By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published May 14, 2023 at 1:16 PM

You've made the breakfast in bed. You've given the flowers, cards and gifts. And now ... you've run out of ideas to help celebrate Mother's Day, and there's still 10 hours left. 

Luckily, there's a whole world of movies about moms to watch. Many of them are good! Many of them, however, are not exactly optimal for a day toasting the person who gave you life and raised you. So to help, here are eight Mother's Day picks to help you win child of the year – as well as eight to avoid unless you want to make your mom wonder if the family should've stopped at your older sister. 

The good

"Terms of Endearment"

Now streaming on: HBO Max and DirecTV 

Of course. You don't get to make a list of movies about moms and leave off this star-studded award-winner, which came away with five Oscars back in 1984.

Like most of the movies on this list, "Terms of Endearment" pulls off that tricky mix of honest humor and heartbreak – in part thanks to writer/director James L. Brooks working at his peak and thanks to the incredible cast of Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson and Debra Winger. It's easy to want to resist a movie so eagerly plucking on the heartstrings, but when all of the elements work so well together, are so well performed and feel so sincere and authentic, bah, let the waterworks flow. "Terms of Endearment" is evidence that tearjerker doesn't have to be a dirty word. 

"Bright Lights" 

Now streaming on: HBO Max and DirecTV

Carrie Fisher's "Postcards from the Edge" is available to stream on HBO Max as well – but why settle for the fictionalized version when the real deal is around with "Bright Lights," HBO's 2017 documentary about life with the late great Fisher and her mom, the equally late and great Debbie Reynolds.

The movie pops around in time, documenting their individual journeys and struggles through Hollywood and through their personal lives. The real treat in "Bright Lights," though, is the sweet modern-day showbiz "Grey Gardens"-esque hangout footage of the two just living door-to-door, helping each other out through their careers' unfortunately final chapters. (Which, speaking of "Grey Gardens," you can find that iconic mother-daughter doc on HBO Max and The Criterion Channel as well.) Even with the added weight of their tragic deaths – both passed away just before the doc's television debut – "Bright Lights" is more pep than pain, a fitting tribute to the indomitable spirit of Fisher and Reynolds. 

"20th Century Women" 

Now streaming on: Fubo TV, Showtime (alone or through Amazon or Roku), Hoopla, Kanopy and DirecTV

As the title might suggest, there are a lot of important women in "20th Century Women," Mike Mills' terrific semi-autobiographical drama about being raised as a teen by several ladies in his life. There's Abbie, the punky photographer tenant who's got her own issues to cope with, and Julie, our young lead's (maybe) platonic best friend. Each are performed beautifully by Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning, respectively, and each are given full lives outside of just helping a little snotty teenage boy learn how to grow up into a decent man.

But the star of this show is the mom, played with incredible heart by Annette Bening. In a just world, Bening would've accepted awards for her turn here as a mother trying to raise her son right in a different world from where she came from. Hell, she deserved awards for just one sequence alone, a montage of a trip to the hospital where she runs through every emotional possible – fear, anger, relief, happiness, confusion, self-assurance – without overselling a single note.

If there's one thing "20th Century Women" is about, it's realizing the impact, the interweaving ripples throughout time, others make on our lives without knowing it. So maybe it's right the Oscars didn't notice Bening and this film back when it first came out. They will eventually – and so should you. 

"Lady Bird"

Now streaming on: Fubo TV, Showtime (alone or through Amazon or Roku), Kanopy and DirecTV

In movie terms, a grace note is a small scene – or even just a single line or moment – that isn't about driving the plot or story per se but is just a nice moment that adds to the characters or soul of the film. "Lady Bird" is an entire movie of wonderful, hilarious and all-too-real grace notes as our lead (Saoirse Ronan) deals with high school and learning about love, friendship, the world and, most of all, her touching but testy relationship with her mother (an Oscar-worthy Laurie Metcalf). That last one involves more John Woo-esque rolls out of moving cars than you might imagine – but also even more laughs and tears than you could expect. It's the kind of lovely movie that feels uniquely personal yet also movingly universal – which may seem simple but take it from someone who's seen a lot of bad coming-of-age movies, it's a modest miracle when a film can pull it off. 

"Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again"

Now streaming on: Fubo TV and DirecTV

There's no reason for there to be a "Mamma Mia" sequel. The first movie is charming, but it's not what you would call, what's the word, good – and that's before Pierce Brosnan attempts singing. Even ABBA must've asked, "Are you SURE you want to use 'When I Kissed the Teacher?'" But then a strange thing happened: The sequel ... turned out kind of great? It's as cheesy as the original but without the crummy direction, an effervescent Lily James and company give their cheerful all so much that you don't even mind Meryl Streep's just a glorified cameo and I'm not ashamed to say that I cried near the end as mother and daughter bond across time as they both prepare for the next chapters in their lives. OK, maybe I'm a little ashamed. 

"Freaky Friday"

Now streaming on: Disney+ (both the original and the remake)

Young or old, there's a very charming Disney body-swap mother-daughter comedy for you – whether you're picking the original '70s starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster (just coming off the very not Mother's Day-approved "Taxi Driver") or the surprisingly charming and entertaining 2003 remake starring Lindsay Lohan (pre-tabloid lunacy) and an exceptionally committed and delightful Jamie Lee Curtis. Hold on: A Disney movie in which the mom doesn't die but actually gets to bond with her daughter over the course of comedic hijinks? Who knew that they made those?!

"The Meddler"

Now streaming on: Hulu

A sweet, melancholy and modest tribute to mothers – even when they're kind of being annoying and pestering – Lorene Scafaria's "The Meddler" is a wonderful modern Mother's Day movie. Susan Sarandon stars as a lonely widow who, to cope with her newfound loneliness, hounds after her Hollywood writer-director daughter (Rose Byrne), who is dealing with a recent brutal breakup of her own. The two actresses all too relatably spar with each other with perfect warmth and wit (and, in Byrne's case, more than a little exhaustion) as the two clash but also connect, learning more about each other while also learning how to move forward in both of their lives. Scafaria's film is honest and tender, showing how much kids mean to their parents and how much parents mean to their kids – even when they're all grown up. If you don't immediately want to call your mom when the end credits roll, I don't know what to tell you. 


Now streaming on: The Roku Channel, Tubi, Pluto TV and Freevee

"Lion" may have lost Best Picture back in 2017, but it definitely won the award for Best Movie To Watch And Then Immediately Call Your Mother Afterwards Sobbing.

This based-on-a-true-story adoption drama, of a young Indian man searching for the family he lost when he was five-years-old, is pure tearjerking Oscar bait, but boy does it work – from the heartfelt performances (most notably adorable Sunny Pawar as young Saroo and Dev Patel's gorgeous mane of hair) to the gorgeous cinematography and moving story, told over the course of many years and multiple Google Earth searches. It may be a tearjerker, but it doesn't quite overplay its hand, being emotionally honest while still leaving you in a teary puddle – most certainly by the time the end credits hit.

"Lion" may not have been an Oscar winner, but if you pick this one to watch with mom, you'll be a winner.

The bad


Now streaming on: Netflix

There's loving your mom – and then there's keeping your mom's mummified corpse in your basement, role playing as her throughout the house and murdering people in showers and stairwells to satisfy her bitter resentments. That's quite a commitment to Mother's Day, Norman Bates, though most moms are perfectly content with just a cute card and breakfast in bed. 

"Mommie Dearest"

Now streaming on: DirecTV and Cinemax (via Amazon Prime Vide0)

Indeed, the mother of all bad mother movies, "Mommie Dearest" has earned its place in the camp hall of fame for Faye Dunaway's unhinged, unrestrained performance as the abusive, wire-hanger-hating Joan Crawford. You know how "Postcards from the Edge" captured the troubles of a showbiz mother-daughter relationship, both with humor and honesty? This is the opposite of that – though I suppose there's plenty of humor. Psychologically traumatizing a child: what a lark!

