By Jonathan Decker (Family therapist, film critic)
For moms everywhere, here are my favorite examples of cinematic maternal love. Here's my favorite movies for Mother's Day.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
What if you could travel back in time and see your parents as teenagers? Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) jumps from 1985 to 1955 and is stunned that his conservative mother (Leah Thompson) was much more like him as a teenager than she lets on. Although the idea of your mom temporarily falling for you instead of your dad is kind of creepy, the resolution is terrific. For all the fun and fantasy, the heart of the film is Marty’s thrill of watching his parents fall in love, something many of us hear about but never got to see. Rated PG for some language and innuendo.
This touching, under-seen gem is an independent film about a pregnant single waitress debating whether or not to have an abortion. A day of blossoming friendship with an ex-soccer star brings healing to them both. A beautiful, well-acted story that celebrates family, faith, life, and Hispanic culture. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and disturbing images, but there’s nothing offensive here.
THE BLIND SIDE
Sandra Bullock deserves the Oscar she won for her performance as the adopted mother of a troubled but loving teenager. She balances strength and vulnerability, sweetness and toughness, and finds fascinating nuances to her character in this true story. This is uplifting stuff. Rated PG-13 for a few moderate profanities and thematic elements.
Disney-Pixar's Scottish fable is, at its core, the story of an estranged mother and her daughter reconnecting. Moving and funny.
The “Baby of Mine” song? I mean, come on! It made me cry as a kid and it does the same to me now. Dumbo is one of Disney’s most tender films, with the story revolving around Dumbo returning to his mother. A true classic. Rated G.
Kari Wuhrer plays a butt-kicking mother who saves her daughter (Scarlett Johanssen) from giant spiders in this fun B-movie.
Kate Winslet is wonderful as the mother of the children who inspired J.M. Barrie’s (Johnny Depp) Peter Pan. This is a tearjerker, to be sure, but it’s a fine one. Winslet’s love for her kids drives the story. Rated PG for thematic elements.
Sally Field delights as a devoted mother of young Forrest, a mentally challenged boy who accomplishes great things largely because she believed in him. This is a modern classic, though it has a good deal of language and sexuality, so maybe don't watch with the kids. Rated PG-13.
Holly Hunter’s protective and feisty mother is, to this day, one of my all-time favorite superheroes on film. As Elastigirl, she risks everything for her husband and kids, and kicks some serious butt to boot. Funny, clever, and action-packed. Rated PG.
Susan Sarandon’s performance anchors this solid adaptation of the classic novel. Through war and poverty, her love and strength keep the family together. Rated PG for mild language.
MAN OF STEEL
With so much going on in Zack Snyder's Superman reboot, audiences might overlook the strong maternal connection between Clark and his adoptive mother. However, it's arguably the film's emotional core. She's the one who helps him to overcome his childhood fear of his powers, and she's his anchor as an adult.
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST
Though the film is difficult to watch, some critics have overlooked that there is tremendous beauty, compassion, and love in this film to contrast the pain and anguish. Jim Caviezel is excellent as Jesus, but so is that of Romanian actress Maia Morgenstern, who gives an unforgettable performance as Mary. Many actors, in portraying the mother of God, overact and bawl unconvincingly. Morgenstern on the other hand, reigns it in and breaks the audience's heart because she’s trying to be strong as she witnesses her son’s suffering. A scene where she pushes through the mob to get to Jesus as he carries his cross is the most beautifully sad moment I’ve ever seen in a film. Rated R for brutal violence (whipping, beating, and crucifixion).
Holly Hunter again, this time in what is one of my all-time favorite comedic performances. She plays a naive police officer who falls for a redneck criminal (Nicolas Cage, back when he had discernment in picking roles) in this quirky comedy by the Coen Brothers.. When the couple discovers that they can’t have children, they rather innocently decide to kidnap one of a wealthy couples’ quintuplets. Hunter’s baby-hungry portrayal is truly hilarious. Rated PG-13 for language and some innuendo.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC
One of cinema’s greatest musicals has Julie Andrews as a loving and inspiring surrogate mother of sorts for the Von Trap children, helping them to open up and strengthening them when WWII hits. Not to be missed by any movie buff. Rated G.
Disney’s take on the classic story plays up, to memorable effect, Tarzan’s relationship with his gorilla “mother,” who raised him after his parents' death. This mother-son pairing gave us the tune “You'll Be in My Heart.”
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY
What?! Why is a sci-fi movie about a killer cyborg on this list? Because, not only is T2 one of the all-time great action films, as directed by James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar) it has a solid story and packs a surprising emotional punch. Linda Hamilton is the definitive tough mother, taking it as her mission to protect her son and prepare him to be the future defender of the human race. It’s actually quite moving, in a non-sentimental way.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.