From Mommie Dearest to Tami Taylor: The 20 Best & Worst Pop Culture Mothers

This Mother's Day, you'll probably be honoring the maternal figures in your life for all the very unique ways in which they've cared for you. And yet, motherhood is a job that everyone's always trying to endow with specific, uniform qualities and duties. From the Bible to advice columns, sitcoms to Oscar-winning dramas, our culture is flooded with depictions of "perfect" moms...and their opposites. 

On TV, we've seen the traditional housewives — your Carol Bradys and June Cleavers — make way for hardworking mamas who certainly don't succeed at having it all, like Tami Taylor (bow down to Connie Britton!) and Black-ish's Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross). But, the small screen is also the perfect place to see stage moms in action (hi, Kris!) and ambitious queens put their children in danger (oops, Cersei!). Movies love a good self-sacrificing martyr as much as a terrifying beast, regardless of era. Mommie Dearest can still make us cower. Sarah Connor fights on for the future of the human race.
 

We've ranked just a tiny sampling of all the mothers of pop culture, from the most feared to the most beloved. While you're reading, call your mom!
    
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Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
The Terrorist Spy: Maya Pope/Marie Wallace (Khandi Alexander) On Scandal
What was Maya/Marie like when Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) was growing up? She couldn't have been all that bad, considering how Liv turned out. But, she was also a very good liar who married Eli "Rowan" Pope to spy on the CIA operative and sell secrets to the highest bidder. She still claims to love her daughter, but she's not above killing everyone around her if it's necessary. (See also: Alias' Irina Derevko.)
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Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
The Abusive Fundamentalist: Margaret (Piper Laurie and Julianne Moore) In Carrie
In Stephen King's novel as well as both movie adaptations, Margaret's religious fundamentalism is the root of everything that goes wrong for the teenage Carrie, who doesn't even know what menstruation is. After being repeatedly locked in a closet for her sins at home, the girl was bound to release her frustrations one way or another. And, oh yeah, we don't exactly approve of Margaret's solution for her daughter's deadly telekinesis, either.
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Photo: Courtesy of Paramount.
The Abusive Alcoholic: Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) In Mommie Dearest
"No wire hangers, ever!" Even if you've never sat through all of the 1980 biopic based on Christina Crawford's memoir, you know the line, which comes when the actress wakes her adopted daughter in the middle of the night and beats her with the offending objects. It's a tragic tale all around, though one hopes that a better understanding of mental illness, addiction, and abuse, might have helped.
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Photo: Courtesy of Twitter.
The Pageant Mom: Mama June In Here Comes Honey Boo Boo
Is being a pushy stage mom somehow worse when you're tacky? That's what we've asked ourselves when cringing at Toddlers and Tiaras and Dance Moms. But, that was nothing compared to the nausea when it came out that Mama June was dating a registered child molester.
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Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
The Queen Mother/Aunt: Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) In Game Of Thrones
On the subject of inappropriate (or worse) relationships: Cersei's kids are the result of her incestuous relations with her twin brother. She does a lot in the name of protecting her children, the supposed heirs to the Iron Throne, and yet she looks like she's grabbing for her own seat of power, too.
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Photo: Courtesy of Matt Baron/BEImages.
The Momager: Kris Jenner In Keeping Up With the Kardashians
She says she cried herself to sleep when Kim's sex tape became public, but oh, did Jenner figure out how to make lemonade out of those salacious lemons. As much as we love to follow her family's every move, we can't deny she's making a pretty penny from exposing them to nonstop fame. Just ask Rob what kind of toll that can take on a person.
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Photo: Courtesy of Showtime.
The Accidental Criminal Mom: Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) In Weeds
The premise of this show is a cautionary tale for all stay-at-home moms: Have a backup career or a really big life insurance plan for your husband, so you don't have to turn to drug-dealing to keep your family afloat if he dies. This alone wouldn't be terrible if Nancy's career didn't escalate into involvement with a major Mexican drug cartel, putting her kids in nonstop danger.
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Photo: Courtesy of FOX.
The Selfish Socialite: Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter) In Arrested Development
The biggest mystery of this comedy remains: How did a selfish, vain woman like Lucille wind up with four children? Probably because she had to keep trying until she could get sycophantic son Buster. And, also because it's funny as hell. (See also: Walter as Malory on Archer.)
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Photo: Courtesy of Fox.
The Crazed Holiday Mom: Kate McCallister (Catherine O'Hara) In Home Alone
We don't care how many people have been visiting our house or how late for our flight we are, there's no way we'd ever be able to board a flight without noticing one of our children was missing. (Now, purposely leaving a brat behind is another story. JK!) She kind of makes up for it in her many efforts to get back to little Kevin...until she does it again one year later.