"The Manchurian Candidate"

Now streaming on: The Roku Channel, Hoopla, Kanopy, Tubi, Pluto TV and Freevee (for the original); Fubo TV, Showtime and DirecTV (for the remake)

It's never a good idea to bring up politics around the holidays, so "The Manchurian Candidate" – both the classic 1962 paranoid thriller and the 2004 Jonathan Demme remake about brainwashed political pawns climbing their way through the ranks – is already not an optimal choice for Mother's Day. To make matters worse, in both films, the main villains – whether its Angela Lansbury or Meryl Streep – are power-hungry moms. At best, your mom will be mildly taken aback; at worst, she might get some ideas about how to get you to call more often. 


Now streaming on: Fubo TV, Showtime, Kanopy and DirecTV

What's the deal with horror movies and moms? First "Psycho" and its Oedipus Complex – unfortunately unavailable to stream anywhere ... or maybe fortunate considering the holiday. And then there's "Carrie," which features one of the creepiest and craziest moms ever put on screen. Yeah, the bullies – featuring a baby John Travolta – ruin Carrie's prom and douse her in pig's blood, but anyone who's seen the movie knows Piper Laurie's insane religious fanatic mother is the true villain, making poor Carrie's every basic teenage feeling a sin against god and creation. It's OK, though; telekinetic Carrie finally rebels and crucifies her at the end. Uh ... happy Mother's Day!

"The Babadook"

Now streaming on: AMC+ (though Amazon Prime Video), Tubi, Kanopy, Pluto TV and DirecTV

But for real: What's the deal with horror movies and moms? If you want a fresher horror movie to terrify your mom with, how about "The Babadook," an indie chiller about a mom coping with having THE WORST CHILD EVER. Yes, they're haunted by a creepy spirit fashionably dressed in black with spindly hands and a terrifying voice that keeps puttering around the house, prank-calling and making you murder pets and vomit black ooze ... but the true menace is the freaking nightmare spawn. Even Rosemary from "Rosemary's Baby" or the family from "The Omen" would be looking at a child swap. 

Anyways, if you want to treat your mom to a horror movie about the violent frustrations of parenting, "The Babadook" is your pick. Another good Mother's Day option? Literally anything else.

"Friday the 13th"

Now streaming on: Prime Video, Fubo TV, Paramount+ and MGM+

Pamela Voorhees slays just about an entire summer camp of lazy, oversexed teenage camp counselors – only to get beheaded while her son Jason comes back from the dead anyway, then gets all the fame and credit for her hard murderous work, and even earns a trip to New York City. Moms: They never get the respect they deserve, do they? Anyways, the only thing worse than watching this '80s slasher classic on Mother's Day would be accidentally watching the awful 2009 remake. 

"Goodnight Mommy"

Now streaming on: Vudu, Tubi and Pluto TV

What's worse than one creepy kid? TWO creepy kids! In this Austrian horror import, twin boys living alone in the countryside decide that their mother, newly returned and unrecognizable under eerie bandages from cosmetic surgery, isn't actually their mother anymore. What follows is a creepy, shiver-inducing game of cat and mouse as the kids try to suss out whether their "mother" can be trusted, the matriarch irritatedly wonders what her kids are plotting and the audience quickly vows to stock up on birth control.


Now streaming on: HBO Max, Kanopy and DirecTV

It's only fitting to end my list of anti-recommendations with one final horror movie – one with an all-time great scary movie mom performance from Toni Collette as a stressed-out matriarch trying to deal with her secretive mother's unexpected death, her peculiar daughter's strange affection for making clicking sounds, her older son's night out gone horribly wrong and, oh by the way, there's a bunch of naked cult members trying to hold a evil ritual in their treehouse. And if THAT'S not enough, she's gotta finish all of her creepy dollhouse artwork before her deadline. Have you ever tried to finish a job on time while a demonic cult keeps knocking at your door? It's enough to make you climb the walls!

Actually, maybe "Hereditary" is an ideal Mother's Day movie – because no matter what, your mom's life will seem comparatively serene afterwards. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.