Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and children! Here are 10 great movie mothers every family should enjoy. Many were based on real-life mothers, with stories and screenplays in some cases written by their grateful families. And don’t forget my all-time favorite, Mrs. Brown in National Velvet. These and more are featured in my forthcoming e-book about 50 must-see movie mothers. Stay tuned for details.
1. There are three lovely movie versions of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, inspired by her own family, and they have three lovely performances as one of literature’s greatest mothers, the wise and patient Marmee. Spring Byington (also one of cinema’s best movie mothers in the delightful best picture Oscar-winner You Can’t Take It With You) appears with Katharine Hepburn in the 1933 version, Mary Astor (also one of cinema’s best movie mothers in Meet Me In St. Louis) appears with June Allyson in the 1949 version, and Susan Sarandon is Marmee to Winona Ryder’s Jo in the 1994 version. (Don’t forget to read the book, too!)
2. Sounder Cecily Tyson plays a mother who keeps her sharecropper family going after her husband is sent to jail in this beautifully filmed and tender story.
3. Mask Based on a true story, Cher plays Rusty Dennis, the mother of a teenager with a facial bone deformity. Many classic movie mothers spend a lot of time wearing aprons while they make soothing and supportive comments, but Rusty is a biker chick who likes to party and makes some questionable choices about her own life. She may not bake cookies for her son, and at times it seems like he is the parent in the relationship, but she is a fierce advocate and defender who makes sure that her son gets the most out of every moment.
4. I Remember Mama Kathryn Forbes’ classic book about her Norwegian immigrant family was successfully adapted as a play, a movie, and a television show. The movie stars Irene Dunne, very warm and loving and homespun, far from her usual glamorous roles opposite Cary Grant and other leading men. As Mama, with an apron around her waist and a braid circling her head, she raises her children with love, patience, good humor, and a reassuring “bank account.”
5. Places in the Heart Another tribute to a real-life mother and an Oscar-winning role for Sally Field as a Depression-era widow whose indomitable and inspiring spirit instills resolve in her family and friends.
6. Sarah Plain & Tall Some of the best mothers come to us after the women who gave us birth are gone. Glenn Close is perfectly cast in this made-for-television adaptation of the beloved book about a woman who answers an ad from an 18th century homesteader who needs a new wife to care for his children. Followed by two sequels.
7. Cheaper By the Dozen One of America’s most remarkable real-life mothers is brought to life by Myrna Loy as Lillian Gilbreath, a pioneering engineer in the early 20th century who raised a dozen children. Be sure to see the sequel and read the books, too. (Not to be confused with the silly remakes that have nothing to do with the real story or the original movie versions.)
8. Dumbo There is no more devoted mother than Mrs. Jumbo, whose love for her big-eared elephant baby demonstrates that parental love is not just for humans.
9. What’s Cooking? is the story of four different families at Thanksgiving in this film from “Bend it Like Beckham’s” Gurinder Chadha. There are several great mothers in the movie but the one on this list is the fabulous Mercedes Ruehl as Lizzy Avila who knows that part of caring for your family is respecting and caring for yourself.
10. Terms of Endearment The mother I want to point out in this film is not the impossible (but irresistible) Aurora, played by Shirley Maclaine, but her daughter Emma, played by Debra Winger. Emma makes mistakes. She has a tendency to be headstrong (inherited from Aurora) and careless. But she is utterly devoted to her children. She says goodbye to her sons, with hastily applied make-up so that they will not see how sick she really is, and she gets right to the essentials, understanding what they most need to hear and what they will most need to remember.