We all know a certain genre of movie well, even if we can’t exactly define it: the Dad Movie. I almost added a trademark symbol after “Dad Movie” because it’s a phrase that calls up such a clear picture in your head. You may not be able to precisely define a Dad Movie, because it isn’t strictly limited to one genre, but you absolutely know one when you see one. The Dad Movie is less a specific genre and more a state of mind, a hodge-podge of various elements that are brewed together to result in a tone that is the Dad-est of Dad Things.

We know, for example, that almost all war movies are Dad Movies, but not all Dad Movies are war movies. 110% of the time – and this is arguably the only constant – Dad Movies feature an overwhelmingly male cast, or at the least, men are the protagonists. And those men are almost always a guy’s idea of “cool” or vaguely aspirational in some way. They almost always take themselves seriously and there are often elements of the political thriller, crime/Mafia storylines, Westerns or sports. They’re sometimes historical – but only if it’s not set in the Regency or Victorian eras. There’s always, always some kind of action, but not action that’s R-rated. The Dad Movie is one you can likely put on in the background and not have to pay close attention to in order to get the gist and be entertained. Rudy, Gladiator, just about any Clint Eastwood movie, anything based on a Tom Clancy novel, The Shawshank Redemption – those are Dad Movies. You get where I’m going with this.

But what about the Mom Movie? We (and by “we,” I mean the internet) have spent so much time and so many word counts discussing Dad Movies, yet very rarely do we ever talk about the “Mom Movie.” In fact, when I did a few Google searches before writing this, all I could find were movies about moms or with moms in them – but that’s not the same thing as a Mom Movie. It’s a concept that doesn’t seem to exist, at least not by definitive phrase.

So I aim to change that. There is absolutely a type of movie we know as the Mom Movie. We just haven’t defined and named it as such yet.

That means figuring out what a Mom Movie is and what a Mom Movie isn’t. What elements and themes are part of it? Just like with the Dad Movie, not every Mom Movie will have every one of these elements, but a good Mom Movie has to have at least a few of them. Let’s break it down.

1. It’s Feel-Good Bordering On The Sentimental Or Sappy

First, the Mom Movie is generally not looking to have a complex story or an ambiguous ending. Everybody’s happy at the end and things are neatly resolved. This type of Mom Movie is often an easy, light movie that doesn’t necessarily hold up if you think about it too long, and if it’s based on true events, the reality of the story is almost always glossed over in favor of turning it into an inspirational on the surface, feel-good story: Green Book. Green Book is absolutely a Mom Movie. And the inspirational aspect of a Mom Movie almost always tips over into becoming sentimental and a bit sappy. If it’s a movie about a dog, it’s almost always a Mom Movie. If it’s faith-based, it’s almost always a Mom Movie. If it’s a Hallmark movie, it’s definitely a Mom Movie. Think of it this way: You know those inspirational and saccharine memes your mom (or grandma or aunt or) likes to post on Facebook? Those are the distilled essence of this sort of Mom Movie.

2. It Has One Of Those ‘Nice’ Actors Your Mom Likes

There are certainly actors that women tend to like for their elder statesman sex appeal – if he’s middle-aged and your mom goes, “Oh, he’s so handsome!” every time she sees him, this is that kind of guy. Your Denzel Washingtons, your George Clooneys, your Mark Harmons. They have a little bit of an edge. If he’s younger, your mom probably likes him because of his bulging muscles – Chris Hemsworth is an excellent example of this.

But these aren’t really the kinds of actors I’m talking about. Instead, mean the actors that are just all-around “nice” and often appear in “nice” movies. The affable sort of everyman actors who come across as charming without being seductive, masculine without emanating testosterone, kind without being pushovers. Very importantly, these men don’t have quite the edge required of the sexy elder statesman. They’re just…nice. Think of Tom Hanks. Think of Hugh Jackman. Think of Colin Firth. Think, possibly, of James Marsden. Now think of how your mom feels about them or how she reacts when you bring their name up or she sees them on screen. That’s what I’m talking about. These nonthreatening kings are regular guests on the Mom Movie circle.

