We have long loved Emma Thompson, an Oscar winner we've never quite gotten enough of. But when she first appeared as no nonsense Nanny McPhee, armed with a snaggletooth, warts, body padding and a potato-like nose, we wondered what she was up to. Did the glowing star of "Sense and Sensibility" really want to spend her days playing a circus freak version of Mary Poppins? Apparently so -- "Nanny McPhee Returns," the sequel to "Nanny McPhee," 2005's hit family movie -- arrives in theaters this week.

She's not alone; plenty of award winning actresses have taken charge of children onscreen. Bette Davis tried it. Julie Andrews did it twice, and arguably, achieved her legend status on nanny time. Deborah Kerr, Oscar nominated for her star turn in 1956's "The King and I," took on similar roles in two more movies. What was the lure? Let's face it, it's always good to get to play a woman in command, and back in the day, those roles weren't exactly easy to find in Hollywood. But nannying appeals to contemporary ingenues as well; sexpot Scarlett Johansson gave childcare a whirl in 2007's "The Nanny Diaries," and in her heyday, so did the late Brittany Murphy in the dreadful "Uptown Girls."

Nannies tend to divide into three categories: The first is the creepy nanny, a stock character that tends to come unhinged on duty or take the job to get revenge on a parent. Then there are the love interests, who might go by another name (like maid, or as if often the case, "governess," which we like to think of as being a nanny with homeschooling duties) but who attract the interest of a parent while caring for the child or children. Then there are the wise and benevolent types, often portrayed by people of color, and without whom, their charges would be hopelessly lost. We confess that we have a soft spot for those nannies, especially for ladies like McPhee and Poppins, who occasionally use a spot of magic to get through the drudgery of childcare. Here are nine others who knocked the nanny role out of the park.
9. Mia Farrow in "The Omen" (2006)

It's not a good sign for a horror movie when the nanny is scarier than the child of Satan, but despite our overall reservations about this slick remake of the 1970s camp classic, we couldn't resist putting Farrow as Nanny Baylock on this list. It's diabolically good stunt casting. Who had "Rosemary's Baby?" And who, besides Angelina Jolie, is more famous for adopting stray children? Farrow! Finally, that trademark whispering sweetness of hers is so delightfully horrifying within this context. "I'm the family nanny," she says to a nurse at the hospital, visiting the mother (Julia Stiles) Damien has just pushed off a balcony. "Here to spread a bit of cheer." Uh oh. In one hand, Nanny has a bouquet of blood red flowers, in the other, the rotten spawn himself. This can't end well. Our only wish is that Nanny Baylock had more screen time; the movie's scariest scene may be the one where Farrow lovingly feeds strawberries to the boy.
 8.Queen Latifah in "The Secret Lives of Bees" (2008)

It's 1964 and the setting is the segregated South, in the midst of outrage over the Civil Rights Act. Fourteen year-old Lily (the supremely talented Dakota Fanning) has to live with the fact that she accidentally killed her own mother ten years before. Her abusive daddy (Paul Bettany) has no sympathy at all. The only person who seems to care about her is their housekeeper, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson). Circumstances conspire to send Lily and Rosaleen out on the road together, and they end up at in a near-magical refuge, the home of August Boatwright, a beekeeper with a heart as rich and sweet as her honey. Who wouldn't welcome the warm but dignified embrace of Latifah's August? August is a stereotype -- the powerful, God-loving black woman who spent her youth raising white people's children, but the movie, based on the bestseller by Sue Monk Kidd, bathed in the honeyed light usually reserved for the purely saccharine, dares to go beyond. Ever so subtly, the character raises questions about the depth of relationships between black nannies and their white charges, about the potential for bitterness, and the cost to a nanny's own family and life.
7. Rebecca De Mornay in "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" (1992)

A campy classic from director Curtis Hanson featuring Rebecca De Mornay in her best-known movie role after "Risky Business." She plays Peyton, a sweet-faced woman who applies for a nanny gig with the very yuppie Bartel family in Seattle. Unbeknownst to the mom, Claire Bartel (Annabella Sciorra), Peyton is the widow of a doctor Claire accused of groping her -- he killed himself -- and she's intent on revenge. This includes breastfeeding Claire's baby, winning the affections of her five-year old daughter by letting her stay up late and do inappropriate things and, of course, trying to seduce Claire's thoroughly lame husband (Matt McCoy). Everyone who gets in Peyton's way, including the mentally disabled handyman and Claire's hard-as-nails best friend (Julianne Moore in one of her early movie roles), lives to regret it, and while the whole thing looks resoundingly cheesy nearly two decades later -- almost made for TV movie-like -- the thrills are effective and De Mornay nails the unhinged nanny shtick. Always check the references.

