Terms of Endearment

Terms of Endearment

Theatrical release poster
Directed by James L. Brooks
Produced by James L. Brooks
Screenplay by James L. Brooks
Based on Terms of Endearment
by Larry McMurtry
Music by Michael Gore
Cinematography Andrzej Bartkowiak
Edited by Richard Marks
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • November 23, 1983 (1983-11-23) (US: limited)
  • December 9, 1983 (1983-12-09) (US: wide)
Running time
132 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $8 million
Box office $108.4 million[2]

Terms of Endearment is a 1983 American comedy-drama film adapted from the novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry, directed, written, and produced by James L. Brooks and starring Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Jeff Daniels, and John Lithgow. The film covers 30 years of the relationship between Aurora Greenway (MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Winger).

The film received eleven Academy Award nominations and won five. Brooks won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) while MacLaine won the Academy Award for Best Actress and Nicholson won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In addition, it won four Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Actress in a Drama (MacLaine), Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson), and Best Screenplay (Brooks).


Aurora Greenway and her daughter Emma are both searching for deep romantic love. Beginning with Emma's early infancy, Aurora reveals how difficult and caring she can be by nearly climbing into Emma's crib in order to make sure her daughter is breathing—only to be reassured when Emma starts crying (after being woken up). After the death of Aurora's husband and Emma's father, Rudyard, Aurora and Emma develop an extremely close love-hate mother/daughter relationship as Emma grows up.

The story follows both women through several years as each seeks a way of finding joy. Emma gets married, immediately upon graduating from high school in the Houston area, to Flap Horton, of whom Aurora so disapproves that she refuses to attend the wedding. Emma's best friend, Patsy Clark, continues on to college, eventually becoming successful and rich in New York City.

Emma has two children (both of them are two sons) with Flap, who becomes a college professor in Des Moines, Iowa, separating the family hundreds of miles from Emma's meddlesome mother. She later telephones to ask her mother for money when she is pregnant with her third child (a daughter). Aurora, not knowing by the telephone call that Emma is already several months into her pregnancy, wants Emma to get an abortion. Emma's once-passionate marriage to Flap becomes strained, thanks mostly to his philandering. She eventually has a secret romantic affair with a married small-town older banker, Sam Burns.

At the same time, Aurora remains celibate but cultivates the attention of several gentlemen in the area, some rather bizarre. However, she is attracted to her next-door neighbor of 15 years, the womanizing, alcoholic retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove. Aurora and Garrett eventually go on a lunch date, make love, and develop a tenuous relationship.

Emma returns to her mother's home in Houston after discovering her husband is having an affair with a young grad student named Janice. Emma's appearance along with her three children makes Garrett uncomfortable, as he has been single for a long time. Flap telephones and she reluctantly returns home to Iowa, trying to reconcile with him. Unwilling to become a one-woman man, Garrett breaks up with Aurora, making her feel "humiliated."

Emma ends the relationship with Sam as soon as Flap accepts a new teaching position in Kearney, Nebraska. Although she does not want to, Emma agrees to relocate to further Flap's career. She soon discovers that Janice is attending the same college where Flap now works, realizing that Flap followed her to Nebraska. Emma angrily confronts Janice before taking her only daughter Melanie to the doctor's office, so they both can get flu shots. While administering the injection, Emma's doctor notices two large lumps under Emma's armpit. Although Emma is only in her 30s, the doctor orders a biopsy and discovers she has cancer.

To cheer her up, Patsy invites Emma to New York City for her first vacation without her children. However, after arriving, Emma feels out-of-place amongst Patsy's friends and returns home early to begin treatment for her illness. Unfortunately for Emma, her doctor breaks the news that the drugs she was taking did not have the desired effect, and that Emma will not be able to survive her illness. Both Flap and Aurora remain by her bedside in the hospital for weeks. Although devastated and exhausted, Aurora is still very supportive and loving towards Emma. Garrett flies to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he surprises Aurora, who confesses her love for him. He issues his stock reply: "I love you, too, kid."

In a discussion in the hospital cafeteria, Aurora tells Flap in a blunt manner that he does not have the proper energy, nor the time to manage a job, chase women, and raise his and Emma's three children at the same time. Patsy, who has no children of her own, wants to adopt Melanie. However, both Flap and Emma do not want their kids to be separated and Emma also doesn't want Janice to raise her children. Since Flap feels like a failure as both a father and a husband, he agrees with Emma that having Tommy, Teddy, and Melanie live with Aurora together is best.

As both Emma's time and energy begin to run short, eldest son Tommy shows emotional open resentment toward his mother due to such various circumstances as social class, fights between either his parents or occasionally his younger brother, Teddy, and Tommy's perception of feeling both unloved and ignored. However, Emma reassures both of her two sons, reminding them of the fact that she loves all three of kids equally. Also, after an altercation with Aurora, who slaps him in the hospital parking lot for disrespectfully criticizing his mother, Tommy weeps in his grandmother's arms. Later, back at the hospital, both Flap and Aurora are informed by the nurse (who showed up in Emma's hospital room) that Emma is gone now. Then, Emma dies prematurely of her illness on that evening, causing Aurora to weep and cry on Emma's hospital bed.

