In 'Black Swan,' which opens Friday, Barbara Hershey plays the overbearing mom of fragile ballet dancer Natalie Portman. She reminds her daughter she gave up her own dance career to raise her and now micro-manages her daughter's life, including clipping her fingernails for her.
Overly demanding stage mothers are as much a part of showbiz as backstabbing costars, the casting couch and the eventual trip to rehab. In honor (or dishonor) of scary puppet-master parents, we're shining the spotlight on overachieving mothers, fathers and even a sister who'd stop at nothing to make sure that little Tony or Tina becomes a superstar.
7. 'Strictly Ballroom' (1994)
Baz Luhrmann's first film isn't just the story of a rebellious young dancer Scott Hastings (Paul Mercutio) who tries to introduce (gasp!) new steps and the shy young fan named Fran who becomes his partner. It's also the story of Scott's ambitious mother and has-been father, who were once a successful dance team, until (so the story goes) his father tried making up his own dances. Of course, Paul ends up defying his mom and finding secret support from his dad to do things his own way.
6. 'Wimbledon' (2004)
He's battled dinosaurs and chopped off Holly Hunter's finger, so Sam Neill's a rather intimidating figure. Even when he's sporting an unconvincing American accent as the hard-core coach/father of American tennis sensation Kirsten Dunst, who wants to make sure that no "distractions," like a washed-up British tennis star (Paul Bettany), draw her focus from the game.
5. 'Drop Dead Gorgeous' (1999)
In this beauty pageant spoof, Ellen Barkin and Kirstie Alley play mothers of rival contestants, (Kirsten Dunst and Denise Richards), who pull out all the stops to prove her daughter is the toast of of Mount Rose, Minnesota. The accents are heavy, the hair is huge and the competition is cutthroat, literally! More than one beauty bites the dust as these girls vie for the tiara, egged on to extremes by their chain-smoking mamas.
4. 'I'll Cry Tomorrow' (1955)
Susan Hayward stars as real-life singing star Lillian Roth, whose ambitious mother pushed her onto the stage at a young age. (Mommie Dearest here is played by Jo Van Fleet, who won an Oscar for playing an equally cruel mother the same year in 'East of Eden.') Here's a clip of the moment where a now-alcoholic Lillian snaps: "You're still trying to make me do what you want, to be what you want." Mama apologizes, in a way, but insists, "Do you know what kind of life I had? You don't know at all what I tried to save you from." We cringe when Lillian folds and agrees that Mother always knew best.
4. 'The Hard Way' (1942)
Ida Lupino, one of the toughest dames of the film noir era (she was unfairly called "the poor man's Bette Davis), stops at nothing to ensure that her little sister (Joan Leslie) becomes a star. (The story was inspired by Ginger Rogers and her domineering mother.) Lupino received a 'Best Actress' award from the New York Critics' Association, but never got notice from Oscar for this all-out portrayal of ruthless ambition. There's no clip available online, but you can watch TCM's Robert Osborne discuss the film, or check out the film on DVD.
2. 'Shine' (1996)
Armin Mueller-Stahl takes the cake as the most terrifying parental mentor-slash-tormentor on this list, who lives all his lost dreams through his young son, David. His pressure to turn into a world-class pianist turns into abuse that starts (at minute 8:57 in the clip below) with: "You're a very lucky boy. My father never let me have music." As if that's not creepy enough, he makes young David repeat, "I am a very lucky boy." David (played as an adult by Geoffrey Rush) did go on to become a famous pianist in real life, but only after a spectacular mental breakdown, caused, in no small part, thanks to dear old Dad.
1. 'Gypsy' (1962)
Burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee's mom was the stage mother to end all stage mothers. Mama Rose (Rosaline Russell) first pushed her youngest daughter to becoming a star and ignored eldest Louise. But when Louise (Natalie Wood) blossomed from a boyish teen into a knockout, suddenly Mama attempted to take credit. Cue the famous speech, delivered passionately by Natalie Wood: "Mama look at me now. I'm a star! Look! Look how I live! Look at my friends! ... I'm having the time of my life! Because for the first time, it is my life! And I love it. ... And I'll be damned if you're gonna take it away from me!"