'90s Yearbook: Remembering the Most Bonkers TV Movies You Probably Forgot

We look back at some of the superlative small-screen stories of the 1990s, with appearances by the made-for-TV MVPs of the era and even a few of today's biggest stars

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'90s TV Movie Yearbook

Cutest Couple: The World's Oldest Living Bridesmaid (CBS)
Donna Mills is a high-powered lawyer who falls in love with her ponytailed, earringed, overall-wearing administrative assistant (back in those days they called them "secretaries"). Did I mention the ponytail? The coupling may be unorthodox, but these two overcame the odds — and their friends' and families' doubts — to be together. You do you, kids!

Most Unexpected Pair: Fatal Charm (Showtime)
Just your average story of a girl (Can't Buy Me Love's Amanda Peterson) falling in love with a boy (The Blue Lagoon's Christopher Atkins) who's an incarcerated rapist and murderer that breaks out of the big house to be with her. Ah, young love!

Best Hidden Talent: Fear (Showtime)
Nope, not *that* Fear. In this thriller, Ally Sheedy can psychically connect to murderers, witnessing their wicked deeds through the criminals' eyes. She uses this gruesome ability to help police arrest perps — which is all in a day's work until one psychopath flips her power back on her. The twisty B-movie climaxes — where else? — in a house of mirrors at a carnival.

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'90s TV Movie Yearbook

Most Maternal: Baby of the Bride (CBS)
Rue McClanahan was nearing the end of her time on Golden Girls when she signed on for this spiritual precursor to Father of the Bride, Part II. She plays a 53-year-old woman who, upon returning from her honeymoon, unexpectedly learns she's pregnant — and naturally, her daughter (Empty Nest's Kristy McNichol) is also expecting. Sadly, there's a distinct lack of Hank and Franck, but there's family drama and early '90s fashion aplenty!

Most Adventurous: Chance of a Lifetime (NBC)
In more Golden Girls-adjacent greatness, Betty White stars as Evelyn in a geriatric pre-iteration of Queen Latifah's Last Holiday. When the tagline is all about Betty White bungee jumping, do we really need more information?

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'90s TV Movie Yearbook

Most Likely to Move to New York City: In the Best Interest of the Children (NBC)
Before she was writing about Sex and the City as Carrie Bradshaw, Sarah Jessica Parker was just a bipolar mother of five trying to keep her kids out of foster care. By hook or by crook, the early '90s on TV was all about family values ... complicated as they might be.

Best Newcomer: Desperate Choices: To Save My Child (a.k.a. Solomon's Choice) (NBC)
Reese Witherspoon's third role as an actress was 16-year-old football player Cassie, who's diagnosed with leukemia. The twist? After chemotherapy fails, her parents are told that only a bone-marrow transplant from her brother brother (Jurassic Park's Joseph Mazzello) might cure her — and it will mean risking his life to save Cassie's.

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'90s TV Movie Yearbook

Shadiest Siblings: Sudden Fury: A Family Torn Apart (NBC)
Neil Patrick Harris and Johnny Galecki play brothers via adoption whose parents are sliced-and-diced to death. But is the right one behind bars for the brutal slaying? You'll need about 98 minutes and a strong stomach to find out.

Girl Everybody's Talking About: Amy Fisher
Drew Barrymore and Alyssa Milano both took a turn playing the real-life teenager who horrified the nation when she shot Mary Jo Buttafuoco, the wife of her adult lover Joey Buttafuoco, point-blank in the face. On Jan. 3, 1993, Barrymore's The Amy Fisher Story aired on ABC in a primetime face-off against CBS and Milano's Casualties of Love: The "Long Island Lolita" Story. Just six days before that, NBC had offered its own ripped-from-the-headlines riff in the form of Amy Fisher: My Story starring Noelle Parker.

Varsity Dishonors: The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (HBO)
Despite its zany title, this movie netted Holly Hunter an Emmy Award for portraying Wanda Holloway, a real woman so hell-bent on getting her daughter on the spirit squad — the middle school spirit squad, it should be noted — that she tried to hire her brother-in-law as a hitman to take out her daughter's top rival.

