The diversity of mothers depicted in film and television knows no bounds. But which are the absolute worst and best screen moms?
We ranked the 15 worst and 15 best fictional mothers here, in order from worst to best. Note that we didn’t include cartoon moms or horror movie moms, whose terribleness knows no bounds.
Warning: Extensive movie and TV spoilers throughout.
31. Anjelica Huston As Lilly Dillon In ‘The Grifters’
You may not have seen this 1990 movie starring Anjelica Huston and John Cusack as mother-son con artists. The thing is, Huston’s Lilly Dillon doesn’t just con strangers. When you get right down to it, Dillon’s been playing the longest con on her own son, Roy. Lilly eventually kills Roy’s girlfriend, fakes her own death and then steals her son’s money as he slowly bleeds to death from an injury she caused. Can’t get worse than that, can it?
30. Nancy Marchand As Livia Soprano In ‘The Sopranos’
Trying to get someone to kill your son because you think he’s too weak to lead the family mob business? Mocking your daughter about her weight and cutting down her self-esteem? Not really motherly love, Livia Soprano! Tony Soprano’s shrink even diagnosed the matriarch as having a narcissistic personality disorder that likely turned her kids into the head cases they are.
29. Mo’Nique As Mary Jones In ‘Precious’
Mary Jones looks the other way when her daughter is raped and impregnated by her own father. She also beats and berates her daughter, and then tries to get her to come back home. Luckily, Precious finds a way out through a special school and a counselor who supports her.
28. Amy Ryan As Helene McCready In ‘Gone Baby Gone’
In “Gone Baby Gone,” Amy Ryan masterfully plays drug-dealing mother Helene, whose daughter is kidnapped because another drug dealer was trying to get back at her. When you realize Helene’s daughter is likely better off without her, you know she’s a pretty awful mother.
27. Angela Lansbury As Eleanor Iselin In ‘The Manchurian Candidate’
What does your mother want you to be someday? How about a brainwashed assassin who kills the president of the United States? That’s what Eleanor Iselin — played by Angela Lansbury — aimed for in the 1962 version of “The Manchurian Candidate.” It was all part of a plot to get her husband to become president, and for her to wield incredible power. When her son’s girlfriend and father got in the way, she didn’t mind if they got killed, too.
26. Khandi Alexander As Maya Lewis In ‘Scandal’
Khandi Alexander plays Maya Lewis, the mother of lead character Olivia Pope, and boy do they have some messed-up history. First of all, Lewis was a spy who only married Olivia’s father as part of a ploy to get CIA secrets. Then, Olivia’s dad locked up Lewis for years, leaving Olivia to assume she was dead. Eventually, Maya came “back to life,” wreaking havoc in Olivia’s world.(ABC/Richard Cartwright)
25. Faye Dunaway As Joan Crawford In ‘Mommie Dearest’
There is some dispute as to whether Christina Crawford exaggerated the lifelong abuse she and her adopted siblings suffered from their mother, Joan Crawford. Some posit that she smeared her mother’s name as revenge for being written out of her will. But conjecture aside, no one would want to mess with the mother as depicted in “Mommie Dearest.” Among her sins? She cut off Christina’s hair as punishment for playacting, tearing up her dresses and using wire hangers to beat her. Eventually, Christina was sent to boarding school. According to some reports, Dunaway was no sweetheart on the set of “Mommie Dearest” either.
24. Mary Tyler Moore As Beth Jarrett In ‘Ordinary People’
Mothers aren’t supposed to have favorites, right? But Beth Jarrett does. When her older son dies in a boating accident, and her younger son — wracked by guilt — becomes depressed and suicidal, Beth only becomes more bitter and hardened. She’d rather be alone than work things through with her family.
23. Lena Olin As Irina Derevko On ‘Alias’
Daughter thinks mother is dead. Daughter discovers mother is alive. Daughter finds out mother is an evil spy. Daughter tries to convert mother to the good side. Mother chooses power and greed over daughter. Poor Sydney Bristow. At least she has a loving dad.
