Critic's Picks: 12 Must-See Movies About Mothers

12:02 PM 4/26/2016

by Leslie Felperin, Frank Scheck , and Neil Young

With Garry Marshall's 'Mother's Day' hitting theaters, and the holiday approaching, THR film critics ranked their favorite movies about moms — including a Spanish crowd-pleaser, an experimental British short, an Aussie horror film and an Oscar-winning weepie.

Warner Brothers/Photofest
  1. 12

    We Need to Talk About Kevin


    Oscilloscope Pictures/Photofest

    Like the book it was based on, Lynne Ramsay’s film controversially explores the fragility of family feeling and how sometimes love doesn’t heal all. Tilda Swinton stars as a career woman who was already ambivalent about motherhood even before her son (Ezra Miller) turns into a mass murderer. - L.F.

  2. 11

    Terms of Endearment


    Paramount Pictures/Photofest

    They may have fought like cats and dogs in real life, but Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger were an endearingly loving mother and daughter in James L. Brooks' best picture Oscar-winner. MacLaine's strong-willed Aurora is exactly the mom you need when you're in the hospital and in desperate need of pain-killing drugs. - F.S.

  3. 10



    Universal Pictures/Photofest

    If you're a teenage boy suffering from a rare medical condition that leaves you horribly disfigured and fated for an early death, you want Cher for a mother, as this surprise hit from director Peter Bogdanovich, based on a true story, proved. Playing a bohemian biker mom determined to provide a normal life for her socially ostracized son, Cher made being maternal cool. - F.S.

  4. 9

    The Babadook


    IFC Films/Photofest

    Jennifer Kent’s horror film may appear to be about a mother (Essie Davis, extraordinary) and son (Noah Wiseman) haunted by a nightmarish figure unleashed by a sinister children’s book, but really it’s about grief, shame and how sleep deprivation can turn the saintliest parent into a monster. Lo-fi special effects enhance the creepiness. - L.F.

  5. 8

    Mamma Roma



    Italy's firebrand maverick Pier Paolo Pasolini found his ideal star in ultra-tempestuous Anna Magnani, the pair combining for this magnificently full-blooded portrait of a former sex-worker, her intense bond with her wayward teenage son, and the scruffily atmospheric capital city which — just like a mother — simultaneously nurtures and suffocates. - N.Y.

  6. 7

    Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore


    Warner Brothers/Photofest

    Ellen Burstyn won an Oscar for her moving turn as a widowed, aspiring singer forced to take a job as a waitress at a rundown diner to support herself and her young son. The arrival of the dreamy Kris Kristofferson as her lover and surrogate father to her son doesn't undermine the feminist theme of this rare female-driven Martin Scorsese film. - F.S.

  7. 6

    Grey Gardens


    Portrait Films/Photofest

    By turns hilarious, shocking and terribly sad, Albert and David Maysles’ classic documentary about squalid socialites Edith “Big Edie” Bouvier Beale and her daughter Little Edie, Jackie Kennedy’s aunt and cousin, respectively, is one of the great cinematic studies of familial co-dependency. This turned them into camp style icons, and inspired further films as well as a musical. - L.F.

  8. 5

    A Portrait of Ga


    Courtesy of YouTube/Margaret Tait/Ancona Films

    A 16mm short of luminous intensity, this whimsical but flinty tribute to director Margaret Tait's elderly — but sprightly — mother is a four-and-a-half-minute landmark of British experimental and documentary cinema. Intimately observing the lady in the elemental splendor of her native Orkney Islands, it's a beguiling "home movie" hand-crafted with palpable love. - N.Y.

  9. 4

    Mildred Pierce


    Warner Bros. Pictures/Photofest

    She may have been "Mommie Dearest" in real life, but in Michael Curtiz's film noir weepie Joan Crawford became one of the greatest screen mothers of all time. She won the Oscar for her iconic performance as a waitress turned successful businesswoman who sacrifices everything for her beloved, double-crossing daughter (Ann Blyth). - F.S.

  10. 3



    Amkino Corporation/Photofest

    Vsevolod Pudovkin's Soviet classic, based on a novel by Maxim Gorky chronicling a mother and son swept up in revolution, is perhaps the most influential of all mother-related movies. A theoretician of cinema, Pudovkin developed an innovative approach to montage; his multiple-perspective style spawned myriad imitations down the decades. - N.Y.

  11. 2

    Imitation of Life


    Universal Pictures/Photofest

    John M. Stahl first adapted Fannie Hurst’s novel in 1934, but the title usually evokes Douglas Sirk’s version. Lana Turner and Juanita Moore co-star as mothers willing to make different sorts of sacrifice for their daughters in this densely layered melodrama, as much a meditation on race and class as it is on maternal love. - L.F.

  12. 1

    All About My Mother


    Sony Pictures Classics/Photofest

    Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar landed two Oscars and Cannes' Best Director trophy for his multi-layered, irresistibly emotional dramedy about a single mother dealing with the death of her teenage son. It's dedicated to (among others) "all the people who want to be mothers" and to Almodovar's own mama, Francisca Caballero. - N.Y.

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