Mother-daughter relationships are notoriously rocky. Teenage rebellion comes head-to-head with overbearing mothers. Moms try to live their lost dreams through their girls. No matter the cause of friction, it’s always there—both in real-life and in movies.
But despite the drama, the relationship between mother and daughter is a sacred one. It’s a bond for life; one of the strongest forms of love. And plenty of movies have explored what it’s like.
Here are some of the best movies about mother-daughter relationships, diving deep into the complexity of it all.
8. Lady Bird (2017)
Lady Bird isn’t a movie that’s solely focused on a mother and daughter, but a mother-daughter pairing does play a key role in it.
Seventeen is a critical age for young women as they juggle the angst, confusion, and excitement of the looming adult world. For the artistic and headstrong “Ladybird” (played by Saoirse Ronan), this new horizon comes with new challenges—like her mother.
Ladybird’s mom (played by Laurie Metcalf) is well-meaning but disproving, claiming that Ladybird is ungrateful for what she has. Her mom is stubborn but ultimately heartbroken about her daughter’s inevitable flying from the nest.
Ladybird continues to let her mother down as she desperately searches for maturity and freedom. Director Greta Gerwig navigates the harsh terrain of their relationship intimately and honestly, resulting in high praise from critics upon release.
7. The Florida Project (2017)
Brooklynn Prince’s performance in The Florida Project—at just 8 years old—is nothing short of extraordinary. Coupled with Sean Baker’s visionary direction and colorful cinematography, The Florida Project is a beautiful piece of cinema.
The film is shot from the perspective of young Moonee, a little girl living on the poverty line in Florida. Moonee lives with her young and well-meaning but troubled mother Halley (played by Bria Vinaite) in the “Magic Castle”—a cheap motel painted pink.
Moonee’s life of mischief on the streets is contrasted with her childlike joy and innocence. As much as Halley loves her daughter, she’s somewhat neglectful and leaves most of the supervision up to the motel manager (played by Willem Dafoe).
The hardships of being a young, single, and skint parent poke through Moonee’s otherwise idyllic world as she makes the most of it—and learns from her mother’s reckless behavior
The movie is tender, joyous, and utterly heart-breaking. Even if it’s only right that the DCF intervenes eventually, we can’t help but root for Halley and Moonee to be together.
6. August: Osage County (2013)
Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts put in incredible performances together in John Wells’ August: Osage County.
The movie takes place over a single summer and features a dysfunctional family reuniting over a tragic loss: three sisters come home for their father’s funeral—alongside various other kin—and brace themselves for the hurricane that is their mother.
Violet is a feisty, bad-mouthed old woman who brutalizes members of the family as the strong-willed matriarch. She incessantly pops pills and complains, making even a simple family dinner absolute hell.
Barbara locks horns with her mother, challenging the hardships of her childhood and uncovering deep family secrets. We learn about Violet’s own traumatic childhood at the hands of her cruel mother.
The pain between mother and daughter is passed down generations like a family heirloom—one that only forgiveness can break.
5. Thirteen (2013)
Drugs, sex, and crime make up many teenage experiences, which is why they’re such common fears for parents. Catherine Hardwicke explores all of that in her indie drama Thirteen, following the young and impressionable Tracy Freeland (played by Evan Rachel Wood).
Tracy is a well-behaved, straight-A student living with depression. Her mother—a recovering alcoholic—doesn’t seem to notice this in the midst of all she does to financially support her family.
Tracy takes it upon herself to ditch her good-girl image and walk the wild side of life. She succumbs to her new friends’ habits of shoplifting and doing drugs, and her mom attempts to intervene in the ever-darkening path Tracy has chosen.
Of course, this doesn’t go down well. Their relationship is fiery (to say the least) but comes from a place of loving protection. You can’t help someone who isn’t willing to help themself no matter how hard you try. That’s an especially hard lesson for a mother to learn.
4. Mermaids (1990)
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Cher is her usual wacky-sexy self in Richard Benjamin’s comedy-drama Mermaids. Based on Patty Dann’s 1986 novel, Mermaids stars a fresh-faced Winona Ryder as Charlotte Flax who’s desperate to finish high school before getting uprooted again.
Charlotte is everything her mother is not: awkward, neurotic, prudish. While mother Rachel (played by Cher) swans around in outlandish lace costumes with men hanging off her arms, Charlotte becomes increasingly annoyed at her mother’s lifestyle.
The real clincher is when they both fall for the same man. Whereas Rachel gives in easily to her desires, Charlotte fasts to purge away the sins and frets over immaculate conception.
No mother and daughter could be so different, but their continual clashes only make things worse for themselves. Mermaids is a delightfully eccentric tale, navigating the woes of adolescence where a mother figure is most crucial.
3. Freaky Friday (2003)
Teen chick-flicks get a bad rap in the film world, but as The Devil Wears Prada showed us, they can be absolutely great! Freaky Friday is a classic choice for girls’ night with its turbulent (and hilarious) relationship between a tightly-wound mother and her punk daughter.
Jamie Lee Curtis plays a widowed therapist who’s the complete opposite of her teenage daughter Anna (played by Lindsay Lohan).
After a strange encounter with a fortune cookie, the two wake up to find that they’ve swapped bodies. This means they’re forced to live each other’s lives until they can find a way to swap back.
Experiencing everyday life—the injustices of high school and the grind of work—through the other’s eyes offers them new insights. Only when Anna has experienced true empathy for her mom (and vice versa) are they able to make amends.
2. Terms of Endearment (1983)
Terms of Endearment is a smart and snappy classic movie directed by James L. Brooks. Playing out like a cinematic soap opera, the film is a great blend of light comedy and family drama—and it’s no surprise that it was a commercial hit back in the 80s.
Here we are four decades later and Terms of Endearment still holds strong with its depiction of a turbulent relationship between a widow and her newly-wedded daughter.
Shirley MacLaine stars as Aurora Greenway, who holds her daughter just a little too close. The telephone line keeps them in touch even as their connection slowly erodes, until Emma (played by Debra Winger) moves away against her mother’s will to start a family of her own.
We won’t ruin the end for you, but suffice it to say that Terms of Endearment ends with an emotional punch like no other.
1. My Sister’s Keeper (2009)
Get the tissues out because this one’s a weeper. In My Sister’s Keeper, Cameron Diaz gives a stunning performance as a mother torn between the lives of her two daughters.
While one daughter Kate (played by Sofia Vassilieva) suffers with leukemia, the other daughter Anna (played by Abigail Breslin) threatens to sue for medical emancipation. No one in the family is a genetic match for Kat’s treatments, making Anna the “savior sister.”
But Anna is only 15 and refuses this role that’s been thrust upon her by her mother. Anna has no say or consent in endangering her own life through these multiple surgeries, so she hires her own lawyer. Soon, the whole family is cracking apart.
Nick Cassavetes’ hard-hitting drama is built around a choice—one of the most difficult ones any mother can face. My Sister’s Keeper raises tricky questions about medical ethics and morality, with the thorny bonds of mother-and-daughter at its core.