Every Mother’s Day, forgetful children around the world make a mad dash to the store to find the perfect present for mom. This year, will it be chocolate? Candy? Flowers? A basket of tastefully arranged fruit that really signals your desperation?
Why not give the gift of a good movie? From an Oscar-winning drama starring three acting legends to a sci-fi classic from the 1980s, these movies are sure to appeal to just about every mother and child out there.
Steel Magnolias (1989)
At one point, Dolly Parton, as the wise hairdresser Truvy, reveals that “laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” That pretty much sums up Steel Magnolias, which pulls at the heartstrings and the funny bone equally and to great effect. The story, adapted from a stage play by Robert Harling, is about six Southern women of various ages who experience weddings, pregnancies, heartache, and bad hairdos. The plot pivots around Shelby, played by a pre-Pretty Woman Julia Roberts, who is a diabetic, but still wants to marry, have kids, and grow old with her new husband. Her mother, Sally Field’s M’Lynn, is worried her daughter will hurt herself as she tries to realize her dreams of becoming a mother.
Some people think Steel Magnolias is shameless and melodramatic, but don’t listen to those fuddy-duddies. It’s a great melodrama in the best sense of the word, and each laugh (particularly those garnered by Shirley MacLaine’s ornery Ouiser) and tear is earned. The cast is simply great across the board, and the Deep South locations (the movie was filmed in beautiful Natchitoches, Louisiana), sweeping score by Georges Delerue, and careful direction by Herbert Ross (who also did The Turning Point, another great mother/daughter film) make this a great movie to watch with your mom. What better way to say “I love you” to you mom than watching a movie where the mother is proven to be right all along?
Steel Magnolias can be streamed on Netflix.
It may seem odd to see Aliens on a Mother’s Day movie list, but make no mistake, this excellent sci-fi film is all about motherhood and what mothers will do to protect their children, even if they are intergalactic parasites with acid for blood. Seven years after the first Alien, Sigourney Weaver returns as Ellen Ripley, who wakes up to receive some bad news: she’s slept for 57 years (whoops!), which has caused her to miss the entirety of her daughter’s life, and she needs to travel to the same planet where the Nostromo found a lethal alien that slaughtered all of her friends and nearly killed her. Accompanied by a team of tough colonial marines, plus weaselly yuppie Paul Reiser, Ripley not only encounters more aliens, but also a young girl named Newt. In a very convenient coincidence, Newt just lost her own mother, as well as the rest of her family, to those darn aliens.
Aside from its obvious appeal as an intense action movie, Aliens is also a surprising meditation on mothers, daughters, and found family. Ripley bonds with Newt because she sees a second chance at getting right what she got wrong before with her deceased daughter. Ripley’s maternal instincts bump against the fearsome Alien Queen’s similarly fearsome protective instinct. Aliens climax is a rarity for the genre, or for modern movies, as it pits one badass mother against the other in a duel to the death. Is there anything that says maternal love better than when Ripley, seeing her surrogate daughter Newt in danger, warns the Alien Queen to “get away from her, you bitch!”
You can stream Aliens on Hulu.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
This is the only movie on this list that isn’t about mothers or motherhood, but who says you can’t enjoy a good movie without those themes with dear old mom? The Devil Wears Prada is a crowd-pleaser for all ages, races, creeds, and genders, simply because it has a great concept and a killer cast. For those that have been asleep for the past 20 years, The Devil Wears Prada is about a young post-graduate would-be writer, Anne Hathaway’s mousy Andrea, who takes a job at Runway, a fashion magazine run by the intimidating Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep in an Oscar-nominated performance. Andrea quickly assimilates into the high-fashion world to get ahead, but will it cost her her friends, her deceptively terrible boyfriend, and her ambitions as a “serious” writer?
