There’s just something about getting together with family that brings the worst out in people. While we all love our relatives (mostly), getting together during the holiday seasons causes people to go stir crazy. Either because of politics or your new haircut or even your crappy date: there’s no pleasing your family members. Why did you turn out to be such a disappointment?
For this month’s feature, we decided to discuss the worst on-screen families ever committed to film. There’s a treasure trove of crappy families just waiting to be dragged through the mud for their awful qualities. There’s also no better place than start than with the Byrnes family in Meet the Parents.
We might have horror stories from our Thanksgiving or Christmas shindigs, but nothing will ever top Gaylord “Greg” Focker first meeting Jack Brynes in Meet the Parents. How the hell can you even compare to having Robert De Niro as your future father-in-law? Greg just wants to find the right moment to propose to Pam, but her ex-CIA father has other plans in mind.
Unable to trust anyone with his daughter, Jack subjects Greg to a polygraph test, asks him if he can milk his nipples, and repeatedly accuses him of being a pothead. There’s also jokes about him being a male nurse that haven’t aged too well…it’s definitely some dated comedy, to be sure, but the pressure from the situation is palpable.
The story does end on a “happy” note with Jack realizing he’s pushing his daughter away by being so judgmental. In a real world scenario, though, Greg would have vacated the premises and likely called the cops. The things Jack does to him are insane and border on psychotic. The dude not only has cameras hidden around the house, he even breaks into Greg’s supposed luggage to see what he’s hiding.
At least Pam’s mother, Dina, seems supportive. Too bad she doesn’t stop Jack’s paranoid behavior before causing Greg and Pam so much grief. The rest of the family (which mostly consists of Pam’s sister’s fiance’s friends) all get in on the jokes and misery, too. Just being attached to this family sucks. I have no idea how Greg managed to eventually start a family with Pam.
Shrek 2 – Fiona’s Family
Shrek is one of the most delightful animated films ever made. It is hilarious and beautiful while simultaneously being a scathing indictment of Disney fairy tales. It helped define my generation’s tastes (I prefer we be called the Shrek Generation instead of Millennials). A proper sequel should have been impossible…and yet, Shrek 2 may actually be the better film! It opens up the world and gives us new characters to spend time with. It adds dimension to the characters we already know and love. But what it does best is give Fiona a terrible family.
When Shrek and Fiona arrive in the kingdom of Far, Far Away, her parents are immediately cruel to Shrek. Their disappointment also extends to their daughter, who is now permanently ugly! Of course, this is all within the context that these same parents locked Fiona in a tower for most of her life just because she was ugly at night. Furthermore, Harold is in a tight spot because he promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to Prince Charming, all so that Harold himself could have his own happy ending.
When he realizes this is impossible because Fiona is now married, he tries to have his new son-in-law assassinated! To be fair, Queen Lillian was not privy to all of this. Of the things she did know about, she completely enabled and supported Harold in his terrible parenting.
Truly, King Harold and Queen Lillian embody every abusive, controlling, neglectful, and disappointed parent in the world. Just another part of growing up in the Shrek Generation. –Jordan Bracken
The Shining – The Torrance’s
The Torrance’s have to be one of the worst families in movie history. What other family has an alcoholic, murderous father with a bad case of writer’s block in a snowed-in hotel built on Native American burial ground? I don’t knowwhich of those factors is the most terrifying. On second thought, definitely the writer’s block. Shivers.
Wendy and Danny aren’t as bad by comparison. Danny does have some fault as his shining seems to amplify what is going on in the hotel. Those ghosts love them some steam. Wendy is the innocent one in this situation, what with having to deal with the torment of Stanley…I mean Jack throughout his career change.
They start out fine with Jack just interviewing for a job that includes room and board for his family. So far, so good. He takes his family to live in a resort. Way to go, Jack. Weeks go by and writer’s block continues. Frustrating, but nothing alarming. Jack’s beginning to act irrationally. Hmm. Jack starts seeing ghosts. Wendy suggests taking their small child away from the eerie hotel. Mom points for Wendy. Jack has typed his manifesto of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Time to run for your lives, family!
