In anticipation of Mother’s Day, Time Out film editors rank the top five sweetest, saltiest and most downright toxic mums to ever grace the big screen
5) Mildred Pierce (1945)
Mildred is the movies’ definitive transitional character, relying on an actor’s (here, Joan Crawford's) sense of youthful confidence as well as an ability to subsume ego to give way to the next (perhaps unworthy) generation. A waitress-turned-proprietor, Mildred lives for her children and suffers for their sins; she is a new kind of American businesswoman who is still trapped by sexist expectations. Crawford’s performance quakes with pain; it will always resonate with mums who go for it all.
4) Carrie (1976)
‘They’re all gonna laugh at you!’ screams Margaret White (Piper Laurie) to her introverted teenager Carrie (Sissy Spacek) on what will turn out to be a fateful prom night. Giggles are scarce whenever this maniacal, religiously obsessed guardian appears in Brian De Palma’s lurid, lustrous thriller, based on Stephen King’s first novel.
Mrs White hovers over Carrie in lunatic fervor, locking her in a crucifix-adorned closet for the slightest transgression (getting your period is a punishment that must be prayed away), and generally lamenting what she sees as her daughter’s slow descent into the devil’s grip. She’s the overprotective mother of every child’s nightmares.
3) The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
In John Frankenheimer’s paranoiac Cold War parable, undercover subversive Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury) takes manipulation to a terrifying extreme: her son Raymond (Laurence Harvey) is an assassin conditioned to kill by a foreign power, and Eleanor is the operative responsible for controlling him. With her hawk-like stares, frosty diction and willingness to kill to get ahead, Eleanor is a vision of motherhood disturbingly devoid of tenderness.
2) Psycho (1960)
For most of Alfred Hitchcock’s era-defining horror film, we only see glimpses of Mrs Bates – but her spectre hovers over every scene that follows Janet Leigh’s entrance to this roadside establishment, right up until the moment we finally meet the lady of the house. Viewers have already tap-danced through a Freudian minefield regarding the mother-son relationship and its potential for psychological dependency. Still, for all the damage done, it’s not like Mrs Bates is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes… a little mad sometimes.
1) Mommie Dearest (1981)
To our own mothers: please forgive us for crowning Faye Dunaway our queen. She’s not like you – of course not! – but maybe that’s part of why we’re so transfixed: she’s not like any human being. Dunaway plunged into the role of a lifetime, and was shunned by Hollywood for it. Cultists will swoon over ‘Tina… bring me the axe!’ and the terrifying no-wire-hangers meltdown, but even Dunaway’s quieter scenes throb with explosive potential. She deserves more than mere camp love for her turn. She’s the worst mum ever. And that can’t have been easy.