Terms of Endearment (1983) - Rotten Tomatoes

Terms of Endearment (1983)



Critic 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.

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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 (53) | Top Critics (11)

Anyone who believes that television styles are new taking over the cinema -- or at least large sections of it -- will have their fears confirmed here.

February 3, 2020 | Full Review…

It is impossible to resist the feeling of watching a long-running soap opera of which you have missed rather a lot of crucial episodes.

February 3, 2020 | Full Review…

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

April 26, 2018 | Full Review…

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.

February 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.

January 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.

February 20, 2009 | 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

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