I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.
Narcissistic mothers take a toll on their children, especially on their daughters. It's a cycle of abuse which continues for many generations, with the narcissist's children exhibiting the same toxic behaviors of their mothers while adding a few new ones of their own. It continues until someone recognizes and acknowledges the abuse and decides it will stop with them.
I am one of those people. For more than 40 years I believed I was the sole cause of my family's dysfunction; especially as related to the tumultuous relationship between Mother and I. As I learned, through the support and encouragement of excellent therapists, I was simply one more branch on a disordered personality family tree.
During one of my sessions, my therapist handed me a list of movies she recommended I watch and compare the characters to those in my own family. However, instead of watching from the perspective I was the problem, I viewed them while clearing considering the behaviors of the mothers.
Although there were several movies on the list, the following seven movies are I felt best exhibited life as the child of a narcissist personality disordered mother.
1. Mommie Dearest (1981)
Probably the most famous of all movies ever created about the toxic narcissistic mother/daughter relationship is the 1981 film Mommie Dearest starring Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford.
Adapted to screenplay from the 1978 biography published by Joan's daughter, Christina Crawford recounts life with her high-profile actress mother. Christina recalls in great detail, her mother's alcoholism, psychotic rages, and her obsessive-compulsive cleaning habits.
2. Black Swan (2010)
Unlike the other movies on the list, Black Swan uses a great deal of symbolism to represent the effects of a personality disordered mother on her daughter.
Nina Sayer is an up and coming ballerina raised by a single mother. Eric is bitter she gave up her ballet career to raise her daughter and now lives vicariously through Nina, demanding perfection. As a result, Nina is timid and lacks self-esteem but all of her anger and frustration come to the surface when she believes another ballerina is trying to steal her leading dance role.
3. Terms of Endearment (1983)
Jack Nicholson, Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Danny DeVito, Jeff Daniels, and John Lithgow make up a top-notch cast of family members suffering from all sorts of personality disorders.
Aurora Greenway (MacLaine) is a smothering narcissistic mother as evidenced in one of the first scenes. A new mother, Aurora fears her infant daughter will stop breathing in her crib; once going as far as to attempt climbing into the crib to check, instead waking a sleeping Emma (Winger).
The movie continues to follow Emma's life as she grows up with Aurora, whose always sticking her nose in where it doesn't belong, and her struggles to be her own person.
Terms of Endearment is one of the best movies out there exhibiting personality disorders among those we love and how we are attracted to people with those same traits. The story isn't all doom and gloom, there are many comical scenes where you'll find yourself laughing until you cry.
4. August Osage County (2013)
August Osage County is more contemporary yet another great film to focus on the effects of this disorder on adult children and their spouses, as well as grandchildren.
When their father commits suicide while their mother is undergoing treatment for cancer, sisters Barbara, Karen, and Ivy return home to help with arrangements and take care of their mother. Rather than coming together in their grief, however, this family does what dysfunctional families do best: fight. About everything.
The final scene is a strong message to narcissistic parents about the consequences of their behavior. Sadly, most narcissists either argue it or claim not to understand it.
5. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002)
Do you have a narcissistic mother who loves to socialize and talk about the old days with her girlfriends? Have you ever had to go "rescue" your mother because she just can't seem to stay sober or out of trouble? If you answered yes to those questions, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is probably the one to which you'll most relate.
Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Ashley Judd, Fionnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight, James Garner, and Maggie Smith star in this film adapted from the book by the same title. The story focuses on playwrite Siddalee Walker (Bullock), who vaguely discusses her unhappy childhood during an interview with a Time journalist. Those comments, however, would be spun into a tale of abuse and dark family secrets.
When Sidda's mother, Viva reads the article, she is outraged and calls her daughter in New York but she can't speak she's so angry; only banging the phone on the counter repeatedly before hanging up. Sidda takes this as her mother's declaration of war.
Back in Louisiana, Viva's friends, also known as the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, formulate a plan to kidnap Sidda, bring her to Louisiana, and uncover the stories of Viva's life. By doing so, Viva's friends hope she and her daughter will reconcile and have a better relationship.
6. White Oleander (2002)
White Oleander was adapted to screenplay from a book bearing the same title. Both are told from the point of view of 15 year-old Astrid Magnussen (Alison Lohman) who is the daughter of free-spirited, self-centered artist Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer).
