Why the Terms of Endearment script reduced Jack Nicholson to tears

Jack Nicholson was so moved by the script of Terms of Endearment, the classic movie series based on the popular book, that he was in tears by the end of it.

Jack Nicholson in TOE

With his previous filmography including horror movies like The Shining and superhero movies like Batman, Jack Nicholson garnered a reputation for being one of Hollywood’s tough guys. Yet, according to SlashFilm, there was one movie that managed to break through and reduce the actor to tears: and that film was Terms of Endearment.


Released in 1983 to critical acclaim, Terms of Endearment is a drama movie that chronicles the fraught relationship between a mother and daughter. At the start of the film, Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) is recently widowed, while her daughter Emma (Debra Winger) embarks on a whirlwind romance with the unfaithful Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels). Meanwhile, Aurora is able to come to terms with her grief and embark on a relationship with astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson) — but everything comes crashing down after Emma is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Terms of Endearment is emotionally taxing, but ultimately very heartfelt — and in a conversation with Robert Egbert, Nicholson revealed that he was drawn to the role in the romance movie due to its emotional impact.

“I read the screenplay, and became the first enthusiast,” he said. “How many scripts make you cry? I read dozens if not hundreds of screenplays every year, and I don’t read that many parts where I can say, like I did with Easy Rider, that, ‘Yeah, sure, I could play that guy. I know just how that guy feels.'”

In his role as Garrett Breedlove, Nicholson picked up an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, with Terms of Endearment also winning four further Oscars that year including Best Picture. The ‘80s movie had the most Academy Award nominations for that year, leading the way with eleven nominations in total.

If you’re after another film that tugs at the heartstrings but is maybe a little less weepy, check out our guide to the best feel-good movies