Both television and film are filled to the brim with representations of family life – of both the happy and unhappy varieties.
Many of the mothers portrayed in those representations are (almost) perfect examples of what parenting is all about – Joyce Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Molly Weasley (Harry Potter) and Joyce Byers (Stranger Things), for instance – but there are plenty of others who aren’t such model parents.
Whether it’s for minor reasons (such as because they embarrass their kids in public or lightheartedly mock their offspring) or for more serious reasons (such as because they’re abusive or outright psychotic), there have been lots of bad mothers in television and film.
So, in this piece, we’ll be taking you through thirty of the worst TV and movie mothers…
30. Kate McCallister (Home Alone)
Played by Catherine O’Hara, Kate McAllister is the mother from the first two Home Alone movies in 1990 and 1992 – and she accidentally left young Kevin McAllister (played by Macauley Culkin) at home in Chicago on two occasions at Christmastime, while she and the rest of the McAllisters went to Paris and Miami respectively.
Granted, the McAllisters are a large family, but this was gross negligence – on the part of the whole family, of course, not just Kate – but if anyone should have realised Kevin wasn’t there (twice, remember!), it was his mom.
29. Delia Deetz (Beetlejuice)
It’s another Catherine O’Hara character now – and this time it’s her character from 1988’s Beetlejuice, mediocre sculptor Delia Deetz. Delia was actually the stepmother of Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder), but that certainly doesn’t excuse her behaviour towards her.
She’s overly dramatic and incredibly self-centred – to the point that she barely even notices her stepdaughter half of the time – and constantly criticises her for being a goth and for having a negative attitude.
28. Beverly Hofstadter (The Big Bang Theory)
Beverly Hofstadter was played by Christine Baranski in popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory. She was a neuroscientist, psychiatrist and author, as well as the mother of one of the show’s main characters – world class experimental physicist Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki).
Yet, in spite of her son’s undoubted success, she is cold towards him and rarely shows any pride about his achievements – in fact, she’s as bitter and monotone towards him as she is everyone else. Heck, she even wrote a book about how embarrassing he was as a child – even though she was the primary cause of his issues!
27. Beverly Goldberg (The Goldbergs)
Another Beverly now – and this time it’s Wendi McLendon-Covey’s character on the ever-popular The Goldbergs; Beverly Goldberg. She’s not a bad mother in a nasty way – her heart is undoubtedly in the right place 100% of the time – but by God is she embarrassing!
She’s constantly meddling in all three of her kids’ lives – Adam (Sean Giambrone), Barry (Troy Gentile) and Erica (Hayley Orrantia) – much to their embarrassment. She’s overprotective and overbearing – and she’s not averse to dishing out “snuggies” and kisses in public. She’s excruciating!
26. Lois Griffin (Family Guy)
When it comes to her sons, Chris and Stewie, Lois Griffin – who’s voiced by Alex Borstein – is an adequate mother. However, when it comes to her daughter, Meg, she treats her terribly – as does everyone else in Family Guy, for that matter!
It’s a running joke that Meg is the unwanted black sheep of the Griffin family – and Lois’ contribution to that has included doing things like making out with Meg’s boyfriend, reading her private diary, and even suggesting she should kill herself.
25. Liane Cartman (South Park)
For the most part, South Park’s Liane Cartman – who’s currently voiced by April Stewart – is what most kids would describe as the perfect mother – due to the fact that she gives in to Eric all the time and gives him anything he wants. Of course, we all know that’s actually poor parenting, as children have to learn that everything doesn’t come that easy in life.
However, she’s also highly racist, anti-Semitic (which explains a lot about her son), promiscuous and, of course, there was that one time she and Eric pulled guns on each other over an argument about bedtime.
24. Marilyn Batson (Shazam!)
Marily Batson is the biological mother of Billy Batson – the young boy who would go on to become the titular superhero in the DC Extended Universe’s Shazam! Played by Caroline Palmer, she abandoned Billy at a carnival when he was young, due to feeling she was inadequate as a mother.
But that’s not even the reason she makes this list – oh no! The reason she makes this list is because, when Billy found her again when he was 14, she completely rejected him – choosing her abusive boyfriend over a reunion with her son.
