15 Movies That Don't Try to Sugarcoat Motherhood

Laurie Kamens | May 25, 2017 Movies
15 Movies That Don't Try to Sugarcoat Motherhood
Image: Walt Disney Productions

Freaky Friday Lindsay Lohan Jamie Lee Curtis
Walt Disney Productions

Motherhood is the role of a lifetime, so it's no surprise Hollywood loves portraying it in all its messy, complicated, heartwarming glory. Well, moms love seeing themselves on the big screen -- and it's the films that most accurately show what it's like to be a mom that truly capture our hearts.

Check out these 15 standout movies that realistically expose all the joys and challenges of motherhood (from pregnancy to parenting, adoption to adolescence) -- with an emphasis on all the dirty laundry that comes along with it.

  • Because I Said So (2007)

    Because I Said So
    Universal Pictures

    All we want is to one day see our kids happy and settled, even if that means sometimes giving them a little push. As Diane Keaton's "helicopter mom" character says, "God couldn't be everywhere, and that is why he made mothers." However, she learns that sometimes the best way to let kids grow is to let them go. (Plus, isn't the film title in itself just about the most classic mom line ever?!)

  • The Turning Point (1977)

    Shirley MacLaine The Turning Point
    20th Century Fox

    Shirley MacLaine must have a gift for portraying complicated moms. In her first appearance on our list, she plays a woman grappling with what she gave up to have a family and coming to terms with how motherhood and seeing your children succeed can bring its own unique rewards.

  • Baby Boom (1987)

    Diane Keaton Baby Boom

    Balancing a career and motherhood is something every working woman grapples with, and in this '80s comedy Diane Keaton (yep, she also has a knack for mom roles) is hilariously trying to keep all her balls in the air. Watching her getting pulled out of an important business meeting to help locate bottles or stay up all night nervously nursing a sick infant are scenes that ring all too true -- and show it's possible, but never easy, to have it all.

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  • The Blind Side (2009)

    Sandra Bullock The Blind Side
    Alcon Entertainment

    Sandra Bullock's role as a bulldog of a mom to adopted football star Michael Oher scored her a touchdown with an Oscar for best actress. Bullock shows that a mother's love is fierce as she responds with compassion to the homeless at-risk teen's plight, opens him up to a whole new world of opportunities, and makes him part of the family.

  • What to Expect When You're Expecting (2012)

    Elizabeth Banks What to Expect
    Lionsgate, Inc

    In one memorable scene from the comedic adaptation of the famous pregnancy guide, Elizabeth Banks's expectant mommy character has a hilarious but all-too-real breakdown during which she cries, "I just wanted the glow, the one they promise you on the cover of those magazines ... I'm callin' bullsh-t on the whole thing. Pregnancy sucks; making a human being is really hard." Well, hate to break it to her, but being a mom is even harder.

  • Boyhood (2014)

    Patricia Arquette Boyhood
    IFC Productions

    A coming of age story of a young boy in Texas, Boyhood is a realistic look at parenting. Patricia Arquette's single mom character struggles to raise her two kids and better both her and their lives. Yet, she is still brave enough to admit that not even moms have all of life's answers.

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  • Freaky Friday (2003)

    Jamie Lee Curtis Lindsay Lohan
    Walt Disney Productions

    Raising a child is hard, but parenting a teenager can feel near impossible. Freaky Friday, in a which a mother and daughter magically trade places, has some hilarious hijinks, but in the end, both Mom and daughter emerge with a better understanding of each other.  

  • Hairspray (1988)

    Ricki Lake Hairspray
    New Line Cinema

    We all remember our parents telling us to turn down the music or change our outfits, so it's more than slightly mortifying for moms to hear it come out of their mouths now. No matter how hip or enlightened we might think we are, once in a while, generational shifts can be a shock to the system. In the off-kilter cult classic Hairspray, Tracy Turnblad, girl of the '60s, helps her traditional mother cross the cultural divide, bringing them closer together.

  • Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)

    Ellen Burstyn
    Warner Bros.

    In a role for which she won an Oscar, Ellen Burstyn plays a mother trying to pursue her ambition to be a singer and simultaneously support her young son. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the movie shows the difficult line parents walk between pursuing their own dreams and trying to make a life for their kids.

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  • Mother and Child (2009)

    Annette Bening Mother and CHild
    Everest Entertainment

    "There is so much positioning for everything nowadays; motherhood should be simpler than that," says S. Epatha Merkerson's character in this drama about the emotional roller coaster of adoption. But, as this heavy film shows, it's often not. Merkerson's performance stands out as the mother of prospective adoptive mom Kerry Washington, who knows how to be a friend, emotional support, and the tough but fair voice of reason when it's most needed.

  • Mask (1985)

    Cher Mask
    Universal Pictures

    In Mask, Cher is the mother of Rocky Dennis, a teenage boy with a facial birth defect. "My mom says I look like a lion," Rocky says, but if he's a lion than she's a tiger, fiercely defending her son against the world and never wavering in her unconditional love. (There's nothing most moms can relate to more than that.)

  • Steel Magnolias (1989)

    Sally Fields Julie Roberts Steel Magnolias
    Rastar Films

    Continuing on that theme of moms doing just about anything for our children, in Steel Magnolias, Sally Fields does just that -- donating a kidney to her daughter, played by Julia Roberts, after complications arise from a pregnancy. Fields's tearjerker of a performance reveals a deep well of love for her daughter and undying devotion.

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  • Stepmom (1998)

    Susan Sarandon Julia Roberts stepmom
    Columbia Pictures Inc.

    Julia Roberts goes through the growing pains of bonding with her fiancée's kids and co-parenting with his reluctant ex in this touching drama. With patience and determined perseverance, she slowly wins their affections and goes from getting the cold shoulder to memorable Motown singalongs in the car.

  • Postcards From the Edge (1990)

    Meryl Streep Shirley MacLaine Postcards from the Edge
    Columbia Pictures

    Written by the dearly departed Carrie Fischer (supposedly about her own relationship with famous showbiz mom Debbie Reynolds) and starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine, Postcards From the Edge reminds us that in the end we all want what's best for our kids, even if we don't always know how to show it.

  • Terms of Endearment (1983)

    Debra Winger Shirley MacLaine Terms of Endearment

    In this touching mother-daughter drama, Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger don't always see eye to eye. MacLaine can be hard to like as a difficult and not always supportive mom, but while life, relationships, and moms aren't always perfect, in the end it's the love we share that lets us criticize each other one day and giggle like best friends the next.

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