Badass grandmas in TV and movies
Forget the stereotype of an apron-clad grandma baking cookies and playing Bingo — today's grandmas are looking for a little more excitement! And on TV and in movies, they're virtually unstoppable. Whether inventing the perfect sex toy for seniors like Grace and Frankie or poisoning an enemy like Lady Olenna did in Game of Thrones, there's no telling what your favorite onscreen family matriarch is capable of. Keep clicking to see more badass grandmas in pop culture.
Laurie Strode (Halloween 2018)
Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is not your average granny. It may have been 40 years since she survived the murderous clutches of Michael Myers on Halloween, but one thing hasn’t changed over the years: She’s still a fighter. And in Halloween (2018), when the infamous serial killer escapes the mental institution where he’s being held and comes for her, she’s ready for him. As Laurie, Curtis gets to sink her teeth into a fierce character who gets to take some very cathartic stabs at Myers (pun intended) and the film’s denouement calls on all three generations of Strode women to band together to end Myers’ tyranny. And if there’s one thing better than a badass woman, it’s three badass women, all working together. —Lauren Huff
Tyler Perry’s signature creation Mabel “Madea” Simmons is perhaps the definitive “badass grandma.” From her screen debut in Diary of a Mad Black Woman to her (presumably) final farewell in 2019’s A Madea Family Funeral, Madea continuously dispensed life lessons along with her own personal brand of (often violent) justice. Perry created the character as “a cross between my mother and my aunt and watching Eddie Murphy do The Klumps,” explaining, “[My mother] would beat the hell out of you but make sure the ambulance got there in time to make sure they could set your arm back.”
Lady Olenna Tyrell (Game of Thrones)
Game of Thrones’ Tyrell matriarch (played by the late Diana Rigg) never sat on the Iron Throne, but she had her own crown: Queen of Shade. The “tart-tongued” Lady Olenna dished out quips the way GoT dished out death; only she could get away with calling Cersei Lannister “the famous tart.” But her most memorably badass moment came just before her death, when she looked Jaime Lannister straight in the eye and told him she killed his son Joffrey.
Dowager Countess (Downton Abbey)
Of course, if anyone could match Lady Olenna in the snark department, it would be Maggie Smith’s witty Dowager Countess Violet Crawley on Downton Abbey. The Countess’ zingers were a constant highlight of the British drama (“I’ll take that as a compliment.” “I must’ve said it wrong.”), and she could still offer a bit of actual wisdom every now and again, always delivered in her typical stiff-upper-lip fashion.
Grace Hanson and Frankie Bergstein (Grace and Frankie)
The hit Netflix comedy Grace and Frankie features not one but two badass grandmas played by screen legends Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. It follows the titular ladies, who are unlikely friends brought together by the revelation that their husbands are leaving them because they have fallen in love with each other. Forced to live together in their gorgeous beach house, the duo hilariously navigate their new lives, new friendships, and new love interests, firmly reminding us that age is just a number and life is what you make of it.
Grandma Annie (The Proposal)
You didn’t need another reason to love Betty White, but we’ll give you one anyway. As the mischievous grandma or “Gammy” Annie, the actress was a scene stealer in 2009's The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Annie isn’t your typical grandma — unless your grandma also takes you to see male strippers or fakes heart attacks as a strategy to squash family beef. And while this scene might not fly today, we have to thank White for giving us this hilarious moment featuring Bullock’s rendition of Lil Jon’s “Get Low.”
Sophia Petrillo (The Golden Girls)
If we’re spotlighting Betty White, we also have to give a shout-out to her former castmate Estelle Getty as Sophia, Dorothy’s (Bea Arthur) snarky mother and arguably the funniest of The Golden Girls. Well into her 80s, Sophia is still as sharp as a tack. Her deadpan one-liners are so savage, they make you ask, “Did this tiny old woman really just say that?” — before promptly writing them down so you can use them on your nemeses. Sophia has so many classic quotes, but we’re particularly fond of “Your heart’s in the right place, but I don’t know where the hell your brain is” and “Jealousy is a very ugly thing, Dorothy! And so are you, in anything backless.” Zing!
Mary Luckett (Cocoon)
Thanks to her exposure to the mysterious alien life force of the Antareans, Mary Luckett (Maureen Stapleton) is a retirement home resident who has youthful energy in spades, can climb trees at will, and has no fear of aliens. And when she and her husband, Ben (Wilford Brimley), are confronted with the choice to go with the aliens to Antarea, where they will and no longer age and live forever, she takes control of her own destiny fearlessly, like the badass grandma that she is. —LH
Lydia Alvarez (One Day at a Time)
There’s so much to love about Lydia on One Day at a Time — she’s hilarious, tough (she literally turned down death in season 2), and she’s played by the incomparable Rita Moreno. But what we love about her the most, and what makes her an absolute badass, is her refusal to change her boisterous self for anyone, while also being one of the most loyal, open-minded matriarchs on television. When her granddaughter Elena (Isabella Gomez) came out to Lydia, the devout Catholic overcame her homophobia in 30 seconds flat with impressive Bible logic (“Am I going to go against the Pope and God? Who the hell do I think I am?”). If only we could all be as much fun as the salsa-dancing, rum-swigging Lydia when we grow up.
Aurora Greenway (Terms of Endearment)
It takes a badass mom to be a badass grandma, as the eccentric Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) demonstrates in Terms of Endearment. The film follows Aurora’s tumultuous relationship with her daughter Emma (Debra Winger) over a 30-year period. Though Aurora often drives her daughter crazy with her overbearing personality and judgmental ways, it’s clear Aurora loves her daughter more than anything in the world and always has her back. Whether she’s warning Emma against marrying loser Flap (Jeff Daniels) or staying by her side as she battles terminal cancer — screaming at the nurses to “give my daughter the [pain] shot!” — Aurora is a strong-willed woman who always stays true to who she is… even when she finally gives into a romance with her cocky next-door neighbor Garrett (Jack Nicholson). In the ultimate act of selflessness, Aurora agrees to raise her three grandchildren after Emma dies. Now that’s badass. So was MacLaine's performance, which earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1984.
Mamaw (Hillbilly Elegy)
In the film adaptation of J.D. Vance’s best-selling memoir Hillbilly Elegy, Glenn Close expertly portrays a real-life badass grandma — Mamaw — who steps in to take care of her two grandchildren when her drug-addicted daughter Bev (Amy Adams) can no longer properly do so. Mamaw’s version of grandmotherly love is more the tough kind than hugs and baked goods, but her love for her family is fierce. She’ll give you the shirt off her back or the food off her plate, but cross her or anyone in her family, and she’ll come after you faster than you can say “yeehaw!”