This Mother’s Day, maybe you’re thinking you don’t need to make that big a deal out of it. It happens every year, right? But as these 12 movies show, the bond between mother and child is a very special one that can make you shed a few tears. We’re placing bets that you can’t get through any of these films without immediately dialing your mom to make brunch plans.
Terms of Endearment (1983)
Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) has a close but turbulent relationship with daughter Emma (Debra Winger), and their fights get as bad as any mother-daughter fights can get. But when Emma is diagnosed with a terminal illness, Aurora steps up to be with her daughter in her final weeks, and ultimately takes on responsibility for her grandchildren. Tears. Tears everywhere.
Jackie (Susan Sarandon) feels threatened by her ex-husband’s young new wife Anna (Julia Roberts), while Anna feels out of place with her new role as a stepmother to two growing kids. While initially the women are at odds with each other, Jackie’s cancer diagnosis makes her realize that she and Anna can both bring plenty of love and support to their children’s lives.
The Joy Luck Club (1993)
The film adaptation of Amy Tam’s novel perfectly nails the generational divide between Chinese-American women and their Chinese mothers, and the love and respect that still endures between them. While each young woman struggles to identify with the values of her mother, they both ultimately find a deeper understanding of each other and themselves.
Freaky Friday (2003)
Pre-Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan starred with Jamie Lee Curtis as a mother and daughter who open a magical Chinese fortune cookie and accidentally switch bodies for a day. While there’s some typical wacky hijinx as the teen-in-mom-body gets a makeover and the mom-in-teen-body is pursued by a bad boy, the film ends with a touching moment about building a new family after unexpected tragedy. You won’t expect to cry, but oh, you will.
You wouldn’t expect John Travolta in drag to give you the sniffles, but Hairspray achieves the impossible. Edna Turnblad (Travolta) is a larger woman who is ashamed of the way she looks. But, inspired by her daughter’s fearless debut on a local dance TV show, she dons a gorgeous, flashy number and shows off her own amazing dance moves on live television. Go, Edna!
Steel Magnolias (1989)
When Shelby Eatenton (Julia Roberts) is diagnosed with diabetes, she’s advised that she shouldn’t have children, but when she gets pregnant anyway, her mother M’Lynn (Sally Field) struggles to be happy for her. Sure enough, Shelby goes through kidney failure following childbirth, and despite a transplant from M’Lynn, her body ultimately rejects the kidney and her family has to take her off life support. Steel Magnolias is a tearjerker of a movie about the lengths a mother will go to to protect her children.
Forrest Gump (1994)
While Forrest (Tom Hanks) may not have been the smartest man in the world, his love for his mama (Sally Field) was undeniable. She did everything (and everyone) she could to ensure he got an education, and taught him that you have to roll with life’s punches — or, rather, that “life is like a box of chocolates.” When Mama eventually gets sick, there’s not a dry eye in the house.
Merida is a strong-willed young princess who despises her mom’s expectations that she marry the son of an ally, and she vows to disobey her mother at every turn. But when she inadvertently casts a spell that turns her mom into a literal bear, Merida realizes how much she needs her real mom in her life and that they can find ways to overcome their differences.
Little Women (1994)
An adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott novel, Little Women follows the struggles of four young women and their mother attempting to get by during the Civil War. While each daughter faces her own struggles (from falling for a poor man to contracting serious illness to fighting to be taken seriously as a woman) they all learn from their mother (Susan Sarandon) that kindness and empathy are the most important qualities they can have.
Many people point to Bambi as the Disney movie with the tear-jerking mom scene, but have they seen Dumbo? Mrs. Jumbo is the loving, protective mother of the titular elephant with the big ears, and when she defends him from bullies, she’s locked up. If you can watch the scene where she sings a lullaby to cute little Dumbo without tearing up, you are dead inside.