Terms of Endearment

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Terms of Endearment
Terms of Endearment, 1983 film.jpg
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 childhood, 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 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. 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 daughter Melanie to the doctor's office so 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. Her doctor breaks the news that the drugs she was taking did not have the desired effect, and that Emma will not survive her illness. 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 bluntly that he does not have the energy for a job, chasing women, and managing a family, advising him to let her raise his and Emma's children in Houston. Patsy, who has no children of her own, wants to adopt Melanie, but Flap and Emma do not want their kids to be separated. Emma also doesn't want Janice to raise her children, so Flap, feeling like a failure as both a father and a husband, agrees that having them live with Aurora is best.

As Emma's time begins to run short, eldest son Tommy (Troy Bishop) shows open resentment toward his mother due to circumstances such as social class, fights between his parents, and Tommy's perception of feeling unloved. Emma reassures her two sons, and, after an altercation with Aurora (she slaps him in the hospital parking lot for criticizing his mother), Tommy weeps in his grandmother's arms. Emma dies later that night.

Following the funeral, Emma's friends and family gather in Aurora's backyard for a memorial service. Garrett shows 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 The Cannonball Run. "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.

MacLaine and Winger did not get along with each other during production.[4][5][6][7] MacLaine confirmed in an interview that "it was a very tough shoot...Chaotic...(Jim) likes working with tension on the set."[8]

On working with Nicholson, MacLaine said "working with Jack Nicholson was crazy"[9] but that his spontaneity may have contributed to her performance.[10] 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."[7]


Box office[edit]

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.[11] The film grossed $108,423,489 in the United States.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

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."[12] 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."[13] 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."[14]

In an interview with Barbara Walters, Bette Davis said "At least Terms of Endearment was an authentic film about relationships, and I must say that Miss Shirley MacLaine gave an outstanding performance, but then she's always good."[citation needed]



The film won five Academy Awards[15] and four Golden Globes:[16]



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. ^ a b "Terms of Endearment (1983)". Box Office Mojo. 
  3. ^ "Larry King Live:Burt Reynolds Discusses His Career in Showbiz". February 23, 2000. 
  4. ^ Graham, Mark (6 September 2008). "After All These Years, Debra Winger Still Can't Stand Shirley MacLaine's Guts". Gawker. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  5. ^ Brew, Simon (September 27, 2013). "14 Co-stars Who Really Didn't Get Along". Dennis Publishing. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  6. ^ "Debra Winger: The return of a class act". The Independent. October 24, 2008. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  7. ^ a b Quin, Eleanor. "TERMS OF ENDEARMENT". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  8. ^ Shirley MacLaine On Working With Tension On The Set on YouTube
  9. ^ Ouzuonian, Richard (1 May 2015). "The present life of Shirley MacLaine". Toronto Star. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  10. ^ "Shirley MacLaine on Jack Nicholson: He showed up to set practically nude". Fox News Channel. October 30, 2014. Retrieved September 7, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Terms of Endearment (1983) - Weekend Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-12-05. 
  12. ^ "Terms of Endearment Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 10, 2008. 
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 23, 1983). "Terms of Endearment". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 22, 2013. 
  14. ^ Maltin, Leonard. 2013 Movie Guide. Penguin Books. p. 1386. ISBN 978-0-451-23774-3. 
  15. ^ "The 56th Academy Awards (1984) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  16. ^ "NY Times: Terms of Endearment". NY Times. Retrieved 2009-01-01. 
  17. ^ http://www.cinemartsociety.org/news/pdf/Shirley%20MacLaine%20Annoucement.pdf

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Academy Award winner for
Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor
Succeeded by
Million Dollar Baby