6.Bette Davis in "The Nanny" (1965)

The year after "Mary Poppins" was released, Davis did her own spin on the nanny role. This character has been a nanny so long, she no longer seems to have a proper name. She's just Nanny, but exactly what kind of nanny is the question that propels director Seth Holt's black and white psychological thriller. Joey (William Dix) the 10- year-old son of a basket-case mother (Wendy Craig), and a distant, workaholic father (James Villiers), arrives home from a two year-banishment to an asylum for troubled children after the drowning death of his little sister, which he may have caused. He accused indispensable Nanny of being to blame and claimed she was trying to kill him, too. Two years of treatment haven't changed his mind. Lower lip perpetually stuck out, Joey is a terrible brat (he specializes in tricks, like pretending to hang himself). His parents fear he's a diabolical liar -- after all, Nanny lovingly cared for his mother and Aunt Pen (Jill Bennett) when they were children. Davis, 57 when the film was released, is fabulously enigmatic; we spend most of the movie wondering whether her legendary eyes are burning with wounded dignity, or something much creepier.
 5.Whoopi Goldberg in "Corrina, Corrina" (1994)

An absolutely sparkling entry in that subset of family-friendly nanny movies in which daddy also loves nanny. Corrina (Goldberg) is technically the maid, hired to keep house for new widower Manny Singer (Ray Liotta, back before he played exclusively creeps and thugs). Corrina has no references and she's clumsy. But she has just the right touch with Manny's seven year-old daughter Molly (the gifted young Tina Majorino), who has refused to speak since the death of her mother. Goldberg, four years after winning an Oscar for "Ghost," plays it sassy and wise, and the movie is touching without being sentimental. For a change, she also gets to be sexy. Corrina is a college graduate, and she and advertising man Manny bond over Louis Armstrong, Bill Evans, poetry, cigarettes, and, of course, Molly, and soon fall into a rhythm that looks a lot like a relationship. But the movie is set in the late 1950s, when interracial dating between a man and his housekeeper would send the next-door neighbor right to her phone to spread word of the scandal, so the movie's main dramatic push is, can these two be together? The audience sure hopes so.
  4.Robin Williams in "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993)

Of course, Euphegenia Doubtfire was technically a manny, but what list of cinematic nannies would be complete without Williams' comic tour de force of drag? He played Daniel, a chronically irresponsible, out-of-work actor(?) in San Francisco, who assumes the identity of an outwardly demure Scottish nanny in order to spend more time with his children. And, of course, to persuade his ex-wife (Sally Field) that her dashing new boyfriend, Stu (Pierce Brosnan), is a child-loathing skunk. The movie came out just at the time when Williams' career was at its peak -- he had proved himself as a serious actor in "The Fisher King," and he could do no wrong -- which we'll refer to as the pre-Patch era, and Chris Columbus' light-as-a-feather film played to his great strengths for physical comedy and shifting impersonations. It also highlighted his childlike ability to convey sincerity in the midst of great naughtiness; in the personage of Mrs. Doubtfire, the supposedly immature Daniel revealed himself to be a truly devoted father.
3. Deborah Kerr in "The King and I" (1956)

We're fudging a little here. Flame-haired, British beauty Anna Leonowens (Kerr) is technically a governess who comes to Siam (Thailand) to educate the King's (Yul Brynner) enormous flock of children. And we recognize the widow Leonowens doesn't exactly spend much time with the children -- the shirtless King has a habit of getting her to roll out of bed in the middle of the night to take dictation or interrupt the learning process to get her to sing a song with him. But, there is no doubt that Anna, with her insanely wide hoop skirts and lovely voice (not Kerr, but champion soundtrack dubber Marni Nixon) makes an indelible impression as a caregiver. When those kids clamor for her to stay and keep teaching them, it's clear that she's become a necessity to this very large family. And while the characters and casting are so politically incorrect as to be embarrassing (Rita Moreno plays a young Burmese woman!), this 20th Century Fox release lives large in the panoply of nanny movies. Kerr was a champion cinematic caregiver, going on to play governesses in "The Innocents" and "The Chalk Garden."
2. Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music" (1965)

Maria is a fresh-faced novice, ready to devote her life to God. Instead, her Mother Superior, uncertain she's got what it takes to be a nun, dispatches her to the Von Trapp residence to become governess to grumpy Captain Von Trapp's (Christopher Plummer) pack of seven children. They're motherless, wild and can carry a tune. They need her. She needs them. Despite his tendency to glower, the Captain is a fine figure of a man. Outside danger -- always romantic -- approaches in the form of the Nazis. If ever a nanny-charge relationship were fated to turn into something more lasting, this is it. Through the modern prism, Maria's fate in making the transition from her paid position of governess to her unpaid one of stepmother to seven is far from a feminist dream (couldn't their dad roust himself to be a better parent?). But Maria is the uber nanny, filled with kindness, love and some really great songs.

1. Julie Andrews in "Mary Poppins" (1964)

The gold standard of nanny movies remains absolutely untarnished by the passing years. As Mary Poppins, the mysterious nanny who arrives on the wind with only an umbrella to bring her to ground, Andrews is the queen of this list. Possessed of precise diction and impeccable posture, Ms. Poppins is tart and commanding, but also kind, just what those naughty, neglected Banks children need to bring them in line. Mary even improves their parents, including Mrs. Banks, the bad mother who starts the movie more concerned about women's liberation than Jane and Michael's well-being, and Mr. Banks, the stuffy banker too wrapped up in the world's finances to focus on his family. Dick Van Dyke mangled his English accent, and didn't do much better with singing, but it hardly mattered. And like so many of the greatest classics for children, the movie is, truth be told, kind of strange: That animated sequence for the "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" number? Trippy! As Mary herself would say, this movie is "practically perfect in every way."