First of all — Happy Mother's Day!
Mothers Day might be upon us, but no, we are not going the cheap route and talking about the MILFs youre used to (although we do love Jennifer Coolidge in everything she does; even AMERICAN PIE). This list is dedicated to a far more selectand somewhat more matronlygroup, namely Moms In Legendary Films. Absolutely everyone out there has something to say about how to be the best mom (as evidenced by the latest cover of TIME, which proclaims "Are You Mom Enough?" and displays a rather distinctive approach). Thats why its best to fall back on these sterling examples of maternal heroism (and in some cases, villainy). Whatever the case may be, parenting can be a real bitch, and these women are definitely Mom enough.
10. Bree Osbourne - TRANSAMERICA
As Bree Osbourne, Felicity Huffman took on a whole lot in this acclaimed role: a road-tripping male-to-female transsexual who unwittingly discovers along the way that she has a child. From oblivious father to an ultimately caring mother, Huffman handled an extraordinary double gender reversal with aplomb, teaching us a little something about parenting at the same time—uteruses (uteri?) and vaginas aside, real mothering is all about the heart.
9. Abileen Clark - THE HELP
Viola Davis and company also do a wonderful job reminding us that the one you call mommy doesn't always end up being she who birthed you. As a devoted maid in 1960s Mississippi, Davis cares for her inept white boss's child as her own (and she has those back home, too). When she is unjustly fired from her job later in the film, her heartbreak over losing the baby girl who has become her de facto daughter is palpable. It's worth noting another mother nailed by Viola, in 2008's DOUBT. In just one scene she steals the entire film, as the mother of a 1960s choirboy who is prepared to accept the possibility of something unspeakable in order to keep her son in a place where he won't succumb to the racism and classism she knows all too well. A mother's love may not always be logical, but boy, it can be fierce.
8. Kate McCallister - HOME ALONE
This family fun-for-all gains double-whammy status as both a great Christmas treat and Mother's Day movie, since the storyline pretty much boils down to this: a harried mother must wend her way through various shenanigans (as only the late John Hughes, who actually wrote this film, can concoct) to redeem the love of her abandoned son. The always-brilliant Catherine O'Hara—who gave us one of the wackiest mothers of all time in BEETLEJUICE—brilliantly captures a defining moment on the plane toward the beginning of the film, when she finally realizes they forgot Kevin at home. She betrays an eternal truth: even parents can screw up, and royally.
7. Mrs. Bates - PSYCHO
Let's be honest: Norman Bates' mother is the most important character in this entire film. Everything revolves around her. So what difference does it make that she's been dead for ten years and counting?? Absolutely no difference! And you better not argue with Mother. We wouldn't want her to get mad. Because as Norman says, "She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?"
The first time you watched Bambi's mother get shot and killed by hunters midway through this film, admit it: you were flabbergasted, weren't you? For many—boomers and their children alike—this was a slam bang introduction to the notion of death, the brusque removal of maternal comforts we know all too well. That, plus the placement of a strong but very distant father figure, betrayed the nuclear family dynamics of wartime America and laid the groundwork for films like THE LION KING and FINDING NEMO (please hold for Father's Day films). Pretty heavy for one of the cutesier Disney films from the 40s, eh?
5. Dolores Claiborne - DOLORES CLAIBORNE
Based on a non-supernatural Stephen King novel, this often-overlooked gem directed by Taylor Hackford shows just how far a mother will go to protect her child. Kathy Bates (yes, she thought taking on another King character might be a good idea after winning an Oscar for MISERY) plays a tough-talking and very hard-edged Maine woman who is accused of multiple murders over the years. When her daughter (a particularly drug-addled Jennifer Jason Leigh) comes home, the past gets rehashed and dark family secrets come out to play, revealing a mother who had no choice but to fight to the death against a monstrous husband (the excellent David Strathairn). The film's climax is gratifying to say the least, as is the small but heartfelt final moment when a resentful daughter finally acknowledges that no matter what her mother did, she did it for her.