22. Christine Baranski As Dr. Beverly Hofstadter In ‘The Big Bang Theory’
You’re as cold as ice, Dr. Beverly Hofstadter, at least when it comes to your son Leonard. The psychiatrist can get warm and fuzzy over Leonard’s buddy Sheldon and Leonard’s wife, Penny, but she doesn’t have much love for her own son. His accomplishments have always fallen short in the doc’s eyes.
21. Anne Bancroft As Mrs. Robinson In ‘The Graduate’
Sleeping with a guy as young as your daughter isn’t the best life decision, but that doesn’t stop Mrs. Robinson. And when her daughter eventually falls in love with the aforementioned young man, she tries to prevent her from having a healthy, age-appropriate relationship with him.
20. Estelle Harris As Estelle Costanza On ‘Seinfeld’
Estelle and our next choice, Marie Barone, have much in common in the overbearing mother category, making it a close race. As far as Estelle goes, her son George suspects his mother has made him neurotic, keeping him from being a success, and he’s probably pretty right about that. Not to mention that the woman never seems to talk at a normal volume.
19. Doris Roberts As Marie Barone On ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’
Marie Barone clearly loves her son Raymond more than her other son, Robert. Marie is passive-aggressive with Ray’s wife, Debra, on an almost constant basis. She may have the best of intentions, but she shows it in very odd and overbearing ways.
18. Jessica Walter As Lucille Bluth On ‘Arrested Development’
Where to start with Lucille Bluth? She’s created a neurotic son in Buster and alienated her other two children. She’s also an alcoholic who is constantly scheming to keep her wealth and status. And the worst of all? She may or may not have accidentally tried to kill a few people, including poor Buster.
17. Shelley Long As DeDe Pritchett On ‘Modern Family’
DeDe Pritchett is the kooky grandma who keeps popping up on “Modern Family,” almost always causing problems. Also, it’s never good when your kids grimace at the thought of your visiting. Or when you try to choke your ex-husband’s new wife.(ABC/Eric McCandless)
16. January Jones As Betty Draper On ‘Mad Men’
We see many layers to Betty Draper over the seasons of “Mad Men.” But one thing that’s fairly consistent is that she’s not a natural mother, particularly toward her daughter, Sally. She takes out her unhappiness on her family. She thinks beauty is the biggest virtue a woman can have, and she constantly harangues Sally about her appearance. And let’s not forget that creepy relationship Betty had with the neighbor kid. But in the end, the viewer mostly feels sorry for Betty.
15. Uma Thurman As The Bride In ‘Kill Bill’
Uma Thurman as The Bride, aka Beatrix Kiddo, spends almost all of the two “Kill Bill” movies trying to track down her daughter, who was taken from her at birth while she was left for dead. And she kills a lot of people in the process. Talk about motherly love and devotion. That said, we only get a few minutes to see The Bride interact with her daughter, B.B., at the end of “Kill Bill 2,” so who knows what kind of mother she’d be in the long run.
14. Sandra Bullock As Leigh Anne Tuohy In ‘The Blind Side’
Sandra Bullock plays real-life mother Leigh Anne Tuohy, who takes in a homeless teen and supports him all the way up to a professional football career. She’s tough and she will fight for her kids while looking great doing it. That lands her squarely in the “good mom” section of this list!
13. Phylicia Rashad As Clair Huxtable On ‘The Cosby Show’
Clair Huxtable was a model mother in the late ’80s and early ’90s. A successful lawyer and loving mother, Clair had it all together. More than a few fans of the show probably longed to have a mom like Clair.
12. Helen Hunt As Carol Connelly In ‘As Good As It Gets’
Carol Connelly is a devoted single mother to her sick child. She also puts in long hours as a waitress and puts up with a terror of a restaurant customer, Melvin, whom she eventually grows to appreciate and maybe even love. But it’s her fierce love for her son that powers her. He is the most important thing to her.
12. Renee Zellweger As Dorothy Boyd In ‘Jerry Maguire’
Similar to Carol Connelly, Dorothy Boyd is a single mom whose whole world focuses on her young son. It probably helps that her son is the most adorable, blonde kindergartener there ever was. He even captures the heart of Jerry Maguire, played, of course, by Tom Cruise.
