When I set out to make a list of great movie moms in honor of Mother’s Day, I knew it wouldn’t be easy — but I soon found it even harder than I thought. Let’s face it: Great mothers are in short supply in the movies. (A follow-up list of top 10 movie dads was easier to compile.)
Still, the ten moms listed below (alphabetically by film title) more than fit the bill. With families ranging from seven children to one on the way, these mothers see their families through crises of all kinds while bringing up their kids right and, in some cases, becoming surrogate mothers to others in need.
What were my criteria? I set out to find affirmative depictions of:
Birth mothers, stepmothers and adoptive or foster mothers were all eligible. Mother figures were also eligible if they were also real mothers; thus one of the characters below acts as a mother to the protagonist, but she's also pregnant through the whole movie. (In the runners-up I included a few noteworthy mother figures with [presumably] no children of their own).
A widowed single mother struggling to raise a family of four kids in a tough South Central LA neighborhood, Tanya works hard and is equally hard on her kids, for good reason. Cast for the first half of the film as an antagonist to her 11-year-old daughter Akeelah, a spelling prodigy, Tanya always has Akeelah’s best interests at heart, and ultimately becomes her strongest advocate.
Self-assured and indomitable, Leigh Anne’s a pistol-packing, Bible-Belt mother of two who doesn’t hesitate to open her immaculately appointed home (she’s an interior designer too) to a homeless, illiterate black youth who quickly becomes one of the family, going on to play football for Ole Miss and Baltimore in this fact-based film.
Table the magic debate. Presiding over a unruly but happy working-class household of nine, including Harry’s best friend (as well as his eventual wife), Mrs. Weasley’s maternal heart runs over, embracing Harry as a surrogate son. Don’t let her frumpy look fool you: Her wand isn’t for show … attack her family at your peril.
Crusty old Uncle Chris may be head of a clan of Norwegian immigrants in San Francisco, but tireless, resourceful Marta, a mother of four, is its heart. In one vignette, hospital rules can’t keep her from her post-operative daughter’s side — and, as she sings a lullaby, for a moment she’s a mother to every child in the ward.
Very few movie moms hold their families together quite as literally as Mrs. Incredible. Flexible, unflappable, sympathetic but firm, she’s in tune with her kids’ needs, works to keep dad involved, and generally inspires boundless confidence. She’s also a homemaker who can fly a jet plane.
When a desperate boy unexpectedly throws his arms around her in a doctor’s waiting room, Samantha responds with mysterious openness and sensitivity in this masterpiece from the Dardenne brothers. A single hairdresser, Samantha’s goodness toward young Cecil is unexplained, but one thing is certain: she has a mother’s heart.
The moms in Hayao Miyazaki’s films are generally wonderful, but seldom as prominent as Osono, who runs a bakery with her husband. She’s very pregnant throughout this charmer, but her warmly maternal relationship with Kiki, a young witch in training (still table the magic debate!), is ample proof that she’ll be a great mom.
Of all the big-screen adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel, only George Cukor’s classic preserves the March family matriarch’s moral stature as mentor and guide in her daughters’ development while Father is away in the war (for example, raising the girls’ consciousness regarding the poverty of a neighboring family).
A wife and mother of two in Depression-era Texas, Edna is ill-prepared to fend for her family when her husband, a sheriff, is killed — but she rises heroically to each challenge, refusing to allow her children to go with relatives and displaying great resourcefulness in working to save her house and land.
The best stepmother in Hollywood history, Maria faces her fears, tames seven incorrigibly governess-resistant children, wins over their grieving, rigid military father, sings through thunderstorms, makes playclothes from old curtains, climbs every mountain, and faces down Nazis. She’s one of everyone’s favorite things.
Picking the top 10 movie dads was both easier and harder than picking the top 10 movie moms. Easier, because there were more candidates to choose from — and harder for the same reason!
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.