Movie moms: The 50 most classic movie mothers of all time

We rank the sweetest, saltiest and most downright toxic moms to ever grace the big screen.

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40
Classic movie mothers: Not Without My Daughter (1991)

Not Without My Daughter (1991)

The title alone triggers spasms of maternal hysteria and the movie doesn’t disappoint: Supermom Sally Field warily heads to Iran with her foreign-born husband and their preteen child. But after her spouse displays some scary Islamofascist tendencies, Field’s race to escape begins—and she’s got some baggage.—Joshua Rothkopf


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39
Classic movie mothers: Lolita (1962)

Lolita (1962)

Stanley Kubrick’s powder-keg adaptation of the Nabokov novel had tongues wagging for its sexual content, yet Shelley Winters’s pitch-perfect portrayal of a social-climbing suburban mom turned out to be the most cutting thing about it. Try as she might, Charlotte Haze can’t ignore the tawdry drama playing out in her living room.—Joshua Rothkopf


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38
Classic movie mothers: Terms of Endearment (1983)

Terms of Endearment (1983)

Shirley MacLaine’s brassy buttinsky of a mother is a loving nuisance throughout the troubles of her alternately adoring and exasperated daughter (Debra Winger). The emotions between the two deepen as this classic weepie winds its way to a devastating climax that would force even the most dispassionate parent and child into a tight embrace.—Keith Uhlich


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37
Classic movie mothers: The Incredibles (2004)

The Incredibles (2004)

Most of us think our moms are super; Holly Hunter’s crime-fighting Elastigirl actually is superheroic. As part of the do-gooder family in this Pixar gem, Hunter only wants a normal life for her kids—but she’s not afraid to use her stretchy limbs or become a human parachute when their safety calls for it.—David Fear


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36
Classic movie mothers: Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future (1985)

Accidental time-traveler Michael J. Fox has plenty of headaches: How to get back to 1985 while passing for an everyday ’50s teen? The last thing he needs is to meet a youthful version of his dowdy mother (Lea Thompson, excellent in both eras), who calls him “Calvin” because of his underwear and lays the flirtation on thick. Eww.—Joshua Rothkopf


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35
Classic movie mothers: The Kids Are All Right (2010)

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

The tag-team parenting of Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in this understated lesbian-mom drama is so relaxed and natural, it’s hard to single out one of the actors as tops. But we give the edge to the hardworking Bening, consumed with doubt, anxiety and justifiable rage as her character’s happy home unravels.—Joshua Rothkopf


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34
Classic movie mothers: Tarnation (2003)

Tarnation (2003)

From home movies, photographs and answering-machine messages, Jonathan Caouette stitches together this intensely personal documentary about his painful upbringing. At the center of the emotional whirlwind is Caouette’s mentally ill mother, Renee, whose frequent schizophrenic outbursts push her son away, only to draw him devotedly back.—Keith Uhlich


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33
Classic movie mothers: Goodfellas (1990)

Goodfellas (1990)

A bemused, no-nonsense presence in many of her son’s movies, Catherine Scorsese injects a lovable strand of mystification in stories that often race ahead. We cherish her in Marty’s gangster classic, as she throws together an impromptu midnight feast, lends her son a butcher knife and breaks balls: “Why don’t you get yourself a nice girl?”—Joshua Rothkopf


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32
Classic movie mothers: The Reckless Moment (1949)

The Reckless Moment (1949)

Joan Bennett’s middle-class housewife is so concerned for her daughter that she disposes of the corpse of the adolescent girl’s shady older boyfriend, an accidental fatality. Then James Mason’s smooth-talking blackmailer comes on the scene and Max Ophüls’s film noir deepens into a portrait of a lady who will do anything to maintain the familial status quo.—Keith Uhlich


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31
Classic movie mothers: Imitation of Life (1959)

Imitation of Life (1959)

We tip our hats to Louise Beavers in the 1934 version, but it’s Juanita Moore’s portrayal of a long-suffering African-American maid in Douglas Sirk’s remake that truly stuns us. The way she radiates love for the passing-for-white daughter who shuns her puts the heart in heartbreaking.—David Fear


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Wrerwerse

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Peter
Peter

What about GERVAISE (France)-a masterpiece.

capitaine514
capitaine514

what about kathy bates in A home of our own?And Marge Simpson?

darkbananana
darkbananana

Sarah Connor must be in #1 position! And why not Mama from Mama?

Ray
Ray

David, Joshua, Keith: While no top 50 list can be perfect, and opinions can differ between those creating the lists and those commenting on the lists... There is one absolutely glaring omission on your list. You completely forgot to include one the greatest Mother/daughter films of all time, and one of the greatest heroic movie mothers of all time, Delores Claiborne. This great film is director Taylor Hackfords personal favorite was tragically overlooked by the academy that year for a slew of nominations, and is also noted as the role Cathy Bates should have been nominated and given the award for over Misery. Dolores Claiborne's cast iron mother with a will of steel and and heart of gold is one of cinema's greatest examples of a mother who will sacrifice anything to protect her children, and the pain, suffering and consequences that go with that sacrifice. She is now one of the great heroic movie mothers and of all time. And that's no mere opinion. "The 50 most classic movie mothers of all time"? Your list needs a do-over. Not only should Dolores Claiborne be on this list, but she should also be in the top 5. Shame on you for forgetting.

Phil
Phil

Good choices! But what about Cher in 'Mermaids'?

arjuna
arjuna

Where's Jessica Chastain in The Tree of Life!!!!????

Mackenzie Herren
Mackenzie Herren

Pretty good list. I think Sarah Connor should have been #1 though.

MabelLeaf
MabelLeaf

This is a very good list IMO. You can't please everybody.

Darius C.
Darius C.

What happened to the mother from Mother's Day and the monster mom from Mama? The mom from Juno. The mom from Alic doesn't live her anymore. You forgot the moms from The Sound of Music, Forest Gump, and Stepmom. Mama Mia? The horrible mom from Home Alone. Mrs. Doubtfire. Chelenging. Gypsy. Grey Gardens.

Teo
Teo

What about mom from HOME ALONE???? :) she forgot her son fot christsake.... :D does anyone even update these lists? why even bother...

LR
LR

Mama Gump should have made this list. Best mother ever on film.

JRGII
JRGII

"What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" came to mind while reading this.

GGH
GGH

What about Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate?

M'
M'

Where's Beatrix Kiddo?

ghostyghost
ghostyghost

And where's Nicole Kidman from "The Others"?