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Celebrating the Best (& Worst) Mothers in Film & TV

By David Young · May 6, 2022

Whether she’s a kind-hearted angel or a homicidal maniac, she’s still — mom.

Mothers are the best, aren’t they? Well, in the movies, you get a mix of them. The best, the worst, and everything in between — film has a way with motherhood.

Over the years, filmmakers have made strong impressions with the mothers they depict, and actresses have given us strong feelings one way or the other, depending on the type of mom you’re watching. Curious who made the cut? Let’s look into some of the best (and worst) mothers in cinematic history!

Forrest Gump

‘Forrest Gump’

Best: Mrs. Gump (Forrest Gump)

Any mom should want the best for their boy — and that’s what Mrs. Gump does best. Portrayed by Sally Field, this character steps in for her son wherever she knows she should. When Forrest is denied a regular school experience due to his mental state, Mrs. Gump pulls out all the stops to make sure Forrest is treated like every other kid.

Her wise words of advice over the years have formed Forrest Gump’s childhood and adulthood, with adages like “Stupid is as stupid does” ringing just as true today as they did in Mrs. Gump’s heyday.

Mommy Dearest

‘Mommy Dearest’

Worst: Joan Crawford (Mommie Dearest)

Not all biopics are so very shocking, but this film based on Christina Crawford’s adoptive mother is so hard-hitting that it becomes outrageous in another way. Compulsive Joan has a poor temperament, and when her manipulative nature comes out to play, this character played masterfully by Faye Dunaway commands the attention and fear of everyone else in the story.

While a cult classic for many reasons, Joan Crawford’s story is also strange and jarring, campy and horrifying — as expected for a mother so bad.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’

Best: Molly Weasley (the Harry Potter series)

She’s both a birth mother and a surrogate mother, but no matter what, Molly Weasley is the glue that holds the Weasleys together. As his surrogate, Harry Potter gets to see the most endearing sides of Molly, with doting smiles and kind, food-filled welcomes every summer.

However, Molly is also clear about her expectations with her children, and she cracks down when her sons especially find ways to get into trouble. While she may be tough on her babies, she’s forever a protective “mama bear” type, as can be seen when she kills another witch in defense of her daughter. I can’t quote it here, but she has a great quote you won’t want to miss that shows just how fervent her defense of family can be.

Carrie

‘Carrie’

Worst: Margaret White (Carrie)

Stephen King has made us fear a lot of things, but while things go bump in the night, he always targets more visceral, human elements of fear as well. One of these is encapsulated perfectly by the religious zealot, Margaret White. Margaret is unstable enough to lock her child, Carrie, in a prayer closet after she gets her first period, which she says is caused by her sinful nature.

When Carrie develops telekinesis, Margaret even denounces her daughter as a witch, rather than trying to help her and support her. If there’s ever a bad mom that deserves her ending, it’s Margaret. Just watch the rest of Carrie, you’ll see what I mean.

Stranger Things

‘Stranger Things’

Best: Joyce Byers (Stranger Things)

Even in cinematic television, you’ll find moms that stand out above the crowd. None do so as much as Joyce Byers, the mother of Will and Jonathan Byers.

Joyce, even in the face of hard evidence, refuses to give up on her missing son — and she is a creative thinker who will stop at nothing to keep her family together even in the face of other-dimensional beings.

Psycho

‘Psycho’

Worst: Norma Bates, or “Mother” (Psycho)

It has to be hard to go through family trauma. But Norman Bates likes to keep his family close — so close, in fact, that he takes on the vicious personality of his dead, domineering mother when the opportunity to kill arises. If you think this is a spoiler, you’ve had over 80 years to watch the film. Besides, it doesn’t make the experience any less shocking.

The persona of Norma Bates, or as Norman calls her, “Mother,” is a bad mom, spoilers or not.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’

Best: Sarah Connor (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)

Action hero moms like Sarah Connor deserve a whole new calendar day. When you learn your son is being targeted by killer machines from the future, what do you do? You run the other way unless you’re a badass like Sarah. Even when no one believes her, she does the right thing — keeping her kid safe at all costs. 

Home Alone 2

‘Home Alone 2’

Worst: Kate McCallister (Home Alone & Home Alone 2)

Watching the McCallister brood prepare for a Christmas getaway is enough to send anyone into a full-blown holiday panic attack, so the fact that Kevin’s mom Kate is able to manage all of that chaos makes her a fantastic mom — even though she forgot her son at home when they flew to Paris. Her tenacity and determination to get back home were inspiring and certainly a great example of how a loving mother will stop at nothing to protect her children.

But — she did it again — so she goes on the bad list.

(Get ready for your turn in the hot seat, Daddy McCallister. You basically left your boy behind on your way to the gate!)

Aliens

‘Aliens’

Best: The Queen AND Ripley (Aliens)

What loving mom wouldn’t obliterate a bunch of human moon colonizers and the soldiers sent to rescue them in order to ensure the future survival of her precious babies? The Queen xenomorph is alright in our book.

But let’s not forget Ripley. She donned a friggin’ exo-suit to fight that Queen off in order to save Newt, a little girl and sole survivor of the Hadley’s Hope colony. That’s real mom material!

Back to the Future

‘Back to the Future’

Worst: Lorraine Baines (Back to the Future)

Marty McFly’s mom is a great mom, but you can’t have the hots for your son when he travels back in time and meets the high school you.

Just — no.

Conclusion

You may want to thank the people in your life that show you love like Sarah Connor or Mrs. Gump. And for the people that remind you of Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford… tread lightly before running away.

All joking aside, give your mom or mother figure a call this Mother’s Day — or take them out to lunch — or ask them how they’re doing. Maybe even watch a movie with them… as long as it’s not Carrie or Mommy Dearest.

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