Study Guide

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Genre

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Adventure; Science Fiction; Family


What separates adventure movies from regular ol' action flicks? Exoticism! And, if you ask us, it doesn't get any more exotic than an alien. Adventure films are all about the quest, particularly journeys that take our hero into the unknown, and that's precisely what happens to Elliott. He explores the forest, a classic setting for adventure, as well as his own psyche (via his friendship with E.T.). Unlike most films in the adventure genre, though, Elliott's quest takes place in the present day instead of the past.

Science Fiction

When it comes to science fiction, E.T. ticks all the boxes. Extra-terrestrials? Check. Spacecraft? Check. Telepathy? Check. Interstellar travel? Check. Sci-Fi flicks aren't all about aliens, robots, and lasers, though. They're often a means for social commentary.

In E.T., the conventions of science fiction are used to impart lessons about empathy and alienation, as first Elliott, then everybody else, comes to embrace E.T. in spite of his differences. Science fiction movies may spotlight the strange and unfamiliar, but in the end they're all about humankind understanding the unknown.


Just like everybody loves a good cat video, everybody loves a good family film: In fact, it's part of its design.

Family films are meant to appeal to a broad audience. That's what separates them from children's films that are aimed directly at the little rug rats in your life. Family films often feature a child protagonist and always incorporate themes that are appropriate for children, but they also include content geared toward adults, such as humor.

E.T. appeals to a wide range of viewers because of its story and themes—especially its celebration of youth. Younger viewers identify with Elliott, their fellow kid, while older viewers remember what it was like to be a kid way back when: from getting picked on by older siblings to setting off for adventures on their trusty bikes (even if their bikes, unlike Elliott's, stayed firmly on the ground).

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