Terms of Endearment

Critics 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.



Reviews Counted: 43

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Audience Score

User Ratings: 36,258


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Reviews Count: 0
Fresh: 0
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Average Rating: 3.7/5

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Movie Info

Terms of Endearment covers three decades in the lives of widow Aurora Greenaway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger). Fiercely protected by Aurora throughout childhood, Emma runs into resistance from her mother when she marries wishy-washy college teacher Flap (Jeff Daniels). Aurora is even more put out at the prospect of being a grandmother, though she grows a lot fonder of her three grand-kids than she does of her son-in-law. Flap proves that Aurora's instincts were on target when he enters into an affair with a student (Kate Charleson). Meanwhile, Emma finds romantic consolation with an unhappily married banker (played by John Lithgow, who registers well in a rare "nice guy" performance). As for Aurora, she is ardently pursued by her next-door neighbor, boisterous astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson). After 75 minutes or so of pursuing an episodic, semi-comic plot line, the film abruptly shifts moods when Emma discovers that she has terminal cancer. Terms of Endearment won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay for TV veteran James L. Brooks making his first feature film, Best Actress for MacLaine, and Best Supporting Actor for Nicholson. It was followed by a sequel, The Evening Star (1996), which again featured MacLaine as Aurora.

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Shirley MacLaine
as Aurora Greenway
Debra Winger
as Emma Horton
Jack Nicholson
as Garrett Breedlove
Jeff Daniels
as Flap Horton
Danny DeVito
as Vernon Dahlart
John Lithgow
as Sam Burns
Lisa Hart Carroll
as Patsy Clark
Megan Morris
as Melanie
Troy Bishop
as Tommy Horton
Shane Serwin
as Young Tommy Horton
Jennifer Josey
as Young Emma Greenway
Tara Yeakey
as Baby Melanie
Norman Bennett
as Edward Johnson
Tom Wees
as Dr. Budge
Paul Menzel
as Dr. Maise
Buddy Gilbert
as Dr. Ratcher
Charles Beall
as Rudyard's Employer
Judith A. Dickerson
as Checkout Girl
Dana Vance
as Victoria
Nancy Mette
as Woman at Party
Lear Levin
as Jack Stern
Lanier Whilden
as Patsy's Mother
Helen Stauffer
as Flap's Secretary
John C. Conger
as Moving Man
Sandra Newkirk
as Mrs. Johnson
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Critic Reviews for Terms of Endearment

All Critics (43) | Top Critics (9)

  • Terms of Endearment is that uncommon kind of American movie, the kind that doesn't just manipulate our feelings, but releases them.

    Apr 26, 2018 | Full Review…

    Jay Carr

    Boston Globe
    Top Critic
  • It takes all of perhaps five minutes to fall in love with the leading characters in Terms of Endearment and from that point on, the audience is just putty in the extremely capable hands of writer-director James L. Brooks.

    Feb 22, 2015 | Full Review…
  • Terms of Endearment is about three relationships and students of screenwriting would do well to study the way in which these three stories are told completely and effortlessly in a movie of average length.

    Jan 18, 2013 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • Its quirky rhythms and veering emotional tones are very much its own, and they owe less to movie tradition than they do to a sense of how the law of unintended consequences pushes us ceaselessly through the years, permitting no pause for perspective.

    Feb 20, 2009 | Full Review…
  • Brooks' dialog is wonderful throughout and all the characters carry off their assignments beautifully, even down to Danny De Vito and Norman Bennett as MacLaine's other suffering suitors.

    Feb 20, 2008 | Full Review…

    James Harwood

    Top Critic
  • [Writer-director James L. Brooks] has television in his soul: his people are incredibly tiny (most are defined by a single stroke of obsessive behavior), and he chokes out his narrative in ten-minute chunks, separated by aching lacunae.

    Dec 17, 2006 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Terms of Endearment


A wonderful drama that finds a perfect balance between sweet, humorous and sad with sublime performances by the whole cast (mainly MacLaine and Nicholson), while the superb editing keeps the narrative always fluid as it spans several years in the lives of its characters.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

Heart-warming, this classic chronicle about family problems and platonic love. Together with finest actings and an intelligent script, Terms of Endearment gonna make the most strong people cry.

Lucas Martins
Lucas Martins

Super Reviewer


A great film! So touching. Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger both give great performances! I had originally given this film a 4/5 rating. However I have recently decided to bump it up to a 4.5/5. I will never forget this film...the acting, the story, the characters, the execution...it's an extremely well done film.

Jameson Worley
Jameson Worley

Super Reviewer

Spanning several years, this is the story of a mother and daughter, their sometimes intense love/hate relationship, and the quest each one goes through to find love, happiness, and acceptance. It was based on a work by Larry McMurty (which I fins surprising),and marked the directorial debit of James L. Brooks. It also won several Oscars, even though it only deserved a couple of them. This is a rather odd film tonally. It is listed as beign a romantic comedy-drama, and, while there are some moments of humor, it mostly comes off as a drama filled with pain and heartbreak, especially towards the end. It's a classic tearjerker. It's a good movie, and I did find it enjoyable, but I do think it's overrated and not a masterpiece or anything. The acting holds it together though, and that's the real reason to watch it. Shirley MacLaine is wonderful as the overbearing and out of touch mother Aurora. Debra Winger started off as a big annoying, but got better in her role as Aurora's daughter Emma. Jeff Daniels appears in one of his earliest role's as Emma's philandering professor husband, but it is Jack Nicholson who is the most fun to watch as the boozy, womanizing former astronaut who is neighbors with Aurora and tries to have a more meaningful relationship with her. Like all of Brooks's films, this drags on a bit too long, but it's got some decent writing, and sometimes we all need a good cry. Give it a watch.

Chris Weber
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

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