There are great mother-daughter movies out there, but at the same time, not as many as you’d expect or wish. Obviously, the fact that, in the past, so few women have managed to direct—or even write—movies is what’s behind this. On-screen moms have traditionally been either saintly or bitchy, with little middle ground.
The great news is that as women fight their way into more important roles in the movie industry, there will be more stories told that will resemble our complex experiences with our mothers and as mothers ourselves.
If you want to celebrate this Mother’s Day by watching a movie with your mom, daughters, or girlfriends, here are a few suggestions—and I’m deliberately leaving out Mother’s Day, Mamma Mia, and other no-brainer blockbusters.
The Best Mother’s Day Movie List
- Lady Bird (2017)—Greta Gerwig is part of the new wave of female directors, and a complicated but very intense mother-teen daughter relationship is at the heart of this coming-of-age drama, starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.
- Terms of Endearment (1983)—“You are not special enough to overcome a bad marriage,” Shirley MacLaine’s character tells her daughter, played by Debra Winger, explaining why she won’t attend her wedding. But these two women find their way back to each other in this sophisticated, magnificently acted tearjerker.
- Lovely & Amazing (2001)—You’ll identify with somebody, and maybe everybody, in this charming story by Nicole Holofcener about a mother (Brenda Blethyn) and her three very different daughters (Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer, and Raven Goodwin).
- Freaky Friday (1976 and 2003)—Both versions of this body-switch story will get mothers and daughters talking: the 2003 movie with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan and the 1976 film with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster.
- Postcards from the Edge (1990)—Based on Carrie Fisher’s novel, not-so-loosely drawn from her life with her mother, Debbie Reynolds, this film stars Meryl Streep as a struggling actress who overdoses and Shirley MacLaine as her diva, movie star mom.
- Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (2016)—This documentary, made not long before the tragic deaths of Fisher and Reynolds within days of each other, is the perfect follow-up to Postcards from the Edge.
- Steel Magnolias (1989 and 2012)—A compulsively watchable drama celebrating Southern women, there’s a 1989 version with Sally Fields as a mother who will do anything for her ailing daughter, played by Julia Roberts, and a 2012 movie with an African-American cast featuring Queen Latifah and Condola Rashad.
- Pieces of April (2003)—Most of us will relate all too well to this drama, where Katie Holmes invites her family, including her dying mother (Patricia Clarkson), to her Lower East Side apartment for a Thanksgiving dinner she has no clue how to cook.
- Imitation of Life (1959)—Yes, it’s dated and soapy, but this story of two parallel, interracial mother-daughter stories—featuring Lana Turner, Sandra Dee, Juanita Moore, and Susan Kohner—will have you reaching for the tissues. Mahalia Jackson performs in it, one of her few movie appearances.
- The Kids are All Right (2010)—One of the first movies about a family with two moms, Lisa Cholodenko’s movie shows how a lesbian couple, played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, struggle to keep it together when their kids’ sperm donor shows up.