Terms of Endearment

Terms of Endearment is a 1983 American comedy-drama film adapted from Larry McMurtry's 1975 novel, 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).

Terms of Endearment
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJames L. Brooks
Produced byJames L. Brooks
Screenplay byJames L. Brooks
Based onTerms of Endearment
by Larry McMurtry
Music byMichael Gore
CinematographyAndrzej Bartkowiak
Edited byRichard Marks
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • November 23, 1983 (1983-11-23) (US: limited)
  • December 9, 1983 (1983-12-09) (US: wide)
Running time
132 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$8 million
Box office$108.4 million[2]

The film became a major critical and commercial success. It grossed $108.4 million at the domestic box office becoming the second-highest-grossing film of 1983 and received a leading eleven nominations at the 56th Academy Awards, and won the highest five; Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (for MacLaine), Best Supporting Actor (for Nicholson), and Best Adapted Screenplay.


Widowed Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) keeps several suitors at arm's length, focusing instead on her close, but controlling, relationship with daughter Emma (Debra Winger). Anxious to escape her mother, Emma marries a callow young college professor Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels) over her mother's objections, moves away, and has three children. Despite their frequent spats and difficulty getting along, Emma and Aurora have a tie between them that cannot be broken, and keep in touch by telephone.

Emma and Flap soon run into financial and marital difficulties. Emma has trouble managing the children and household, and she and Flap both have extramarital affairs. Emma relies increasingly on her mother for emotional support. Meanwhile, the lonely Aurora overcomes her repression, and begins a whirlwind romance with her next-door neighbor, retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson).

The Horton family moves from Houston to Des Moines and eventually to Nebraska, apparently for Flap's career, but mostly so he can be near his girlfriend. Emma is diagnosed with cancer, which becomes terminal. Aurora stays by Emma's side through her treatment and hospitalization, even while dealing with her own pain after Garrett suddenly ends their relationship. The dying Emma shows her love for her mother by entrusting her own children to Aurora's care. After Emma's death, Garrett re-appears in the family's life, and begins to bond with Emma's young children.



Brooks wrote the supporting role of Garrett Breedlove for Burt Reynolds, who turned down the role because of a verbal commitment he had 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 Greenway'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 and Kearney, Nebraska were instead filmed in Lincoln, Nebraska. Many scenes were filmed on, or near, the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.[4] While filming in Lincoln, the state capital, Winger met then-governor of Nebraska Bob Kerrey; the two wound up dating for two years.[5]

MacLaine and Winger reportedly 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]

MacLaine also confirmed in an interview with USA Today that Nicholson improvised when he put his hand down her dress in the beach scene.[13]


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

Critical reception

The film was generally well regarded by critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 84% approval rating based on 45 reviews, with a weighted average of 7.6/10. The site's consensus reads: "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."[15] Metacritic reports a score of 79/100 based on reviews from 10 critics, indicating "Generally favorable reviews".[16] 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."[17] 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".[18]



The film won five Academy Awards[19] and four Golden Globe Awards:[20]



A sequel to the film, The Evening Star (1996), in which MacLaine and Nicholson reprised their roles, was a critical and commercial failure.


  1. "Terms of Endearment (15)". British Board of Film Classification. December 6, 1983. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  2. "Terms of Endearment (1983)". Box Office Mojo.
  3. "Larry King Live:Burt Reynolds Discusses His Career in Showbiz". February 23, 2000.
  4. Reeves, Tony. "Filming Locations for Oscar-winner Terms Of Endearment (1983), around Texas and Nebraska". movie-locations.com.
  5. "SHORT TAKES: Debra Winger Is Not for Politics". Los Angeles Times. September 12, 1990. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  6. Graham, Mark (September 6, 2008). "After All These Years, Debra Winger Still Can't Stand Shirley MacLaine's Guts". Gawker. Archived from the original on June 7, 2015. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  7. Brew, Simon (September 27, 2013). "14 Co-stars Who Really Didn't Get Along". Dennis Publishing. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  8. "Debra Winger: The return of a class act". The Independent. October 24, 2008. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  9. Quin, Eleanor. "TERMS OF ENDEARMENT". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  10. hudsonunionsociety (November 30, 2013). "Shirley MacLaine On Working With Tension On The Set" via YouTube.
  11. Ouzuonian, Richard (May 1, 2015). "The present life of Shirley MacLaine". Toronto Star. Retrieved June 6, 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. Alexander, Bryan (March 2, 2017). "Shirley MacLaine tries to bring Jack Nicholson on board "with every script"". USA Today. Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  14. "Terms of Endearment (1983) – Weekend Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 5, 2008.
  15. "Terms of Endearment (1983)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 14, 2019.
  16. "Terms of Endearment Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved July 14, 2019.
  17. Ebert, Roger (November 23, 1983). "Terms of Endearment". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  18. Maltin, Leonard. 2013 Movie Guide. Penguin Books. p. 1386. ISBN 978-0-451-23774-3.
  19. "The 56th Academy Awards (1984) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved October 9, 2011.
  20. "Terms of Endearment - Awards". NYTimes.com. Archived from the original on October 22, 2009. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
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