Top Ten Movie Moms
By Steven D. Greydanus
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 found it even harder than I thought. Let’s face it: Great mothers are in short supply in the movies.
Still, the 10 moms listed below (alphabetically by first name) 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.
Birth mothers, stepmothers, and adoptive or foster mothers were all considered for the list (although the central “maternal” relationship may be none of these). A few noteworthy mother figures with presumably no children of their own are included in the honorable mentions.
Annie Hughes (Jennifer Aniston), The Iron Giant (1999)
Working long hours at the diner to pay the bills, Annie—an Eisenhower-era Air Force widow—may not be able to keep as close an eye on her irrepressible son Hogarth as she’d like, but it’s clear that she’s done a good job raising him. She has good taste in art, too, as Hogarth’s beatnik/artist friend Dean discovers.
Edna Spalding (Sally Field), Places in the Heart (1984)
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 live with relatives and displaying great resourcefulness in working to save her house and land.
Helen Parr / Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), The Incredibles (2004)
Very few movie moms hold their families together quite as literally as Mrs. Incredible. Flexible, unflappable, and 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.
Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), The Blind Side (2009)
Self-assured and indomitable, Leigh Anne is a pistol-packing, Bible-Belt mother of two who doesn’t hesitate to open her immaculately appointed home (she’s also an interior designer) 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.
Maria von Trapp (Julie Andrews), The Sound of Music (1965)
The best stepmother in Hollywood history, Maria faces her fears, tames seven incorrigible, 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.
Marmee March (Spring Byington), Little Women (1933)
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).
Marta Hanson (Irene Dunne), I Remember Mama (1948)
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.
Molly Weasley (Julie Walters), the Harry Potter films
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.
Osono (Keiko Toda), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
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 (again table the magic debate!), is ample proof that she’ll be a great mom.
Samantha (Cécile de France), The Kid with a Bike (2011)
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 Cyril is unexplained, but one thing is certain: she has a mother’s heart.
Also Worth Noting
Beth Morgan (Sara Allgood), How Green Was My Valley (1941);
Chicha (Wendy Malick), The Emperor’s New Groove (2000);
Elinor (Emma Thompson),Brave (2012);
Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Aliens (1986);
Fly (Miriam Margolyes), Babe (1995);
Lynn Sear (Toni Collette), The Sixth Sense (1999);
Mother Maria (Lilia Skala), Lilies of the Field (1963);
Peg Boggs (Diane Wiest), Edward Scissorhands (1990);
Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish), Night of the Hunter (1955);
Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), Winter’s Bone.