Aliens, Panic Room, and Poltergeist are very different movies on the surface: The first one’s scifi, the second’s a thriller and the third is a horror flick. But in fact, these three have something important in common. They all fall into the oft-ignored microgenre of the mother protector movie. Consider it a hybrid of Halloween and Steel Magnolias, a female-powered thriller that features a leading lady who must be a little bit Jamie Lee Curtis and a little bit Sally Field. From the former, you get tension (mother and babe must run from danger); from the latter you get emotion (mother will protect child at any cost).
Even if Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is not Newt’s birth mother in Aliens, her mama bear instincts kick in when the going gets tough nevertheless. Jodie Foster’s Meg Altman risks her life against murderous thieves in order to get her diabetic daughter medication. In Poltergeist, Diane Freeling (JoBeth Williams) travels to the other side to rescue her youngest child. Suffice to say, in all instances, mom is the best possible ally because she’s biologically programmed to protect.
Movie marketers love mama bear movies for their demographic appeal: Men get their fill of action; women their role models. That your everyday Jane Doe is unlike to combat extraterrestials, a trio of thieves or televised ghosts is neither here nor there. Foster did it again with Flightplan; Weaver in the Alien: Resurrection sequel and JoBeth Williams in When Danger Follows You Home. When it works, it’s worth repeating.