Most of the blame for this family rests on Jack’s shoulders since he is the one talking to ghosts and wielding an axe. This naturally begs the question: why did no one see this coming? He is played by Jack Nicholson after all. The second Danny saw the twins or even going into Room 237 he should’ve said there was asbestos in the walls and they had to get out due to negligent buildings ordinances. Lessons learned, axe foiled. Families that shine together don’t become axe murdering icicles together.
It’s all Lloyd’s fault anyways. –John Morey
Home Alone – The McCallister’s
There have been a lot of dysfunctional families that fight and prank and are awful to each other in films. But you know how I define the worst movie family? The family that leaves their child behind to be murdered not once…but twice (and other times which are in sequels I will not mention).
Yes… the McCallister’s are, as my friend Jean-Ralphio would say, are the Wo-oo-oo-rst!
Leave your child behind once, shame on you, leave your child behind twice, maybe you should be in jail! Sure accidents happen, but after studying how Kevin’s brothers and sisters treated him you start to ask yourself: maybe, just maybe they left him behind on purpose? It is sad when borderline homeless burglars show more respect and attention to Kevin than anyone of his family showed.
Home Alone may be a childhood classic, but it’s more of a diagram on how your family should never be. It is probably the best advertisement for SimpliSafe ever, though! –Nathan McVay
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – The Sawyer Family
I know, it might be low-hanging fruit to pick a family of serial killing cannibals and do the ol’ “You and your friends might be their turducken!” gag—but the Sawyer clan is so goddamn annoying that I think their dinner table is the best place to end up. Whether it be Drayton shouting and raging, ruining the mood of any occasion, or Chop Top raving about the war and eating his own dead skin as an appetizer, you’re going to be hurting to find any good company at the table.
Then, you have to deal with Nubbins, the hitchhiker, going on and on about how great Grandpa is. And you just simply don’t have the heart to tell him Grandpa kind of sucks and he really needs to be in a home. I’d wager dinner with Sawyers is more like dinner with your own extended family than you’d care to admit.
On top of that, The Next Generation shows us just how Millennials ruin their parents’ traditions. You still got all the same screaming rage, but with robo-leg Matthew McConaughey now gigging for the Illuminati—clearly a critique on how we’re all living off technology and throwing away our livelihoods to faceless mega-corporations.
Worst of all, though, is that these Sawyers don’t even kill and eat people anymore. That means you’re gnoshing on crappy cold pizza for dinner and not even some of Drayton’s award-winning meat. –Kyle Yadlosky
Mommie Dearest – Joan Crawford
While there’s something to be said about the worst families ever shown on film, it’s an entirely different matter when those awful families actually existed. We can laugh at how terrible these families are or be scared to death by them, but for my money there’s nothing quite as terrifying as a family that was actively awful and damaging to others around them. And by family, I mean mother. And by mother, I mean Joan Crawford.
Joan Crawford was the definition of Hollywood Royalty for most of the 40’s and 50’s, living the life of glamour and luxury afforded to her by her status. While revered in her day, it wasn’t until the 1970’s when her daughter, Christina Crawford, published a tell-all novel about how her mother was abusive, emotionally manipulative, and a generally awful human being. That memoir was later made into a movie, and thus I can say that if any of these allegations are true, then Joan Crawford isn’t just one of the worst parents in movie history, but a horrible person behind the camera.
If the claims from Mommie Dearest are true, then Crawford can definitely be guilty of beating her children, most infamously with wire hangers, showing them hardly any love, writing them out of her will, and -my personal favorite- using the funds that Christina made from her time as an actress for her own personal expenses while denying Christina money for basic expenses like food and rent. All in all, mother of the century! –Jesse Lab
Arrested Development – The Bluths
Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) is an impeccable, all-round nice guy. He’s devoted to his son, George-Michael (Michael Cera). He’s an astute businessman, taking care of all of his employees. And, even after the death of his wife, he’s coping okay, doing his best. It’s just a shame about the rest of the family.
