With Mother’s Day just around the corner, now is the perfect time to celebrate with these 10 iconic movie moms.
From the heartwarming and inspiring to the downright wretched, there’s certainly no shortage of stories about motherhood in movies. The experience of motherhood, all at once deeply personal and unique yet still universal, makes it ripe for adaptation. Some movies find the humor in motherhood, others focus on the tragedy, and many show a bit of both.
With Mother’s Day fast approaching, we’ve put together a list of 10 iconic movie moms to celebrate with this holiday weekend. Whether you’re looking for a movie to watch with dear ole mom or just in the market for something festive, our list has something for everyone. Given the diverse experience of motherhood, our list includes a wide variety of iconic movie moms, some more comforting than others.
Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman, teenage pregnancy dramedy Juno turned into a phenomenon upon its release in 2007. Over a decade later, the film still stands up as an incredible portrait of motherhood.
The film itself includes several incredible moms, like Juno’s own supportive stepmother Bren, and Vanessa, the woman who ultimately adopts Juno’s baby. The movie itself also turns Juno into a mother of sorts, tracing her journey as she carries her baby to term and makes the difficult decision to give the child up for adoption.
‘The Joy Luck Club’ (1993)
This criminally under-seen gem from the early 1990s is overflowing with iconic movie moms in a story that will warm your heart. Based on a novel of the same name by author Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club follows the relationships of four mother-daughter pairs.
The daughters, born and raised in the United States, struggle with their immigrant mothers. Differing cultural norms and expectations create obstacles that the women must work to overcome. It’s a beautiful story of culture, family, and motherhood.
‘Mildred Pierce’ (1945)
Joan Crawford’s Oscar-winning role in Michael Curtiz’s Mildred Pierce is one of the most iconic movie moms of all time, showcasing a stunning example of the selflessness of motherhood. Mildred Pierce is a film noir crime-drama that follows an independent woman raising her two daughters while opening and running her own restaurant.
As if that weren’t enough, Mildred finds herself dealing with romantic entanglements, her eldest daughter’s social climbing, and her youngest daughter’s illness. Mildred Pierce is a sublime example of a mother’s undying love, making this a perfect Mother’s Day movie. Make a weekend of it and check out Todd Haynes’ HBO miniseries of the same name starring Kate Winslet.
‘Lady Bird’ (2017)
Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird features one of the greatest depictions of a mother-daughter relationship ever captured on film. Much of that credit is owed to Laurie Metcalf’s extraordinarily authentic portrayal of Marion McPherson, the mother of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson.
Her character feels so real and lived in, weathered by life and full of love for her family. Her relationship with her daughter is tumultuous at times and rewarding at others. It’s a magnificently humble portrayal of motherhood that strikes a perfect balance of humor and drama. Marion is sure to live on as an iconic movie mom.
Lee Chang-dong’s film Burning was one of the most talked about movies of 2018, but his 2010 film Poetry is also a must-see featuring an iconic movie mom. Mija, an elderly Korean grandmother struggling with Alzheimer’s, discovers her grandson is involved in the murder of a local girl.
This news leads Mija down a difficult path as she struggles to do the right thing while reconciling her love for her grandson and her own illness. Like his other films, Poetry is uniquely devastating, written and directed in such a way that the tragedy feels almost too real. It’s a beautiful film featuring an incredible movie grand-mom.
‘Freaky Friday’ (2003)
Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan make for an odd couple in the 2003 Freaky Friday. Back when Lindsay was one of the brightest rising stars in Hollywood, Freaky Friday was the perfect vehicle for her talent. Although Jamie Lee Curtis is technically the mom, she spends most of the movie gallivanting around like a teenager after she and her daughter switch places. Instead, it’s Lohan that succeeds in bringing this iconic movie mom to life.
It’s inspired casting and Lohan is up to the task. She brings Tess to life, turning what might have otherwise been a simple comedic premise into a tool for reflection and understanding. You should also check out the 1976 version of the film starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster; you won’t regret it!
‘Mamma Mia!’ (2008)
Yes, Mamma Mia! is first and foremost an ABBA musical, but at the center is a story of a mother. You’re likely familiar with the premise of this jukebox musical: A bride-to-be invites three men, one of which might be her father, to the island she lives on with her mother, Donna.
Donna, played by Meryl Streep, is an independent woman and refuses to admit who the father is. What ensues is a wonderfully entertaining story of family and a celebration of the matriarch at the center of it all. Check out the sequel for more!
‘The Shining’ (1980)
If ever there was an iconic movie mom, Wendy Torrance is one of them. Wendy may seem like an odd choice, especially considering the fact that The Shining is hardly a heartwarming movie. However, her undying love for her son and the lengths she goes to protect him make her an essential addition to this list.
After moving into the Overlook Hotel for the winter, Wendy finds herself isolated, growing worried as her husband Jack grows increasingly mad. She, however, manages to keep herself together and fights to save herself and her son. It’s time Wendy gets the credit she deserves!
’20th Century Women’ (2016)
When discussing his film 20th Century Women, writer and director Mike Mills frequently discussed how he took inspiration from his own mother to create the character of Dorothea, the matriarch of a quasi-family living in Santa Barbara in 1979.
Brought to life by a beautiful performance from Annette Bening, Dorothea is a deeply empathetic mother with some unconventional parenting methods that are as genuine and authentic as any real mom. You’ll walk away from 20th Century Women already dialing your mom’s number.
‘Postcards from the Edge’ (1990)
Postcards from the Edge is the perfect hidden gem to watch this Mother’s Day featuring an iconic movie mom played by Shirley MacLaine. Written by Carrie Fisher and directed by Mike Nichols, the film is inspired by the real life mother-daughter relationship between Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds.
MacLaine plays opposite Meryl Streep in this phenomenal depiction of two complicated women full of love and frustration for the other. MacLaine brings the character to life in a way that only she could, full of complexity, depth, and the right amount of levity. Don’t miss it.