When Astrid's father leaves Ingrid before his daughter can even remember him, the young girl has to suffer through a long string of her mother's boyfriends. Ingrid's latest lover, however, is different somehow. When this man cheats on Ingrid, she snaps and kills him.
With her mother sentenced to life in prison, Astrid begins a series of moves to foster homes and a series of traumatic experiences which she comes to realize would have never happened if not for the selfish choices of her mother.
We're designed more for public than for private.
— Suzanne, Postcards From the Edge
7. Postcards From the Edge (1990)
Shirley Maclaine and Meryl Streep fabulously play the roles of a mother and daughter, whom are both suffering from borderline personality disorder - if not outright narcissism, in the 1990 comedy-drama Postcards From the Edge.
Loosely based on late actress Carrie Fisher's relationship with her mother, late actress Debbie Reynolds, the movie focuses on daughter Suzanne (Streep) who is an actress with a serious drug addiction problem. When she overdoses and is forced into rehab, viewers are introduced to her self-absorbed, all-about-image mother, Doris (Maclaine).
I truly hope these movies will be as eye-opening, validating, and healing for you as they were for me.
For more information and support on how to cope with the toxic parent in your life, please visit Out of the Fog. Visitors to the site will find detailed articles, recommended reading and watch lists, support forums, and more resources designed to help adult children of personality disordered parents.
A Nonymous on May 09, 2020:
OMG!! I'm so glad I found this!! These are pictures I've been wanting to see for ages and I keep forgetting about them.
(And you're right about the ones I HAVE seen. For real.)
Kelly Ann Christensen from Overland Park, Johnson County, Kansas on December 22, 2019:
Interesting selections. I chose three of these for my top ten selection of movies for adult sons and daughters of narcissistic families of origin. August Osage County looks interesting. I have not yet seen that one.
Liz Ricord from USA on June 22, 2019:
Thanks for the list. Your comment about believing yourself to be the sole cause of your families dysfunction brought to mind how I said for many years "my family isn't dysfunctional, I'm the only dysfunction in a very functional family"
PoetikalyAnointed on April 28, 2019:
I was blessed to have a beautifully loving and caring Mother. My heart goes out to those who don't.
Great list...I also like Monster-in-law...I know its about a Narc Mom/Son but its a great example of a Narc Mom.
Life without Annette on December 30, 2018:
I was tickled to find this article by Kim Bryan, whose article, “5 Reasons Why Adult Children Estrange From Their Parents,” has spawned a lengthy collection of responses.
I don’t know what it says about me, but Terms of Endearment and Mommie Dearest are two of my favorite movies. Faye Dunaway’s depiction of Joan Crawford just gets more hilarious every time I see it. [Tina...bring me the axe!]
Some other recommendations:
1. Gypsy (1962)
Rosalind Russel plays domineering stage mother, Rose Hovick, to Natalie Woods’ Louise Hovick, who was pushed into stripping by her mother’s obsessive pursuit of fame.
2. Auntie Mame (1958) or Mame (1974)
Mame Dennis becomes mother figure to her orphaned nephew, whom she shoehorns into her very non kid-friendly lifestyle of wild parties, bootleg booze, and international travel. Nephew Patrick is tucked away in boarding schools, with his Aunt Mame becoming little more than a pen pal to him.
3. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
A mother adopts an artificially intelligent child android, whom she programs to bond to her, and then discards him once her biological child awakens from a coma.
Ethel Stone from Kansas City on February 17, 2018:
I am about to share on this very topic. Thank you for this list! I will be revisiting some of these.
sarah on February 16, 2018:
The Young Victoria!
Kw38 on February 13, 2018:
I have watched mommy dearest and it’s a good film one too watch shame for the daughter
Melissa Reese Etheridge from Tennessee, United States on May 29, 2017:
Thank you for such an interesting article. My mother has improved (?) greatly since my father died. I'm not sure why? Hmmm...I should research it and write an article about it.
McKenna Meyers on November 06, 2016:
Some of these I've seen multiple times and some not at all. Thanks for compiling the list. As the daughter of a narcissistic mother, it's great to know I'm not alone and can even laugh at the craziness of it all.