23. Evelyn Harper (Two and a Half Men)
Master manipulator Evelyn Harper – played by the brilliant Holland Taylor – was the mother of Charlie (Charlie Sheen) and Alan (Jon Cryer) in Two and a Half Men. A real estate agent, Evelyn regularly married rich men on their death beds, so she’d inherit their money – which is hardly a stellar example to set to your children.
But that’s not why she was a terrible mother. She paid people to bring her kids up, because she couldn’t be bothered – and while she wasn’t too ashamed of Charlie when he grew up, she made it very clear that she wasn’t remotely proud of Alan and often pretended he didn’t exist or wasn’t her son.
22. Jessica Harris (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Now, first of all, it is worth pointing out that Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Jessica Harris was treated badly as a wife and downtrodden by her husband, Anthony – but that doesn’t excuse her treatment of her son, Xander.
Played by Lee Garlington, we didn’t really see much of Jessica in the show (once, at Xander’s ill-fated wedding, to be be exact), but Xander regularly referred to her laziness, negligence and abuse towards him, which left him with a number of insecurities.
21. Endora (Bewitched)
Endora was the witch mother of protagonist Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery) in fantasy sitcom Bewitched. She disapproved of her daughter’s decision to marry a mortal (Darrin, played by both Dick York and Dick Sargent) – and even occasionally cast spells on him for her own amusement .
She undoubtedly loved her daughter, but her constant attempts at sabotaging her marriage were unforgivable and absolutely not the actions of a good mother. Still, the love between Samantha and Darrin prevaile – Endora did not get her way.
20. Lynette Scavo (Desperate Housewives)
To be the worst mother on Wisteria Lane takes some doing, but Lynette Scavo undoubtedly owned that title ahead of all the characters in drama series Desperate Housewives.
Not only was she generally manipulative, she also had her twin boys kidnapped just to teach her husband a lesson in responsibility, murdered her son’s imaginary friend out of jealousy, and let a rat into her house – putting her children at risk from disease – just to make her husband think he needed to keep the place cleaner!
19. Betty Draper (Mad Men)
Betty Draper – played by January Jones in the brilliant Mad Men – was the former wife of Don Draper (Jonn Hamm). She really wasn’t a very good mother at all.
When it came to her children, she spent most of her time either snapping at them aggressively or ignoring them completely – all while she was planning to escape from them to spend her life in the arms of another man. Moreover, when she and Don split, the pair left their two older kids with a housekeeper – indefinitely and without so much as an explanation.
18. Peggy Bundy (Married… with Children)
Now, it’s safe to say that she was probably the better parent out of herself and Al, but that doesn’t mean Married… with Children’s Peggy Bundy avoids criticism as a mother.
The matriarch in the popular sitcom would regularly smoke cigarettes in the Bundy’s kitchen (which rarely had any food in it, given how lazy she was) – which is hardly responsible parenting – and, along with Al, she would openly have lewd conversations in front of her kids about the couple’s sex life!
17. Helen Boucher (The Waterboy)
In 1998’s The Waterboy, Kathy Bates played Helen Boucher – the overprotective mother of Adam Sandler’s Bobby. Bobby was a sheltered, socially stunted 31-year-old who was the waterboy for a college football team – and Helen’s behaviour as a mother was undoubtedly the reason for Bobby’s nature.
When Bobby’s talents as a football player were discovered – mainly due to repressed anger about his mother coming out – she forbid him from playing, claiming it was too dangerous. Heck, she even faked a coma to trick Bobby! Moreover, she revealed that she’d been lying about Bobby’s father’s death his whole life, which was just awful.
16. Livia Soprano (The Sopranos)
The Sopranos is one of the greatest TV shows of all time, but one of its characters – Livia Soprano, played by Nancy Marchand – was undoubtedly one of the worst TV mothers.
The mother of Janice, Tony and Barbara, Livia grew up in financial poverty and subsequently ensured that each of her children was raised in emotional poverty. She was paranoid and power-hungry until old age – and when Tony decided that she could no longer live on her own, he attempted to move her to a nursing home. In retaliation, Livia ordered a hit on her own son!