You probably already know the answer to that question, but The Devil Wears Prada is so slick, so enjoyable, it doesn’t really matter that the story is predictable and the outcome obvious. That’s due, in large part, to the cast. Streep’s never been better as the severe Anna Wintour-like boss, while Hathaway’s charming gawkiness has never been utilized more effectively. Both Emily Blunt, as Hathaway’s snooty, droll co-worker Emily, and Stanley Tucci, as the mentor-like editor Nigel, nearly steal the show, which says a lot with a cast this stacked. Prada‘s pleasures are superficial, to be sure, but it’s never been more fun to observe people who are so bitchy and shallow.
You can rent or buy The Devil Wears Prada at multiple digital vendors like Prime Video.
Freaky Friday (2003)
Have you ever been so frustrated with a parent or child that you wished they could walk in your shoes for a day to better understand you? If you have, then Freaky Friday is the movie for you. No, not the 1976 original with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, but the much better 2003 remake with now-Oscar winner Jamie Lee Curtis (Everything, Everywhere All at Once) as mom Tess and Lindsay Lohan as teen daughter Anna. Both mother and daughter don’t know each other that well anymore, but via a magic fortune cookie, they wake up the next morning with Anna’s spirit in Tess’ body and vice versa.
Yes, this premise is extremely silly, but this remake embraces its absurdity and goes for broke. Curtis in particular has a great time playing a teen, and her performance was so good, she received universal critical praise and a Golden Globe nomination for her efforts. If you and mom are in the mood for mindless, candy-colored Disney live-action fun, then you can’t go wrong with this version of Freaky Friday.
Freak Friday is available to stream on Disney+.
Terms of Endearment (1983)
The ultimate mom movie, Terms of Endearment won five Oscars, including Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Actress for Shirley MacLaine, who plays the mother of all mothers, Aurora Greenway. The movie tells the tale of a single mother (MacLaine) raising her rebellious daughter, Emma (Debra Winger, who is just as good as MacLaine) as they both mature and age over the decades. Emma marries a loser English Literature professor named Flap (Jeff Daniels) and has three kids while Aurora begins a tentative relationship with her next door neighbor, a horny former astronaut played by Jack Nicholson, who also won an Oscar for his performance.
What elevates this movie from your standard Lifetime dreck is the attention and care writer/director James L. Brooks gives to the film’s central mother/daughter relationship and to the central performances by MacLaine and Winger. It’s long been Hollywood legend that the two actresses did not get along while filming, and that shows in the finished work to great effect. What makes Terms of Endearment so resonant is that it understandsthat the person you love the most, be it an overbearing mother or an unruly child, can also be the same person who drives you up the wall. I dare you to get through the movie’s climax without needing a tissue or two to dry your tears.
You can stream Terms of Endearment on HBO Max.
Well, why not? Brian De Palma’s Carrie is ostensibly a horror movie, and it prioritizes its themes of being a social outcast and school being hell throughout most of the picture. But the central relationship in the movie is between Carrie and her mother, Margaret, played by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, respectively. In 1977, these two actresses received Oscar nominations for their bravura performances, and it’s easy to see why. Spacek imbues Carrie with angelic freakishness, someone who can be both pure and evil at once. Laurie’s Margaret, in contrast, is earthy and mad, delirious in the knowledge of her what her daughter truly is, and desperate to stop it out of a bizarre mixture of love, envy, and hatred.
It’s an uneasy movie to watch, especially with mom, but also a hypnotic one. Carrie is ultimately about the failure of a mother to protect their child, not just from the outside world, but the terrifying nature that eventually grows inside them: being a hormonal teenager. This may sound like Carrie is a drag, but it’s not; it’s a pop horror masterpiece, with a great ’70s look, superb supporting performances from Nancy Allen and John Travolta as the classmates from hell, and three (yes, three) unforgettable climaxes: the fiery prom, the final battle between Carrie and her mother, and that shock ending at a rocky grave. Happy Mother’s Day!
Carrie is streaming on Paramount+.
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