The Scariest (and Most Traumatic) Mom Movies: ‘Talk to Me,’ ‘Coraline,’ ‘Mommie Dearest,’ and More

[Editor’s note: this list was originally published in May 2023. It has since been updated with new entries in honor of Mother’s Day 2024.]

Movies offer an excellent excuse to ruminate on your deepest fears, and they’re certainly cheaper than therapy. So if you’re struggling with some deep mommy issues, why not cue up a matriarchal tale of terror and sort through some of that trauma in style?

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Auteurs have been hashing out their issues with their mothers on the big screen for decades, to varying degrees of success. Consider mother-centric horror as its own subgenre, and you’ll notice there’s a tendency among filmmakers to take more than one stab at the thorny subject matter. Alfred Hitchcock used the real crimes of serial killer Ed Gein and added a profoundly morbid murder of a mother at a motel to brilliantly realize Norma and Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) for his exquisite “Psycho” in 1960, of course. But he’d whipped up something just as insidiously spectacular with Leopoldine Konstantin for his earlier “Notorious”: a 1945 spy thriller set against the wreckage of World War II and centered around the duplicitous relationship between an aristocratic mother and son (Claude Rains).

More recently, Ari Aster busted onto the indie filmmaking scene with 2018’s “Hereditary”: a head-spinning Toni Collette triumph about reckless driving, generational grief, and Pagan cults. It’s a motherly nightmare so disturbing it accidentally kicked off the so-called “elevated” horror movement, and seemed certain to go down as Aster’s definitive stance on mother-kid dynamics. That was before he delivered this spring’s bonkers Jewish epic “Beau Is Afraid” with Joaquin Phoenix and Patti LuPone performing the archetypal Oedipal struggle at its most extreme and cinematic.

From a terrifying mommy Deadite in Lee Cronin’s bloody “Evil Dead Rise,” to Pamela Voorhees’ history-making part in the original “Friday the 13th,” and, yes, even Mother Gothel being spooky, sinister, and singy in “Tangled,” the following mom movies represent some of the most effective and fun attempts to unpack fraught mother-kid relationships ever. We’ve recently added Danny and Michael Philippou’s “Talk to Me”: so the spoiler-wary may want to speed past that entry. These flicks certainly won’t make you cookies, but they’re perfect for when you just don’t want to pick up the phone.

Listed in no particular order, here are 22 of the most traumatic mom movies. You’ll notice titles that are sad but not scary (think 1998’s “Stepmom”) have been excluded — as have horror movies with maternal elements that aren’t ultimately about specific parent-child relationships (think “Mother!”)

With editorial contributions by Christian Blauvelt, Alison Foreman, and Christian Zilko.

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