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Photo: Courtesy of Paramount.
The "Cool" Mom: Mrs. George (Amy Poehler) In Mean Girls
"There are NO rules in the house. I'm not like a regular mom, I'm a cool mom," the overeager mom of Regina George (Rachel McAdams) tells the Plastics, offering them drinks and possibly alcohol. Knowing how Regina has turned out with an upbringing like this is enough to make us all pledge to be regular and extra-uncool with our children.
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Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
The Strict, Old-World Mom: Carmen Garcia (Lupe Ontiveros) In Real Women Have Curves
Anyone with a Latin mother knows there's no love fiercer and no wrath scarier than a mama's. Carmen's love can look a lot like oppression: She constantly criticizes her daughter Ana (America Ferrera) about her weight, and doesn't understand why she wants to leave home for college across the country. It's all coming from the right place, of course, but thank goodness her daughter knows when to rebel.
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Photo: Courtesy of NBC Universal.
The Harried City Mom: Carolyn (Alfre Woodard) In Crooklyn
So, she yells and screams at her kids and makes them clean the kitchen in the middle of the night. A working mother of five with a broke musician husband is entitled to crack once in a while. When the dust has settled, it's clear she's wholly motivated by love for her brood, and...oh god, this screen is really blurry now that we remember the end of this movie.
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Photo: Courtesy of Paramount.
The Unlucky-In-Love Single Mother: Olivia (Patricia Arquette) In Boyhood
It's hard enough to raise two kids on your own and go back to college — Olivia manages to complicate matters with a particularly awful string of husbands and boyfriends. But, through the course of 12 years, we can see that she does a pretty damn good job bringing up Mason and Samantha, so brava, lady.
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Photo: Courtesy of The CW.
The Matured Teen Mom: Xiomara Villanueva (Andrea Navedo) In Jane The Virgin
Maybe Xo could have been the next Paulina Rubio if she hadn't gotten pregnant with Jane, but she doesn't resent her daughter for it. In many ways, she's never matured past age 16 — and still dresses like she is — and the results can be embarrassing. Her lighthearted approach to life, though, is what helps Jane roll with the punches (like, you know, her own surprise pregnancy). (See also: Lorelai Gilmore.)
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Photo: Courtesy of Paramount.
The Reluctant Grandmother: Terms Of Endearment's Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine)
This widow only wants what's best for her daughter Emma (Debra Winger), but that often comes off as meddling and disapproving, especially with regard to Emma's cheating husband. Still, she comes through for her daughter when it really counts, which is what mothers are for.
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Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
The Dorky Working Mom: Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross) In Black-ish
Nope, Bow does not make balancing being a mother of four and an anesthesiologist look easy, and that's exactly why she's great. We don't need her to be Claire Huxtable-perfect; we need her to be just real enough to be funny. And just hippie-dippie goofy enough to balance out some of the real racial and family issues she faces.
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Photo: Courtesy of NBC Universal.
The Second-Act Career Mom: Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) In Friday Night Lights'
Though she starts off the series as "the coach's wife," a stay-at-home mom and the Dillon Panthers' biggest cheerleader, Tammy decides to stop putting her own dreams on hold and relaunches her career, even with a surprise second baby. And, she doesn't stop filling in for the mothers of her and her husband's troubled students. It's not a smooth ride, but she's a shining inspiration to working moms everywhere.
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Photo: Courtesy of NBC Universal.
The Martyr: Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore) In Imitation of Life
If you've never seen this 1959 melodrama, we suggest fast-forwarding through most of the Lana Turner stuff and watching every single minute of the story of Annie (Juanita Moore) and her daughter Sarah Jane, who's "lucky" enough to be light-skinned like her absent father, and tries to pass as white. Annie breaks her back for her little girl, who only sees how much her mother's dark skin is holding her back, until it's too late.
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Photo: Courtesy of MGM.
The Protector: Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) In The Terminator
What would your reaction be to finding out the child you're not even carrying yet is one day going to save the human race? And then, having to fight seemingly indestructible robots to keep your little boy alive? Yep, we'd curl up into a little ball too. But not this badass single mama. The world thanks you.
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Photo: Courtesy of Paramount.
The Sitcom Mom: Carol Brady (Florence Henderson) In The Brady Bunch
While everyone else around her gets to make mistakes or come up with harebrained ideas, the idealized homemaker is always there with practical advice and a warm smile. Does she even complain about giving up her career to raise a family? Does she wonder what possessed her to marry a man with three boys of his own? Does she drink an entire bottle of wine while making dinner? That, friends, is where the real humor of this situation lies. (See also: Leave It to Beaver's June Cleaver, Donna Reed, etc.)
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