Using smiles, warm hugs, fresh-baked goods, outright manipulation, and, occasionally, a baseball bat, Hollywood mothers shaped our favorite characters to be the men and women they are today. We all have mothers, after all – or did. Even the most evil entities the world has ever seen – Hitler, Godzilla, Michael Bay – have or had mothers who loved them.
The characters in our favorite films are no different, and would probably be sending their mothers some cinematic roses if they could. So, just in time for Mother’s Day, we bring you the most memorable movie moms from the best films ever made.
The Mom: Madame Konstantin (Leopolde Konstantin)
The Movie: “Notorious” (1946)
The Mommy Mark: Disapproves of every woman in her son’s life; makes a mean cup of coffee.
The Memorable: We meet Mme. Konstantin when Alicia (Ingrid Bergman), working for American agents to uncover a plot hatched by former Nazis, shows up at a party to seduce her son, Alexander (Claude Rains). The madam descends the main staircase like a tidal wave of stern disapproval. Alexander eventually asks for Alicia’s hand in marriage anyway. But when Alicia’s discovered to be working with an American agent (Cary Grant), it’s mommy-dearest who comes up with the solution: slowly poison Alicia to keep his old Nazi comrades unaware that Sebastian has unwittingly married a spy. Mommy line of the year: “We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity, for a while.” See, she’s always building up her boy.
The Mom: “Ma” Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly)
The Movie: “White Heat” (1949)
The Mommy Mark: Willing to kill for her son; knows whiskey is the best cure for debilitating headaches.
The Memorable: Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) is a sadistic criminal only a mother could love. And boy, does “Ma” love him. Let’s face it: when a 40 year-old man sits in his mother’s lap, something’s off. After Cody and his gang murder four while robbing a train, it’s Ma who keeps an eye on Cody’s spoiled young wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo). Verna inevitably strays while Cody cools his heels in the clink, so Ma plots to “take care of everything” while her cuckolded son waits in prison. But Verna ends up killing Ma when her new boyfriend is threatened. When Cody gets the news, he loses it completely, wailing and flailing like a wild animal. It’s a heartbreaking scene; she might’ve been a cutthroat shrew of a mother, but she was still his mother.
The Mom: Mrs. Bates (A Prop Skeleton)
The Movie: “Psycho” (1960)
The Mommy Mark: Dominating but patient; snappy dresser.
The Memorable: Some moms complain that their sons never call. Mrs. Bates still talks to her son, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), every day – despite being a rotting corpse! It takes one heck of a head job to dominate your son so completely that he dresses up in your undergarments and chases loose women around with butchers’ knives. But at least all the dressing up and bloodletting help release the anger Norman feels as a result of Mom’s incessant carping, which somehow gets transmitted to his diseased brain all the way from hell. Ladies- if you ever want to feel better about the job you did as a mother, this is the movie to see. But take a shower before you watch it.
The Mom: Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall)
The Movie: “The Shining” (1980)
The Mommy Mark: Fierce mother bear; swings a hell of a Louisville Slugger.
The Memorable: Wendy Torrance is the epitome of a mother bear; all meek, mellow, and deliberate… until you mess with her cub, which, in this case, is an adorable little boy named Danny (Danny Lloyd). Then, out come the claws (or baseball bats). When she discovers that it isn’t just her mentally unstable husband, Jack (Jack Nicholson), who’s a threat, but the entire haunted hotel in which they live, she does the only prudent thing given the circumstances: lock her increasingly violent hubby in a meat locker and hope he doesn’t escape and start impersonating late night hosts. This horror classic is brilliant, all right- but it might put you off a career in the hospitality industry.
The Mom: Tommy’s Mother (Catherine Scorsese)
The Movie: “Goodfellas” (1990)
The Mommy Mark: “Eat, you look skinny”; always willing to lend cutlery; excellent painter of religious figures.
The Memorable: When the core group of “Goodfellas” (Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci) shows up at her house in the middle of the night, Pesci’s Ma (played by director Martin Scorsese’s real-life mother, Catherine) doesn’t bat an eyelash. When they claim to have run over a deer on the way (a deer who looks a lot like gangster Billy Batts, but that’s neither here nor there), she smiles. Even when they ask to borrow a knife so Tommy can “cut the hoof out of the grille” of his car, Tommy’s Mom only asks that they first admire her newest painting of a Catholic saint. Like all the best mothers, she’d rather feed her son and his skinny friends than get miffed at their tracking in blood on her nice clean floors.
The Mom: Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest)
The Movie: “Edward Scissorhands” (1990)
The Mommy Mark: Steadfastly kindhearted; makes great dinners.
The Memorable: Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp) was the proud creation of an inventor (Vincent Price) who died before he could finish his work, leaving poor Edward with scissors instead of hands. When Peg, the world’s sweetest Avon Lady, invites the kind but freakish Edward to live with her as an adopted son, her entire suburban neighborhood is turned upside down. But Peg’s so kind and optimistic, she can’t quite grasp what’s got everybody so riled up; to her, Edward is just a scared little boy with a few more scars (physical and mental) than your average teen. Up to the very end, Peg sees the best in everyone, sometimes to a fault. Like all the best mothers, she’s forgiving, loving, and can cover up most any blemish with a little rouge.
The Mom: Elaine Miller (Frances McDormand)
The Movie: “Almost Famous” (2000)
The Mommy Mark: Over-protective but encouraging; never intimidated by celebrities.
The Memorable: Elaine Miller has complicated feelings about rock and roll, and no wonder. First, her daughter (Zooey Deschanel) uses a rock song to explain why she’s running away to become a stewardess, rather than, you know, having a conversation. Next, that same daughter leaves her little brother William a box filled with rock and roll albums to open up his mind- and it works! A while later, Elaine permits a still pretty young William (Patrick Fugit) to play reporter for Rolling Stone Magazine, running off to “experience” a rock and roll band called Stillwater on the cusp of fame. Finally, that band leads her innocent son to Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), the free-wheeling leader of a cabal of Stillwater’s Groupies, who facilitated William’s introduction to drugs, alcohol, and sex (not in that order); of course, she ultimately breaks his heart. But here’s why Elaine’s the best mom: she supports William the whole way through. Thanks, Mom!
And of course, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!
Previously: Who's the Best Dad in Film?