Arrested Development, over the course of its five seasons (admittedly with a 13-year hiatus in the middle), plunges right into the depths of a dysfunctional family dynamic. Whether it’s George-Michael’s illicit love for his cousin Maeby (Alia Shawkat); his beautiful aunt Lindsay’s (Portia Rossi) disastrous marriage to confused Tobias Fünke (David Cross); the antics of magician uncle Gob (Will Arnett) or his incapable uncle Buster (Tony Hale); or the marriage of manipulative Lucille (Jessica Walter) to tax-evading businessman and crook George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), the extremely wealthy family have it all going on. After the family business is revealed to be in ruins after years of comfortable living, they show themselves to be selfish and amoral, using everyone and everything to get what they want.
You might already know that some have read the Bluths as a prescient allegory for the Trumps and their rise to White House power. Whether it’s creating a fallible real-estate empire, electing one of their own as a politician, or plastering their name over everything they can see, the Bluths are perhaps more like the Trumps than creator Mitch Hurwitz bargained for when he penned the story of a deeply flawed, manipulative, and feral bunch of lunatics. Still, the deplorable family makes good TV and Ron Howard’s iconic voice over never fails to keep you right up to speed with their antics. — Sian Francis-Cox
Monster in-Law – Viola Fields
When you first tune into Jennifer Lopez’s Monster-in-Law, you really have no idea what you are getting yourself into (unless, of course, you watched the many trailers leading up to release). It starts out easy enough: girl meets boy, they fall in love, get engaged, and then itistime to meet his mom. In this case, his mom isn’t just any mom: she is a former hit television personality who just suffered a very public mental breakdown on live television mom.
Viola is played by the amazing Jane Fonda and boy did she give a whole new meaning to the term “mother-in-law.” Viola is extremely overprotective of her only son, Kevin, who has fallen in love with JLo‘s character, Charlotte. In her eyes, Charlotte is not worthy of the love from her successful doctor son.
So what does this woman straight out of “the loony bin” do? She tries to break the couple up. She goes so far as to have Charlotte’s DNA tested, has a background search done, and even tries to poison her with nuts (that she is highly allergic too) at her own rehearsal dinner. Charlotte gets her own revenge on Viola, however, once Kevin is away and it is hilarious to watch. Of all the crazy movie families out there, she 100% takes the cake -you even see her in a dream sequence get her head smashed into one by JLo‘s character.
This film is honestly one I can watch over and over again and continue to laugh at. The antics of both characters are just so over the top that this could only be something done in a movie. I do truly believe there are people like Viola out there and pray no one reading this article has ever encountered one. If you have, then just run. Run very far.
If you haven’t seen this comedy already, I suggest you watch it with your family this Thanksgiving. It just may make you a little more thankful that you don’t have someone as crazy as Viola Fields in your life. A word of caution to those in the dating scene…please sure the mother is sane. — Tarah Bleier
Only God Forgives – The Thompson Family
It’s the Holiday season, right? We’re all getting together, reconnecting with friends, affirming our places in the world, seeing family we might not have seen in awhile, breaking bread! While doing so, you might grumble to yourself, “I swear if I have to listen to Uncle So-and-So’s politics over poultry for another minute I’m going to scream.” Before you shout into oblivion, at least be grateful you’re breaking bread and not bones.
