Study Guide

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Introduction


Release Year: 1982

Genre: Family, Sci-Fi

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Melissa Mathison

Stars: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote


What's the coolest thing you've ever found in your backyard? An arrowhead? A $20 bill? A big pile of worms? 

Those are all pretty sweet finds, but in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Elliott makes the best backyard discovery of them all when he finds an honest-to-goodness alien.

Directed by Steven Spielberg (maybe you've heard of him?), E.T. hit theaters in the summer of 1982 and became an instant classic. In fact, E.T. was so beloved that it was re-released twice—once in 1985 and once in 2002—and it has the big bucks to back it up, having earned Universal Pictures an astonishing $435,110,554

Not bad for a family-friendly science fiction adventure that cost $10.5 million to produce.

  

But E.T. didn't just make bank. Its immense popularity also shaped the film industry. E.T. introduced audiences to the idea of product placement in motion pictures, and sent sales of Reese's Pieces skyrocketing. It also introduced audiences to a young, fresh-faced actress named Drew Barrymore (maybe you've heard of her, too?). Oh, and E.T. was one of the first films to be affected by piracy. No, not swashbuckling dudes with eye patches. We're talking about people with unofficial copies of the movie trying to make a buck off of the E.T. fever that gripped America in the '80s.

It wasn't just Joe and Jane Moviegoer who fell in love with E.T., though. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—you probably know them better as the Oscar voters—presented E.T. with four Academy Awards (Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Original Score) and nominated the film for five more trophies including Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Writing, Best Director, and Best Picture. 

That's a lot of gold.

E.T. is one of the rare films that was both a blockbuster and a hit with film critics. As Anthony Lane wrote in The New Yorker. "...Spielberg wrote a poem. And all the best movies are poems" (source).

What is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial About and Why Should I Care?

Simply put, E.T. was a phenomenon. We'll let Turner Classic Movies explain what we mean:

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is more than a movie; it is one of those rare cinematic occurrences that strikes at exactly the right time and place, revealing the cultural zeitgeist of the moment.

In other words, pop culture went absolutely bonkers over E.T., and it's not difficult to see why. The film's focus on the excitement and wonder of childhood appealed not only to kids, but also their parents. And those parents spoke with their wallets. E.T.-related merchandise netted over $1 billion. Soooo many lunchboxes.

Released just a year after Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. also cemented Steven Spielberg's status as a director to be reckoned with. After E.T., Rolling Stone famously dubbed Spielberg, "the most successful movie director in Hollywood, America, the Occident, the planet Earth, the solar system, and the galaxy" (source). Hyperbole? For sure. But Spielberg remains one of the most successful and influential directors working in Hollywood today.

Trivia

The filmmakers originally wanted Elliott to tempt E.T. with M&M's candy. The M&M's people passed since Universal wouldn't let them see the final script. Fast-forward to the film's release, and Reese's Pieces saw a 65% spike in profits. That one's on you, M&M's. (Source.)

E.T.'s face is modeled after Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein, and a pug. (Source.)

A sequel to E.T. was planned and then abandoned. In it, Elliott and his friends get kidnapped by an evil, mutant race of extra-terrestrials, and E.T. has to save them. Its title? E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears. Catchy, isn't it? (Source.)

Foley artist John Roesch used a wet T-shirt stuffed with Jell-O to simulate the sound of E.T.'s wobbling walk. (Source.)

E.T. may have been a hit, but its Atari 2600 video game adaptation is considered one of the worst video games of all time. In fact, it was so bad that Atari buried thousands of unsold copies in a New Mexico landfill as a tax write-off. (Source.)

One of the early drafts of E.T. had E.T. using his healing touch on Dallas's J.R. Ewing, who had just been shot. (Source.)

E.T.'s voice was recorded primarily by Pat Welsh, an elderly woman with a two-packs-a-day cigarette habit. To create E.T.'s complete "voice," sound effects artist Ben Burtt also used recordings from sixteen other sources including horses, raccoons, sea otters, his wife asleep with a cold, a burp from his old film professor at USC, actress Debra Winger, and Steven Spielberg. (Source.)

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Resources

WEBSITES

E.T.'s Official Facebook Page
Add some E.T. news, trivia, and merch discounts to your Newsfeed.

I Love E.T.
Self-proclaimed "E.T. expert and collector" Nicholas Gjoka's collection of E.T. memorabilia is massive.