15. Lucille Bluth (Arrested Development)
Jessica Walter played Lucille Bluth – the wife of George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor) and the mother of G.O.B. (Will Arnett), Michael (Jason Bateman), Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), Buster (Tony Hale) and Annyong Bluth (Justin Lee) – in the brilliant sitcom Arrested Development.
She was an alcoholic who nearly always had a drink in her hand – and while she did love most of her children, she was constantly horrible to G.O.B. and her persistent coddling of Buster turned him into a neurotic shambles.
14. Estelle Costanza (Seinfeld)
Estella Costanza – played by Estelle Harris – was the mother of George Costanza (Jason Alexander) and the wife of the long-suffering Fran Costanza (Jerry Stiller) in the brilliant Seinfeld.
She was the stereotypical overbearing, obnoxious sitcom mother whose high-pitched, nagging and unforgiving voice was undoubtedly the reason that George didn’t become a normal functioning adult and, instead, grew up to become maladjusted and distinctly lacking in confidence.
13. Beverly Sutphin (Serial Mom)
The third Beverly on this list is Beverly Sutphin from 1994’s Serial Mom. Played by Kathleen Turner, she’s the wife of a dentist and the mother of two teenagers – and, on the face of it, a seemingly ordinary housewife who does indeed love her children.
However, beneath her innocent smile and pretty dresses lies a monstrous serial killer who murders anyone that she believes wronged her or her family. Granted, that’s devotion of the highest order, but it’s quite obviously morally wrong and horrifically criminal – and, in the end, her family end up being terrified of her, so she’s hardly a shining example of motherhood!
12. Mama Fratelli (The Goonies)
Mama Fratelli – who was played by Anne Ramsey – was the matriarch of the criminal Fratelli family in the epic 1985 adventure movie The Goonies. In addition to being a criminal and committing robberies, Mama Fratelli was an appalling mother.
Her treatment of Jake (Robert Davi) and Francis (Joe Pantoliano) was bad enough – but they at least deserved it. Her treatment of Sloth (John Matuszak), however, was disgraceful. He was a kind and gentle soul, but because of his physical deformity, she kept him chained to a wall in the basement of a derelict restaurant.
11. Momma Lift (Throw Momma from the Train)
Anne Ramsey was seemingly the go-to actress to portray terrible mothers in the 1980s, as she hits our list for a second time. On this occasion, it’s for her performance as Momma Lift in 1987’s Throw Momma from the Train – a mother so bad that her son, Owen (Danny DeVito) plotted to have her killed by… well… having her thrown from a train.
She was abusive – just like Mama Fratelli – as well as very overbearing and paranoid. Still, we can’t feel it was a little bit harsh to want her dead – even if she did ultimately end up dying of natural causes.
10. Atia of the Julii (Rome)
Atia of the Julii was played by Polly Walker in historical drama Rome. She was the mother of Octavian – and, quite frankly, the dragon lady to end all dragon ladies.
She personified the show’s vulgar side with her cold-bloodedness and scheming seductiveness – which was often to the detriment of her offspring. By the end of the show, she was completely estranged from her son – and that shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone, given how she treated him.
9. Zinnia Wormwood (Matilda)
In 1996’s Matilda – which was based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 novel of the same name – both of the titular character’s parents were awful. But it’s Rhea Perlman’s Zinnia Wormwood that we’re focusing on here.
She really only cared about her looks and material things – and she regularly referred to her daughter a “smartass” and berated her for reading books instead of watching television like her brother. However, Matilda outsmarted them all the time and eventually ended up with an adoptive mother who loved her.
8. Eleanor Iselin (The Manchurian Candidate)
1962’s brilliant The Manchurian Candidate, saw the wonderful Angela Lansbury playing Eleanor Iselin, the mother of Raymond Shaw (Laurene Harvey) – a soldier who was kidnapped and rescued during the Korean War.
Shaw was plagued by nightmares that forced him to think twice about what actually happened during the war and, as it turned out, he was brainwashed by Communists to work as a sleeper agent in the United States. That was bad enough, but Eleanor – his own mother – was also controlling him for her own agenda to overthrow the government with her husband. Shaw did kill her in the end, though.