4. Mrs. Robinson - THE GRADUATE
OK, so Mrs. Robinson probably is the original MILF, and we mean that as the acronym initially intended. But this list wouldn't be complete without her inclusion. What Anne Bancroft did for older (sorry, mature) women—and 1960s female sexuality full stop—is just too significant. Mothers can be sexy too, and don't you forget it. Nylons were never the same again.
Long before becoming mamma hen of ABC's Brothers and Sisters, Sally Field did these two back-to-back films, in which she portrayed quintessential devoted mothers, the defiantly American, against-all-odds kind. MAGNOLIAS has already become the stuff of legend (or cliché, depending on who you ask), but Field as M'Lynn Eatenton grappling with her daughter's illness and death is unadulterated tearjerker heaven. And NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER was a healthy follow-up, with Field as the wife of an Iranian man who must find a way to flee Tehran with her young daughter (this one might make for some interesting viewing now, in a 20/20 hindsight kind of way). Playing the mom card has always worked well for Field, who went on to play Forrest Gump's mom among others (we'll choose to forget EYE FOR AN EYE).
2. Aurora Greenway/Doris Mann - TERMS OF ENDEARMENT/POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE
The perfect counterpoint to Sally, of course, would be her MAGNOLIAS co-star Shirley MacLaine, who offered up two rather different but equally unforgettable mothers in the same decade: the immature and self-obsessed Aurora Greenway in TERMS, and the day-drinking, pill-popping Hollywood actress based on Debbie Reynolds (and written by daughter Carrie Fisher) in POSTCARDS. There is nothing quite as giddy as watching Shirley MacLaine lose her temper, which she does brilliantly (and often) in both of these pictures. Sure, you definitely wouldn't want to call this woman mommy, but she's damn fun to watch.
1. Ellen Ripley - ALIENS
Sigourney Weaver is still the silver screen mother to beat. Not only did she score an Oscar nomination for this very gory action/sci-fi flick (something that is just not done), her character's arc is studied today in screenwriting classes—and for good reason. Indulge our film-nerdiness for just a moment: in James Cameron's director's cut, Ellen Ripley learns that since she accidentally floated through space in hyper sleep for 85 years after the first film, everyone she knew on Earth, including her daughter, is dead. So when she meets young Newt, the lone survivor of the human colony on LV-426 (a planet with serious pest control problems), a mother-daughter bond is established almost immediately. Ripley is talking about Newt in that super iconic moment in the film's climax when she says to the Alien Queen (another notable Hollywood mother), "Get away from her, you BITCH!" This is the mother lion protecting her cub, and it's unclear which of the mommies here is more ferocious.
As a side note, it's fairly safe to assume that Cameron modeled his revamped and super kickass mamma Sarah Connor (played by Linda Hamilton) in T2: JUDGMENT DAY after Ripley, and in the climax of the ALIEN franchise's third film ALIEN3, Sigourney strikes the now timeless pose of maternal surrender over a flaming furnace just as she, er, births a pesky chest-bursting critter.
Turns out, this category is a tough one to whittle down to 10, so here are some other special mentions:
In the foreign camp, we have ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER and I'VE LOVED YOU SO LONG, featuring mothers struggling with motherhood and death, and GOODBYE LENIN, with a son who will move the earth for the love of his mother.
As for classics, we have MRS. MINIVER with Mom as family anchor during wartime and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE with Mom as arch villain.
For camp, there’s the obvious MOMMIE DEAREST (Faye Dunaway has been known to vocally hate having done this role, but she’s the only one) and John Waters’ cult fave SERIAL MOM.
And finally, other notable Hollywood Moms include: Mia Farrow in ROSEMARY'S BABY, Julia Roberts in ERIN BROKOVICH, Piper Laurie in CARRIE, Dianne Weist in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, Halle Berry in MONSTER'S BALL, and Ellen Burstyn in THE EXORCIST.