3. It 100% Definitely Is A Musical

Movie musicals, especially if based on Broadway musicals, are Mom Movies. That’s it. That’s all. If there’s coordinated song and dance, especially if it’s a happy musical and not one of the tragedies, it’s a Mom Movie. It just is. Mamma Mia! and its sequel, The Greatest Showman, Hairspray, etc. They’re Mom Movies, through and through. The Greatest Showman came out two and a half years ago and my mom still talks about it. Bonus: The last two examples feature aforementioned nice guys Hugh Jackman and James Marsden, respectively, and the first, Meryl Streep – who we’ll get to in a bit.

4. It’s Set In The Georgian Through Edwardian Eras – And It’s British

Oh, man, do American moms love a good British costume drama. You know exactly what I mean when I say “British costume drama” or “period drama.” It seems silly, as every movie ever has involved costuming and every movie set in a very specific time in history is technically a period movie. But the historical time period of Mom Movies occupies the exact space in the historical timeline that Dad Movies ignore, and the historical era of the Dad Movie begins where the historical era of the Mom Movie ends. The break is the First World War. The years immediately before Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot: Edwardian Era. Mom Movies go there. The years immediately after Archduke Ferdinand was shot: World War I. Dad Movies go there.

A Mom Movie that is a period movie has some very specific elements. If it features elaborate gowns and exists in a time before women were allowed to wear pants, it’s a Mom Movie. If it’s set in a time period in which we called it “courting” instead of “dating,” it’s a Mom Movie. If the cast is British and it’s set in England, it’s a Mom Movie. It likely has one of the Dames in it: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, etc. or future Dames Kiera Knightley and Kate Winslet. Downton Abbey, literally any direct Jane Austen adaptation or an adaptation of the Brontës, any movie about Queen Victoria – those are all Mom Movies, too.

5. Meryl Streep Or Julia Roberts Or Bette Midler Are Definitely In It

At least 90% of the filmographies of Meryl, Julia and Bette are Mom Movies. I don’t make the rules. They just are. It’s science.

6. It’s An Irreverent (But Not Raunchy) Female-Led Comedy

Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton in 'First Wives Club'

Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton in ‘First Wives Club’

Moms like to laugh like anyone else. But what makes women, especially moms, laugh is very different than what you’d find in a typical male-oriented comedy. A Mom Movie comedy – which I’ve just decided will be called “momedies” – has female leads and the humor is relatable to women. If there are male characters, they are there to be support, a love interest, or the asshole ex, never the hero or guy who saves the girl. Paul Feig comedies are virtually always Mom Movies; Judd Apatow comedies rarely are. If Sandra Bullock or Melissa McCarthy is in it, it’s definitely a Mom Movie. If it’s a comedy featuring middle-aged or older actresses, it’s a Mom Movie. And, last but not least, if the humor is irreverent enough to give moms a bit of a thrill but doesn’t cross into R-rated, crass and raunchy territory, it’s a Mom Movie. The Heat, Bridesmaids, The First Wives’ Club, Miss Congeniality, Death Becomes Her, Baby Mama, 9 to 5 all share extreme Mom Movie energy.

7. It’s A Slightly Pulpy Thriller – But Never Horror

If there is a network procedural show, guaranteed your mom has watched it. If it’s a campy thriller on Showtime or Oxygen, your mom has watched it. Moms love a thrill and that’s why they absolutely love true crime. But there is a hard and fast line between thrills and outright scares, which is why thrillers are often Mom Movies but horror movies never are. Moms love movies that put women in dangerous situations, as long as those situations are reality-based and have a potential solution. They’re scary-safe. And if there’s a salacious, pulpy tone to it, even better. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, all the Alex Cross movies, Single White Female, Gone Girl and A Simple Favor are all classic examples of the Mom Thriller.

Considering all of the above, there is a perfect Mom Movie hitting theaters next week: Book Club: The Next Chapter. If you’re looking for a perfect flick to treat your mom for Mother’s Day, a movie starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen as four friends going on a trip to Italy is just about perfect.

There are plenty of other elements that go into the films we call Mom Movies, but the above list covers most of them. Are there any other necessary characteristics of a Mom Movie I left off the list?

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