect network.
Another quintessential Lifetime teen movie, 15 and Pregnant is mostly remembered because of Kirsten Dunst. Dunst plays, well, a pregnant 15-year-old. It’s full of lessons about safe sex, Catholicism, and family acceptance, conveyed in such a cheesy way that it’s still making kids laugh in high school health classes. Murder Live! (1997, NBC)
Murder Live! took on the oh-so-controversial topic of tabloid talk shows. A young girl commits suicide after appearing on the fictional The Pia Postman Show and the show exploits that suicide (as they had exploited the gang rape that originally landed her on the show). In an act of revenge, her distraught father holds Pia Postman and the audience hostage with a bomb.
Avalanche Sharks (2013, SyFy)
After realizing how successful the “sharks + natural event” movie formula was, SyFy decided its best bet was just to mass-produce a bunch, such as Sharknado‘s sequel. First there was Avalanche Sharks, which unfortunately didn’t keep the working title Sharkalanche, and whose official title is pretty self-explanatory.
No One Would Tell (1996, NBC)
One of the best things about campy TV movies is seeing your favorite childhood stars in ridiculous situations. No One Would Tell has Fred Savage (The Wonder Years) and Candace Cameron Bure (Full House) in an abusive relationship that ends in murder. For some reason, Sally Jessy Raphael makes an appearance as a judge.
Red Water (2003, TBS)
SyFy isn’t the only network that loves terrible shark-attack movies. In 2003, TBS aired Red Water, about a giant shark in Louisiana that attacks a group of people including Lou Diamond Phillips and Coolio. No, really, it’s worth watching if only for Coolio’s performance.
Child of Rage might be the most disturbing TV movie that most people haven’t seen. It’s about a young, adopted girl of about six or seven who has a behavior disorder. She murders birds, repeatedly attacks her brother, keeps a knife in a teddy bear, and attempts to seduce her grandfather. It would be a shocking, emotional story if every act of violence weren’t portrayed with such high camp.
The Pregnancy Pact (2010, Lifetime)
Lifetime’s teen movies often revolve around high schoolers who accidentally get pregnant, but The Pregnancy Pact deals with a group of girls who want to be teen moms because they love the idea of being mothers together. Three friends pressure a fourth to get pregnant, and she does, but then her life spins completely out of control.
Sexting In Suburbia (2012, Lifetime)
The campy genius of this movie is that it not only does it harp on a parent’s worst fear — sexting! — but also implies that it could happen anywhere — yes, even your small-town suburban haven. Homecoming Queen Dina texts naked photos to her boyfriend and they end up all over school. Throughout the course of the movie, someone commits suicide, two people are arrested for distributing child pornography, someone crashes her car while texting, and it turns out a mother was behind the whole thing. Really, you just have to watch it.
Stranger With My Face (2009, Lifetime)
Based on a popular YA book by Lois Duncan, Stranger With My Face stars Alexz Johnson as Catherine Hicks’ adopted daughter, who, after moving to a summer house, discovers a twin sister who is hellbent on taking over her life.
My Baby Is Missing (2007, Lifetime)
You have to hand it to Lifetime for getting straight to the point with a title like “My Baby Is Missing.” A woman gives birth to a healthy baby but is later told it was a stillborn. She spends the movie trying to track down the nurse who stole the baby in order to — wait for it — sell the child to a couple.
The Thirteenth Year (1999, Disney)
Most Disney Channel Original Movies are looked back on with fuzzy nostalgia, but there are a couple of exceptions, like 1999’s totally ridiculous The Thirteenth Year. After Cody’s 13th birthday, he suddenly discovers that he is slowly turning into a merman (he’s adopted; his real mother was a mermaid), and the whole thing is just downhill from there.
Wasted (2002, MTV)
MTV’s original TV movies were hit or miss. I liked Wasted when it first premiered (it features a cute, strung-out Aaron Paul), but looking back on it now, the “small town teens get into heroin” story — which was born out of a True Life episode and also featured Nick Stahl and Summer Phoenix — is actually really cheesy.
Ghost Shark (2013, SyFy)
Yet another shark movie from SyFy. This one forgoes the natural events and instead focuses on a dead shark that is resurrected because of a supernatural cave. The shark no longer needs an ocean and can survive in just the smallest bit of water, meaning he can attack various houses throughout the seaside town.
The story of Amy Fisher took over the world in such a way that three different TV movies aired within a week of each other. NBC’s version, which was the first, told the story through Fisher’s point of view. ABC’s and CBS’s were pretty identical, even airing on the same night and time as each other, and featuring famous actresses in early “adult” roles (Drew Barrymore and Alyssa Milano, respectively). All three were awful and unnecessary but remain hilarious to watch today.
In recent years, Lifetime has become obsessed with incorporating the Internet and other technology into its dramatic original movies. In Cyberstalker, Mischa Barton stars as a woman who is constantly on the run from the online stalker who killed her parents.
Go Ask Alice (1973, ABC)
The “diary” Go Ask Alice is already ridiculous enough (and so hilariously fake it’s amazing so many people ever believed otherwise), but the TV movie featuring William Shatner and Andy Griffith amps it up even more.
She’s Too Young (2004, Lifetime)
This movie about a syphilis outbreak in a school (featuring Miriam McDonald, around the time of her Degrassi arc about a gonorrhea outbreak) is my all-time favorite Lifetime movie. Some of the movie’s best moments include teens saying things like, “Guess what, guys? I have syphilis!” and “You better stick ’em all, ’cause I sure did!”