7. Mary Lee Johnston (Precious)
Precious is a 2009 movie – although it was set in 1987 – that followed 16-year-old Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) who lived with her unemployed mother, Mary, in Harlem. Mary – who was played by Mo’Nique – was extremely abusive in a number of ways.
She sat back and did nothing as Precious’ father sexually abused her (which resulted in two pregnancies) and regularly belittled and physically assaulted her – sometimes to the point that she nearly killed her – and even abused her grandchildren. She blamed Precious for everything wrong in her life and ultimately admitted that she hated her for “stealing her man” – in spite of the fact she was actually sexually abused by him.
6. Mother of the Vile Excrement (Angel)
When the character’s name is literally “Mother of the Vile Excrement”, that says everything you need to know about what she thinks of her children! Well, that was indeed the name of this character from Angel – who was actually played by Tom McCleister, a male actor.
She was the mother of regular character Lorne (Andy Hallett) and she regularly condemned his very existence. In fact, in the one episode of the show in which she appeared, her most memorable quote was “Each morning before I feed, I go out into the hills where the ground is thorny and parched, beat my breast and curse the loins that gave birth to such a cretinous boy-child!”
5. Pamela Voorhees (Friday the 13th)
Pamela Voorhees was the mother of Jason Voorhees – the iconic killer from the Friday the 13th series of movies. In fact, contrary to common belief, she was the actual killer (not Jason) in the first movie of the franchise in 1980.
It was Jason’s death from drowning that drove her to kill, but she was far from the perfect mother to the deformed kid when he was alive. She had a very unhealthy obsession with her son – which included rewarding him with cuddles after he mutilated and killed a number of small kittens, rather than punishing him for it.
4. Mother (Mother’s Day)
Mother’s Day is a horror movie that was released in 1980, which follows a severely mentally unstable mother (Beatrice Pons) and her two inbred sons who live in seclusion in the woods.
However, as it turns out, the sick trio are murderers – with the two sons kidnapping, raping torturing and killing people in order to impress their mother. Mother’s pride is greater, depending on the level of depravity the boys’ actions entail – which obviously makes her as bad of a role model as it’s possible to be!
3. Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
Lady Tremaine – who is obviously otherwise known as the Wicked Stepmother – is, of course, the infamous abusive stepmother of Cinderella. She’s been depicted in various movies and television shows over the years, but we’ve chosen to use Cate Blanchett’s version from 2015’s Cinderella movie to illustrate her here.
She was jealous of Cinderella – or Ella, as Lily James’ version was known in the movie – and regularly abused and taunted her. She called her names, destroyed her clothes and blackmailed her. In the end, however, she was satisfyingly ejected from Ella’s kingdom, never to return.
2. Joan Crawford (Mommie Dearest)
It goes without saying that most of the mothers on this list are fictional, but not this one. Faye Dunaway’s depiction of actress Joan Crawford in the 1981 movie Mommie Dearest was an adaptation of an autobiography of the same name written by Christina Crawford, the abused adopted daughter of Joan.
The movie conveys Crawford’s obsessive-compulsive tendencies and the terrible abuse she inflicted on her kids – especially Christina (played by Mara Hobel and Diana Scarwid at different ages in the movie). Crawford was an alcoholic and Mommie Dearest depicts her doing things like beating her daughter, chopping off her hair, giving away her birthday gifts and more.
1. Margaret White (Carrie)
Margaret White is the mentally-ill, strict and abusive mother of Carrie White in the Carrie movies. She was played by Piper Laurie in the original 1976 movie and by Julianne Moore in the 2013 remake (with Sissy Spacek and Chloe Grace Moretz portraying her daughter in the two movies, respectively).
She loved her daughter, but her illness and warped view of Christianity meant she couldn’t love her in a positive or responsible way. She believed everything was a sin and wouldn’t let Carrie lead a normal life because of it – berating and abusing her every day for being sinful. She even tried to kill Carrie – claiming she was a witch due to her telekinetic powers – and, ultimately, Carrie had no choice but to use her powers to kill her mother, freeing herself from her permanently.
What did you think of our list? There are obviously lots of other terrible mothers in TV and movies, so which ones spring to your mind when you see articles like this one? Let us know!