Mommy Fearest: A look at the toughest mothers in cinema

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Motherhood is unquestionably the hardest job in the world. Even putting aside the crap hours and wages, the physical and emotional turmoil of pregnancy and birth is daunting enough, let alone raising a child and instilling in him proper virtues and morals to avoid raising a psychopath. Parenting eats up time, energy and resources like a ravenous Pac-Man devouring all in its path, but it also gives back immensely satisfying rewards. And rest assured, if anyone threatens a cub, it’s the mama bear that rears up and tears that intruder to shreds. So while every mom in cinema (and around the world) is a badass in their own right, there are some who have answered the call above and beyond their duty to protect (or avenge) their child. This is a list of those sweat- and blood-drenched mothers who personify to extremes the rigors of being a mom and raising a child.

Sarah Connor, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”

Imagine having a baby with a time traveler, who is then killed by a psychotic robot, and then have the baby taken away from you after you are sent to a mental institution when no one believes any of this time traveling robot nonsense. It would be a bit of a strain on anyone’s mental state. Yet the one thing that shines through all of the psychological wear and tear is Sarah Connor’s (Linda Hamilton) devotion to her son, John. She has to team up with the fuel for her nightmares to take on an even deadlier robot, but is willing to do so all for the sake of protecting her son. While people think that Arnold’s T-800 is a relentless killing machine, clearly they haven’t seen anything yet when John Connor is put in jeopardy.

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Geum-ja Lee, “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance”

This is a lesser known film, but the third movie in Park Chan-Wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy” finds a mom (Yeong-ae Lee) atoning for her past mistakes and taking on the demon in her life, all in the hopes of being worthy of her daughter. Geum-ja’s daughter is being raised by an adoptive family in Australia, but that doesn’t deter Geum-ja’s mission to right the wrongs of her past and violently strike back at the man who ruined her life. It’s a tour-de-force performance that finds a mother desperately seeking redemption, even while striking out on a bloody path of revenge.

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Ellen Ripley, “Aliens”

This one is slightly a cheat. Yes, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is a mom whose daughter grew up while she was in cryostasis floating through the void. But she also becomes an adoptive mom to lone survivor Newt when she joins the Colonial Marines in visiting planet LV426. Plus, what else but maternal instinct leads her to risk everything to rescue the poor orphan time and again, ultimately leading to the great confrontation with another no-nonsense mom, the Queen Alien herself.

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Gail Hartman, “The River Wild”

All Gail (Meryl Streep) wants to do is have a fun river outing with her family, but then it all goes to crap when two criminals (Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly) hijack the trip. Gail proves her badassery by not only navigating the rapids of the river, but also ensuring the protection of her children and ultimately proving to be a worthy opponent for the two violent marauders. Streep already proved she has the maternal chops in the dire “Sophie’s Choice,” but in “The River Wild,” she created a role of a woman that will not be controlled by men and will return their violence unto them with a vengeance.

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Sarah, “Inside”

In easily one of the lesser seen but absolutely batshit craziest films, Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is an expectant mother who must fend off the attack of a crazed woman who wants Sarah’s baby for her own. It’s a night (Christmas Eve, to be exact) of terror as the woman is relentless in her psychotic attempt to get the baby from the pregnant Sarah, but Sarah proves she’s up to the task of defending herself when she fights back. It’s a completely unpredictable film that takes a lot of hard left turns and goes in bloody unexpected places while showing off the inherent ferocity of mothers.

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The Bride, “Kill Bill: Volume 2”

After suffering bullets, blades and blows of all sorts, nothing hits The Bride (Uma Thurman) harder than the shock of seeing the daughter she thought she lost alive and in the care of her great tormentor, Bill (David Carradine). She can even forego her revenge plan for a few hours just to cuddle with her daughter and watch some “Shogun Assassin.” But after all the blood has been spilled and wrongs have been righted, it’s the reunion with her child that provides a salvation for this lioness and provides a new path in life finally filled with fewer corpses and bloody rampages.

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Mama Shark, “Jaws 3D”

Admittedly, “Jaws 3D” is a bad film, but one thing that can’t be denied is that one shark’s fury over the kidnapping (and death) of her baby leads to a lot of trouble for Sea World attendees in this movie. Whether it’s breaking up a waterskiing show, trapping dozens of people underwater in a tube, or even eating a few personnel, Mama Shark proves that hell hath no fury like a mother betrayed, and that such wrath can cross even species levels.

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Mrs. Voorhees, “Friday the 13th”

Definitely not a role model, but still inspiring for her devotion to her child (and her ability to kill a pre-fame Kevin Bacon), Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) shows the maniacal side of motherhood when she metes out her revenge on Camp Crystal Lake’s staff. Proving adept at wielding a knife, arrows and other sharpened instruments, Mrs. Voorhees is a serious threat masquerading as all kindness in a knitted sweater. Heck, even the voices in her head saying “Kill her, Mommy” inspired the “ki, ki, ki, ma, ma, ma” soundtrack that would stay with the series for its duration. True, her son Jason may be more closely associated with the slasher series, but it’s Mrs. Voorhees who kicks things off in style and proves just how dangerous a mom can be.

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Shideh, “Under the Shadow”

This one hasn’t been seen by many people yet as it’s still touring film festivals, but when general audiences get to see the lengths that Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is willing to go to protect her daughter, there will be no question that she belongs on this list. Living in war-torn Iran during the end of the Iran-Iraq conflict, Shideh fends off the sinister plot of a djinn who has invaded their apartment building with an eye on kidnapping her daughter. Shideh takes on not just an unjust, sexist new system of government, but also has to deal with the physical, emotional and mental pain of dealing with this supernatural menace. She also suffers through probably the best jump scare in the last ten years. It’s a great film, and Shideh is a great representation of what moms are willing to do for the ones they love.

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Alice, “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child”

This slot could’ve also gone to another “Nightmare” entry, Heather Lagenkamp in “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,” but it’s very rare to see a teenage mother in a slasher film, let alone one who has already defeated her antagonist and has seemingly grown even more powerful since getting pregnant. Alice (Lisa Wilcox) survived the showdown with Freddy Krueger only to have the boogeyman now haunt the dreams of (and possibly possess?) her unborn son. She faces Hell in saving her son from the clutches of Freddy and is able to defeat the dream stalker by imbuing her child with the strength to take on this otherworldly demon.

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