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Feeling the Motherly Love: 5 Movie Moms to Love and 5 to Run Away From

Updated on September 22, 2018
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Heather has a Bachelor's Degree in English from Moravian College and has been freelance writing for more than 14 years.

What is motherhood? Is it a gift that most women would be grateful to have the chance to do? Could it also be a curse when it falls into the wrong hands? It's hard to properly answer that question with a single answer. Not every situation is as black and white as it appears to be.

Since the dawn of cinema, Hollywood has attempted to capitalize on the best (Forrest Gump) and worst (Psycho) of movie mothers. In honor of today being Mother's Day, let's examine some examples of five of the best movie mothers seen onscreen and five that simply give the audience the creeps. Hopefully, some lessons will be learned from watching each movie and a few recommedations will be made for similiar mothers who missed the cut.

Cream of the Crop

Shirley MacLaine as Aurora Greenway in Terms of Endearment (1983)- This movie is one of Director James L. Brooks' classic films about the ever complicated nature of relationships. In this case, it would be between a mother and a daughter with an unbreakable bond. MacLaine designed Aurora as a strong woman with a force of nature personality that could blow through anyone who got in her way. In particular, her daughter's cheating husband and a medical professional who wouldn't give her dying daughter a shot. It was simply heartbreaking to watch MacLaine dealing with the heartbreak of losing her daughter and now having to step up to take care of her grandchildren. Lesson learned: You don't have to be the perfect mother. You just have to be there for your children irregardless.

Also see Shirley MacLaine in Postcards From the Edge

Sally Field as M'Lynn Eatenton in Steel Magnolias (1989)- When it comes to motherly love, no actress showcased it better than Field in Magnolias. Her devotion to her daughter Shelby never stopped, even as she got married and started her own family. The only difference was that Shelby had Diabetes and wasn't meant to have her own children without great risk to health. Once her health declined, M'Lynn was the last one standing and fighting for her daughter as she took her last breath. The grief and utter devastation in her face made the audience either want to cry or slap Shirley MacLaine for her benefit. Lesson learned: Motherly love is unbreakable, even in tragedy.

Also see Cher in Mask

Cher as Mrs. Flax in Mermaids (1990)- Sometimes it's necessary to throw conventional wisdom to the wind when it comes to being a single parent. In Mermaids, Cher portrayed Mrs. Flax as a unique woman stuck in a conventional time period like the early 60s where a husband had to be involved. She tried to be the mother and the father to her two girls. What she didn't expect was that some of her habits would pass onto her children as well. How will she handle her older daughter's dangerous flirtation with an older man? Will the family survive the potential loss of one of their own? Of course, they will in their own unique way. Lesson learned: It's okay to thrown away the parenting books and put your own spin on motherhood.

Also see Susan Sarandon in Stepmom

Geena Davis as Dottie Hinson in A League of Their Own (1992)- In Own, Davis portrayed female ballplayer Dottie as a tough woman on the field but a real sweetheart when it came to her family. Even her macho coach, Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) warmed up to the take charge Dottie. So much so that there was some unexplored tension between them, which was never meant to be explored due to the time period. Davis made Dottie a real woman stuck in a time period that would never allow her to be more than a wife and one time ballplayer. At least, her story is in Cooperstown. Lesson learned: Take a chance in life and in parenthood. No opportunity is too big or too small.

Also see Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise

Meryl Streep as Jane in It's Complicated (2009)- As Jane, Streep played her as a flawed neurotic who was afraid to date again after a messy divorce ten years prior. What she didn't expect was that she'd be involved with two men in record time. Her ex-husband and a new man. Jane's walk on the wild side was fun when no one knew about it. Unfortunately, secrets like that always have a way of coming out. When hers did, she had to take a step back to realize which man was truly right for her. Lesson learned: It's okay to make a mistake as long as you learn something from it.

Also see Dianne Wiest in Parenthood

Mamas Made From Nightmares

Rosalind Russell as Rose Hovick Gyspy (1962)- Russell portrayed Hovick as the ultimate stage mother who used her daughter (Natalie Wood) as a substitute for her own ignored dreams of stardom. She lived so much through her daughter that she never realized that she was pushing her away into something she never truly intended. Rose gets the shock of her life when her daughter becomes a burlesque star instead of the type of star she wanted to be herself. Ironically, she was just as proud that her daughter was able to go after something she truly wanted. A lesson learned for all mothers with headstrong daughters. Never push them into something they truly don't want to do. It'll come back to haunt you.

Also see Anne Bancroft in The Graduate

Piper Laurie as Margaret White in Carrie (1976)- Laurie portrayed an extremely religious single mother with a daughter that she didn't understand. So much so that she tried to prevent her from growing up properly. Margaret told her daughter Carrie (Sissy Spacek) that getting her period would lead her into sin. Margaret's way of punishing Carrie was to throw her into a closet to pray for forgiveness. Carrie didn't stand a chance at being normal with bullies at school and home. Lesson learned: Never punish your children for your past mistakes. That never solves anything.

Also see Mo'Nique in Precious

Mary Tyler Moore as Beth Jarrett in Ordinary People (1980)- In the early 80s, most audiences knew Mary Tyler Moore as the sitcom sweetheart who would never cross anyone. With People, they were in for a rude awakening. Her Beth Jarrett was so obsessed with appearances that she mistreated her teenage son dealing with the guilt over his brother dying in a boating accident instead of him. She coldly rejected him in such a manner that made him, and the audience, think she did truly blame him. Her inability to put his needs above her own led her to ultimately reject her shattered family as well. Lesson learned: Being a parent often means putting your child's needs above your own no matter what.

Also see Anjelica Huston in The Grifters

Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest (1981)- The classic case of a Hollywood mother behaving perfectly in public and being a total monster behind closed doors. Dunaway portrayed Crawford with the right amount of camp, control and utter madness as she tried to keep her children in line. The infamous wire hanger scene was simply chilling to watch. In the movie, Crawford was portrayed as a woman who became an adoptive mother in an effort to boost her sagging career. She was loving outside her house, but a nightmare once the front door closed. Lesson learned: Parenting and perfection are never part of the same sentence.

Also see Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate

Kathleen Turner as Beverly Suthpin in Serial Mom (1994)- Meet Beverly Suthpin. She's the perfect wife and mother who cooks, cleans and kills anyone who gets in her way. Turner used her infamous beauty in an effort to fool the audience into thinking Beverly was just an ordinary mother until she started killing people. Her victims ranged from those who wore white at the wrong time, those who didn't rewind videotapes and nosy people who saw too much. It was both funny and disturbing to watch the press celebrate her crimes during her trial. The only ones that weren't celebrating were her family, because they were afraid that they'd be next on her hit list. Lesson learned: It's okay to break the rules as long as no one gets hurt.

Also see Kathy Bates in The Waterboy

In the end, being a mother simply means knowing to give your children enough to grow into the adults they need to be. If not, read the worst movie mothers list for five reasons why you loosen the reigns just a little bit, but not enough to let them run too wild.


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