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'90s TV Movie Yearbook

Like Donna Martin, Spelling graduated from one hit to the next over the course of the decade. She really hit her stride in the mid-'90s, starting with 1994's A Friend to Die For, a.k.a. Death of a Cheerleader, on NBC. (In case you hadn't noticed, it was a really rough 10 years for those with pep.) Spelling followed up with two flicks in 1996 that featured titles so iconic they'd basically fuel Lifetime pitch meetings for decades to come. Yes, we're talking about Mother May I Sleep with Danger? (NBC) and Co-Ed Call Girl (CBS). There was also a lesser-known 1997 made-for-TV movie called Alibi (ABC), which has the phrase "sex-telephone relationship" in its IMDb description. Such range!

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Cradel of Conspiracy

Most Likely to Take a Gap Year: Moment of Truth: Cradle of Conspiracy (NBC)
The Moment of Truth series was the gift that kept on giving in the '90s. In this installment, Danica "Winnie Cooper" McKellar played a cloistered teen who is seduced by a red-flags-raising fellow named Kenny. Only after they run away together does she realize she's just the latest wide-eyed victim in his scheme to impregnate young women and sell their babies on the black market. After that drama, let's just say university life can wait.

Biggest Teachable Moment: For the Love of Nancy (ABC)
Growing Pains
star Tracey Gold drew from her own experiences with disordered eating to portray the title character, who spirals into anorexia and bulimia. The film offered an unflinching, yet sensitive, portrayal of how body image struggles impact not only those struggling but also their family and friends.

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'90s TV Movie Yearbook

Most Tenacious: She Fought Alone (NBC)
Tiffani-Amber Thiessen gets into the fast crowd at school ("The Crew") and ends up getting raped by the best buddy of her cheating boyfriend (Brian Austin Green). As these things go, eventually there's a knife fight, a trial and a baby conceived via the aforementioned rape.

Most Extra (Terrestrial): Amanda and the Alien (Showtime)
Baywatch's Nicole Eggert dyed her beachy blonde mop red for this out-of-this-world romance, which was like Earth Girls Are Easy — only infused with Gen X ennui, a smattering of alien-on-human cannibalism and a sensual synthesizer duet. It was officially the mid-'90s, and things were starting to get weird, y'all.

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'90s TV Movie Yearbook

Did somebody say aliens? Does '90s utility player Candace Cameron (who married hockey pro Valerie Bure at the end of an impressive streak of films directly following her time on Full House) have a story for you! In 1995's Visitors of the Night (NBC), she played a young woman who may have been conceived during an alien abduction — and space papa comes back for full custody. That same year in Sharon's Secret (USA), she portrayed a catatonic teen who muteness was apparently trigged by the PTSD of killing her parents. And in 1996 — a banner year for TV movies if there ever was one (more on that in the next slide), she managed to obliterate the on-screen reputations of both Saved by the Bell's Mark-Paul Gosselaar and The Wonder Year's Fred Savage in two harrowing NBC films: She Cried No (a.k.a. Freshman Fall) and No One Would Tell. Long may she reign...

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a face to die for 1996

Biggest Transformation: A Face to Die For (NBC)
Baywatch babe Yasmine Bleeth couldn't resist the (theoretical) awards bait role of a shy woman suffering from low self-esteem due to a giant facial scare. After she serves time in prison no thanks to a scheme by her sleazy, small-time criminal boyfriend, she exits the clink, gets dramatic facial surgery and returns to exact her revenge.

Super Seniors: Kidz in the Wood (NBC)
Like a made-for-TV 1990s supergroup, this story of teens learning to physically survive and emotionally thrive during an outdoor therapy retreat featured an absolutely stacked cast: Candace Cameron Bure (naturally), The Fresh Prince of Bel Air's Alfonso Ribeiro and Tatyana Ali, David Lascher from Blossom and Hey Dude, and Family Matters' Darius McCrary. Bonus points have obviously been awarded for the ultra-'90s spelling of Kidz.

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'90s TV Movie Yearbook

Biggest Cautionary Tale: Dying to Belong (NBC)
Don't let anybody tell you peer pressure wasn't just as vicious before social media. The hazing-related death of a sorority pledge (Blossom's Jenna von Oÿ) haunts her close friend (eventual two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank), who has to confront sinister sister Sarah "Second Becky" Chalke to discover what really happened that fateful, fatal night at the campus bell tower.

Most Family-First (for Better or Worse): My Stepson, My Lover (USA)
Everyone's playing to type in this textbook late-'90s offering, especially The Young and the Restless's resident hunk Joshua Morrow and Terry O'Quinn as a ruthless husband that will feel familiar to fans The Stepfather and Lost.