Following the funeral, Emma's friends and family gather in Aurora's backyard for a memorial service. Garrett shows emotional affection toward each of Emma's children and helps Tommy cope during the wake. The film closes on Aurora, sitting next to Melanie.



Brooks wrote the supporting role of Garrett Breedlove for Burt Reynolds, who turned down the role because of a verbal commitment he'd made to appear in Stroker Ace. "There are no awards in Hollywood for being an idiot," Reynolds later said of the decision.[3]

The exterior shots of Aurora's home were filmed at 3060 Locke Lane, Houston, Texas. Larry McMurtry, writer of the novel on which the screenplay was based, had received his M.A. at Rice University, a mere three miles from the home.

The exterior shots of locations intended to be in Des Moines, Iowa, Kearney, Nebraska, and Lincoln, Nebraska, were all filmed in Lincoln, Nebraska. Many scenes were filmed on or near the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.[4] During filming in Lincoln, Debra Winger met the then-governor of Nebraska, Bob Kerrey, and wound up dating him for two years.[5]

MacLaine and Winger did not get along with each other during production.[6][7][8][9] MacLaine confirmed in an interview that "it was a very tough shoot...Chaotic...(Jim) likes working with tension on the set."[10]

On working with Nicholson, MacLaine said "working with Jack Nicholson was crazy"[11] but that his spontaneity may have contributed to her performance.[12] She also said, "We're like old smoothies working together. You know the old smoothies they used to show whenever you went to the Ice Follies. They would have this elderly man and woman--who at that time were 40--and they had a little bit too much weight around the waist and were moving a little slower. But they danced so elegantly and so in synch with each other that the audience just laid back and sort of sighed. That's the way it is working with Jack. We both know what the other is going to do. And we don't socialize or anything. It's an amazing chemistry--a wonderful, wonderful feeling."[9]


Box office

Terms of Endearment was commercially successful. On its opening weekend, it grossed $3.4 million ranking number two until its second weekend when it grossed $3.1 million ranking #1 at the box office. Three weekends later, it arrived number one again with $9,000,000 having wide release. For four weekends, it remained number one at the box office until slipping to number two on its tenth weekend. On the film's 11th weekend, it arrived number one (for the sixth and final time) grossing $3,000,000. For the last weekends of the film, it later dwindled downward.[13] The film grossed $108,423,489 in the United States.[2]

Critical reception

The film was generally well regarded by critics and maintains an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus, "A classic tearjerker, Terms of Endearment isn't shy about reaching for the heartstrings -- but is so well-acted and smartly scripted that it's almost impossible to resist."[14] Roger Ebert gave the film a four-out-of-four star rating, calling it "a wonderful film" and stating, "There isn't a thing that I would change, and I was exhilarated by the freedom it gives itself to move from the high comedy of Nicholson's best moments to the acting of Debra Winger in the closing scenes."[15] Gene Siskel, who gave the film a highly enthusiastic review, correctly predicted upon its release that it would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1983. In his movie guide, Leonard Maltin awarded the film a rare four-star rating, calling it a "Wonderful mix of humor and heartache" and concluded the film was "Consistently offbeat and unpredictable, with exceptional performances by all three stars."[16]



The film won five Academy Awards[17] and four Golden Globe Awards:[18]



A sequel, The Evening Star, released in 1996, in which MacLaine and Nicholson reprised their roles, was released in 1996 to extremely negative critical or commercial acclaim.


  1. "TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (15)". British Board of Film Classification. December 6, 1983. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  2. 1 2 "Terms of Endearment (1983)". Box Office Mojo.
  3. "Larry King Live:Burt Reynolds Discusses His Career in Showbiz". February 23, 2000.
  4. http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/t/Terms_Of_Endearment.html#.V7fb6o-cHIU
  5. "SHORT TAKES : Debra Winger Is Not for Politics". Los Angeles Times. September 12, 1990. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  6. Graham, Mark (6 September 2008). "After All These Years, Debra Winger Still Can't Stand Shirley MacLaine's Guts". Gawker. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  7. Brew, Simon (September 27, 2013). "14 Co-stars Who Really Didn't Get Along". Dennis Publishing. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  8. "Debra Winger: The return of a class act". The Independent. October 24, 2008. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  9. 1 2 Quin, Eleanor. "TERMS OF ENDEARMENT". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  10. Shirley MacLaine On Working With Tension On The Set on YouTube
  11. Ouzuonian, Richard (1 May 2015). "The present life of Shirley MacLaine". Toronto Star. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  12. "Shirley MacLaine on Jack Nicholson: He showed up to set practically nude". Fox News Channel. October 30, 2014. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  13. "Terms of Endearment (1983) - Weekend Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
  14. "Terms of Endearment Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 10, 2008.
  15. Ebert, Roger (November 23, 1983). "Terms of Endearment". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  16. Maltin, Leonard. 2013 Movie Guide. Penguin Books. p. 1386. ISBN 978-0-451-23774-3.
  17. "The 56th Academy Awards (1984) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  18. "NY Times: Terms of Endearment". NY Times. Retrieved 2009-01-01.

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