The Thompson criminal family of Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2013 western-by-way-of-a-mystical-Thai-crime-story, Only God Forgives, is basically about a mother and her two sons all at each other’s throats for 90 minutes. Julian (Ryan Gosling) and Billy (Tom Burke) are drug smugglers and murderers, yet almost pale in comparison to the Lady Macbeth that is Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), who runs the show with vitriol to spare. If the commissioned shootings and brutal murder of prostitutes wasn’t enough, maybe the weird oedipal complex the boys share with their mother is enough to make you pass on dessert. “Mama’s boy” indeed…
If you did need to share a table with one or several of the Thompsons, at least your evening would be neatly-framed, neon-lit, and probably very, very quiet. Until someone cuts an appendage or two off. That’s one way to shed some of those Holiday pounds! –Sam van der Meer
Matilda – The Wormwood’s
Harry and Zinnia Wormwood are the epitome of terrible parents. Instead of encouraging their young daughter Matilda’s inquisitive mind, they toss her books aside and treat her with such little regard that they don’t even know how old she is. They focus on an overuse of hair products and their raised-by-TV son who is next in line to take over the family’s shady car business. When Matilda expresses an interest in going to school, her father sardonically squashes those desires because he needs her to stay at home and sign for his deliveries (what?). A mind is a terrible thing to waste, and things looked grim for young Matilda.
Fortunately, her mind is far from wasted. Her parents finally let her chase her educational dreams after Harry sells the principal a car in exchange for Matilda’s admittance into the school (again, what?). Not only is her dad trading favors to get Matilda out of the house (you know, after she blows up the TV and puts peroxide and in her father’s hair products before gluing his hat on his head), but the FBI is investigating his highly questionable car dealership. Harry Wormwood is not just a terrible parent—enabled by his equally terrible wife—but he’s got the feds snooping around and risking the future of his family. What a winner!
With the heat nipping at his heels, Harry takes the family and flees to Guam (a U.S. territory where the FBI has jurisdiction, leading to our final..what?), but does his daughter a solid by giving custody of Matilda to her favorite teacher. That gives him one less mouth to worry about, not that he ever worried much about her to begin with. — Nick Hershey
Star Wars – The Skywalker’s
Oi, these guys. You ever have family drama so intense that it ripples throughout all of goddamn space? I give you the “Skywalker clan.” From humble origins with an immaculate conception from a slave on Tatooine, the Skywalker’s soon became probably the most powerful family in the entire galaxy, for better or worse (more so the latter). From the original Star Wars trilogy, we know of Luke, Leia, and Han Solo as heroes…but really, it was all in service of cleaning up the mess that Anakin Skywalker left behind.
Because of his lust and attachment, Anakin gave rise to a brutal and totalitarian regime and basically became the top space Nazi S.S. officer as the Galactic Empire’s iron fist. It would take over two decades until Anakin regained a conscience and it was through a quite violent family therapy session where his son was getting electroshocked by their counterproductive therapist. But hey, they make amends I suppose, and Luke can go on with the knowledge that Leia is his sister even though they totally macked on each other a while back.
So thirty years later and all is well, right? Well, Han and Leia’s marriage basically deteriorated after their edgy emo son had a giant murderous tantrum, and Luke peace’d out after blaming himself. Now, ol’ Ben Solo is following in the footsteps of his grandfather in totally screwing over the galaxy as Kylo Ren and we’re back to where we started. Not only that, but this knucklehead thought that brutally killing Han Solo would solve his daddy issues and then he goes on a bloodthirsty quest for his uncle.
“The Skywalker Saga,” they call it. “The Screwup Saga,” more like. — Chris Compendio
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – Every Family (Except the Buckets)
Oompa loompa doompety dee
This story is full of bad families
Oompa loompa Clifford Odets
Well, okay, maybe not the Buckets
What do you get when you enable your child?
Caving and spoiling and letting them run wild?
An inflated sense of self-entitlement
A sociopath who won’t relent
No one likes an asshole
Oompa loompa living room/den
Don’t raise your kids like you’re their best friend
Oompa loompa doompety doo
They will only walk all over you
Do you want your child drowned in a chocolate moat?
Or having an extreme case of intestinal bloat?
Or falling down a chute like a bunch of trash?
Getting shrunk smaller than a wad of cash?
Trust me, you don’t want that
Oompa loompa doompety da
Be a good parent and your kids will go far
Your family will live in happiness too
I think the Oompa Loompas should unionize
Doompety do…Doompety do!
– Hubert Vigilla