Most Likely to Become a Judge: Touched by Evil (ABC)
Paula Abdul would later make use of her musical ear on American Idol, but in this thriller she engaged another sense as a brutalized woman whose only clue to finding her rapist is the memory of his horrendous breath. Talk about a missed opportunity to bring back Smell-o-Vision!

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'90s TV Movie Yearbook

Most Unprepared for Y2K: Every Mother's Worst Fear (USA)
The Internet was ascendent, and parents everywhere were getting antsy. Real-life mother-daughter duo Cheryl and Jordan Ladd also played family here, with the younger Ladd turning to an Internet "friend" called Scanman during her parents' bitter divorce. Confiding your deepest, most closely-held secrets to a faceless online friend — what ever could go wrong?

Future Detective: Silencing Mary (NBC)
In a dark-universe sequel to Clarissa Explains It All, Melissa Joan Hart goes rogue and uses her college paper-honed skills to get answers — and justice — after the sexual assault of her best friend (Doogie Houser, M.D.'s Lisa Dean Ryan).

Most Optimistic: Fifteen and Pregnant (Lifetime)
Few TV movie teens navigated a tricky situation better than future Oscar nominee Kirsten Dunst in this fairly self-explanatory adolescent pregnancy story costarring Empty Nest's Park Overall as a wary, weary, conservative mother.

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'90s TV Movie Yearbook

Martin definitely would have been voted Most Likely to Succeed during the golden age of TV movies. She kicked off a hot streak in 1994 by teaming up with fellow TV MVP Tori Spelling in A Friend to Die For. After that, she played every character archetype: victimized wife (1995's If Someone Had Known on NBC), teenager discovering she was abducted years before (CBS's Face on the Milk Carton, also in '95), wrongly accused troublemaker (NBC's Her Hidden Truth — yep, 1995), semi-rightly accused troublemaker (1996's Her Last Chance on NBC) and bipolar ne'er-do-well magnet (1997's On the Edge of Innocence for NBC). Along the way, she shared the screen with '90s hunks Antonio Sabàto Jr., Ivan Sergei, Jonathan Brandis and James Marsden, just to name a few.

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'90s TV Movie Yearbook
Lifetime Tv/Kobal/Shutterstock

Best Teamwork: Invisible Child (Lifetime)
Imagine an entire town conspiring to indulge an emotionally brittle woman in the trauma fantasy that she has one more child than she actually does. Oh wait, thanks to this yarn starring Rita Wilson, you don't have to!

Most Tech Savvy: Fatal Error (TBS) and Final Run (CBS)
The computers are out to get us! The year 2000 was a much-hyped milestone when technology was supposedly going to rise up and take over the planet, and this duo of small-screen fear-baiters — about a virus on a killing spree and a computer glitch that sends a train on a runaway collision course — conveyed this air of pre-millennial paranoia. Fortunately, Antonio Sabàto Jr., Janine Turner, Robert Urich and Patricia Kalember were there to save the day.

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baby cakes, all american girl

Most Hopeless Romantic: Babycakes (1989, CBS)
Though it's from 1989, this wildly hopeful (and okay, mildly stalker-ish) story really paved the way for the '90s version of onscreen romance — both for good and bad. It finds Grace (Ricki Lake), ahem, strategically setting up a meet-cute with Rob (Craig Sheffer) and wooing him over the course of a week. Is that week precisely when his live-in girlfriend away on business? Yes! Are we still rooting for Grace? Yes! Romance, even if ill-begotten, hadn't turned scary or criminal quiet yet. But those days certainly weren't far off.

Bad Teacher: Mary Kay LeTourneau: All-American Girl (2000, USA)
On the other end of the '90s, no movie sums up the TV movies' evolution throughout the decade quite like the fictionalized retelling of the sexual relationship between real-life teacher, LeTourneau, and the student she seduced after knowing him as a literal child. The unlawful affair landed her in prison (though, after her release, the two would go on to marry and have two children). All-American Girl was simultaneously horrifying and titillating, and certainly wanted to be everything to its viewers (consider how its name cuts both ways). It pretty much ties a bow around a decade that started with unorthodox family stories and ended with an onslaught of sexual horror and global information highway paranoia. If any movie was there to transition viewers into the growing bipolarity of the 2000s, maybe it was All-American Girl?

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