11. Nicole Kidman As Sue Brierley In ‘Lion’
After not being able to have kids of her own, real-life mom Sue Brierley (as depicted in “Lion” by Nicole Kidman) adopts a boy from India. It works out so well that she and her husband decide to adopt a second boy from India. This boy, however, struggles to overcome the difficult life he had before his adoption. But that does not make Sue love either of her sons any less.
10. Esther Rolle As Florida Evans On ‘Good Times’
Florida Evans holds her family together, even after her husband dies. This strong and loving mother figure was a standout on TV in the 1970s. Rolle’s acting on “Good Times” earned her a Golden Globe nomination in 1976 and an Emmy award in 1979.
9. Lauren Graham As Lorelai Gilmore On ‘Gilmore Girls’
Whereas Lorelai Gilmore’s relationship with her own mother is complicated as heck, Lorelai is incredibly close to her daughter, Rory, whom she had as a teen. Having raised Rory all on her own, it’s no wonder the two are more like BFFs than anything else. Their mother-daughter bond is no doubt one of the reasons fans are so devoted to the show.
8. Susan Kelechi Watson As Beth Pearson On ‘This Is Us’
Beth Pearson gets the modern mom award for pulling off the career, the kids and the comforting of her neurotic, adopted husband, who comes from a somewhat crazy family. Beth even goes along with her husband Randall’s dreams of fostering or adopting a child, despite knowing what a challenge it will be. Did we mention that Randall is a handful in and of himself?
7. Susan Sarandon As Marmee In ‘Little Women’
The biggest thing we can learn from “Marmee,” the matriarch of the March family, is a level-headed, loving nature. She is patient with her four girls, supportive, encouraging, forward-thinking and charitable. She’s ahead of her time (the Civil War era) when it comes to strong mother figures, and she knew corsets sucked long before they went out of fashion.
6. Gina Rodriguez As Jane Villanueva On ‘Jane The Virgin’
Jane Villanueva didn’t plan on being a mom so soon. Instead, she was artificially inseminated by accident, leading her to become pregnant with her son, Mateo. And yet it turns out to be an amazing thing for Jane. She is a big mama bear when it comes to protecting Mateo (especially after he’s kidnapped as a baby), and she also tends to mother her own mom, who had Jane when she was just a teen.
5. Julie Walters As Molly Weasley In The Harry Potter Movies
Molly Weasley is a magical mother, but she loves muggles, too. Her home is cozy and chaotic, and her seven kids keep her busy. She also unofficially adopts Harry Potter due to his troubled home life.
4. Connie Britton As Tami Taylor On ‘Friday Night Lights’
Tami Taylor is the mom you want to be — and be friends with. She raises her kids, works full-time, supports her husband and is on the up-and-up with football while also being down-to-earth.
3. Brie Larson As Joy ‘Ma’ Newsome In ‘Room’
Once upon a time, Joy was kidnapped and locked up in a storage shed. In the storage shed with her is the young son she had as a result of her kidnapper’s continued abuse. What makes Joy an incredible mother is the way she’s able to make the room they’re locked in much bigger for her son. It is a safe, secure and fun home to him simply because she knows all the best games, the best songs and the best ways to keep him entertained and content. After the pair are free from Room, Joy struggles with feelings of guilt and doubt over how she managed their captivity. But she is eventually able to work through these feelings and be there for her son.
2. Barbara Billingsley As June Cleaver In ‘Leave It To Beaver’
June Cleaver is the gold standard for every mom. Perfectly modeled for her era, her hair was never mussed, she always wore pearls and immaculate clothes and she always knew just the right way to manage her happy little family.
1. Julie Andrews As Maria Von Trapp In ‘The Sound Of Music’
Maria von Trapp didn’t find her calling at a convent. She found it with kids that were not even her own. Maria was sunshine personified and brought a cold father and his children back together. And she managed all of this while also eluding the Nazis — and staying on perfect pitch!