BOOK OR VIDEO GAME ADAPTATIONS

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in His Adventure on Earth (1982)
A novelization by William Kotzwinkle that tells much of the tale from E.T.'s point of view.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
This notorious Atari 2600 video game adaptation of the film was a critical and commercial failure. Some critics blame it for the video game industry crash of 1983. Most critics blame it for kicking off more than thirty years of horrible E.T. video game adaptations.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (2001)
Another terrible E.T. video game that sticks to the plot of the original film, only this time it's for Gameboy Advance, so you could take the awfulness with you wherever you go!

E.T.: Interplanetary Mission (2002)
This Playstation platformer may be the best of the many rotten E.T. video game adaptations, but it's still not a good game.

E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet: A Novel (2002)
Another Kotzwinkle joint, this book takes readers back to E.T.'s home planet and sees Elliott developing—gasp!—an interest in girls.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

Drew Barrymore on The Today Show (January 27, 1983)
Eight-year-old Drew Barrymore sits down with Gene Shalit (and his illustrious mustache) to discuss E.T., Oscar nominations, and the fact that Prince Charles laughs like Santa Claus.

Roger Ebert's Review of E.T. (September 14, 1997)
It's written in the form of a letter to his grandkids. Aw.

"Alien Resurrection" (March 14, 2002)
An E.T. retrospective from The Guardian written just in time for the film's 20th anniversary.

"You Can Go Home Again" (March 22, 2002)
Salon examines the wonder of E.T. within the context of Spielberg's "misunderstood" career.

"It's About a Double Rescue" (2011)
In this American Film Institute video clip, Spielberg explains how he got the idea for E.T., as well as the similarities between Elliott and E.T.

Collider Interview with Henry Thomas and Producer Kathleen Kennedy (September 30, 2012)
In which we learn that Thomas still has his badge he used to get through security on set.

"Jake's Takes" Interview with Dee Wallace (October 1, 2012)
Wallace (a.k.a. Mom) sits down with Jake Hamilton to discuss E.T. on its 30th anniversary and keeps it totally casual.

"E.T. Turns Thirty" (October 3, 2012)
The New Yorker celebrates the film's 30th birthday with a look back at its production and an interview with screenwriter Melissa Mathison.

"E.T. reunion: How Steven Spielberg Coached His Kid Stars" (October 5, 2012)
Spielberg, Drew Barrymore, and Henry Thomas dish on the making of E.T. in Entertainment Weekly's annual Reunions issue.

VIDEO

Henry Thomas's Audition for Elliott
"Okay, kid. You got the job."

The Original Trailer
Check out the totally rad E.T. trailer from 1982.

"It Was Nothing Like That, Penis Breath!"
Elliott saw something in the backyard, but nobody believes him.

Saving the Frogs
Elliott fights for amphibian freedom and gets the girl.

"E.T. Phone Home."
Surprise, Elliott! Gertie taught E.T. how to talk.

"Ouch."
E.T. works his healing magic on Elliott's finger.

He's Alive!
Not only is E.T. not dead, he's so excited about going home that he almost ruins the whole thing.

Ride the Sky
E.T. and the boys evade the government agents by taking to the sky. It's faster than the bus.

"I'll Be Right Here"
Elliott and E.T. say goodbye. (Seriously. We're not crying. We just have dust in our eye. Yeah, that's it. Dust.)

The 2002 Cast Reunion
The whole gang got back together in 2002 to discuss the making of the film.

ET-X Extended Trailer
A cleverly edited and totally fake trailer for a nonexistent E.T. sequel.

AUDIO

John Williams Conducts "The Flying Theme" from E.T.
The man waves a mean baton.

"Someone in the Dark" by Michael Jackson (1982)
A pop ballad from the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial storybook album—a combination audiobook (narrated by Jackson) and soundtrack album produced by MCA Records.

"Heartlight" by Neil Diamond (1982)
Neil Diamond was so moved by E.T. that he decided to write a sappy song about it. Then he was moved to pay Universal $25,000 for stealing their ideas.

IMAGES

Steven Spielberg Directing Henry Thomas
"Okay, kid. You still got the job."

Carlo Rambaldi with Early Designs for E.T.
Rambaldi won an Oscar for E.T.'s visual effects.

Drew Barrymore and Spielberg Confer On Set
Maybe she's asking for a pay raise.

Original 1982 E.T. Poster
We're glad they eventually dropped the whole "in his adventure on Earth" thing.

Concept Art for E.T.'s Spaceship
Kind of looks like the Death Star, doesn't it?

E.T. and Henry Thomas on the Cover of People Magazine (June 28, 1982)
"Wow! A movie to steal America's heart."

E.T. Coors Advertisement
Many claim that E.T. kicked off the whole product placement in movies thing.

The Cast and Producers Reunite in 2002
Michael's rockin' a brand new 'do. And is that Keys we see?