Study Guide

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Hero's Journey

Advertisement - Guide continues below

Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

It all starts in suburban California, home of Elliott and his family. Thought Elliott doesn't know it yet, E.T. has just been left behind in the nearby forest.

Call to Adventure

Elliott hears some mysterious noises in his backyard. Then he sees a strange glow coming from the toolshed, so he chucks his baseball in there—and something tosses it back.

Refusal of the Call

Nope, there's no refusal in this story. Elliott resolves to monitor the backyard until he uncovers what's out there, even if it means sleeping in a super-comfy lawn chair.

Meeting the Mentor

Elliott and E.T. come face-to-face in the cornfield and scream their heads off.

Crossing the Threshold

Elliott lures E.T. back to his house with Reese's Pieces and secretly moves him into his closet. They're roomies; no going back now.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Elliott's first tests include keeping E.T. a secret and learning how to communicate with him.

Next, Elliott scores two important allies: Michael and Gertie. Letting them in on his secret makes it a lot easier to keep E.T.'s existence from their mom. They'll also come in handy for future trials.

Then it's time for more tests. First of all, E.T.'s getting sick. Second of all, he needs to phone home, pronto. So Elliott has to help E.T. build a communicator out of household items. Then he has to sneak E.T. out of the house so he can set it up. He hatches a plan with his allies, Michael and Gertie, on Halloween. The plan works, and so does the communicator.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

Super-sick, Elliott makes it back home after they plant the communicator. E.T. goes missing. Michael finds E.T. and brings him home. The gang's all there, and Elliott and his siblings finally introduce Mom to E.T., setting the stage for Elliott's biggest test yet.


The federal agents invade Elliott's house and set up shop. Elliott has to pull from the deep well of compassion that E.T. drew in him in order to help his alien BFF survive the government's battery of tests and frightening lack of empathy. Oh, and did we mention that Elliott's health is still on a steep decline at the moment, too?

Reward (Seizing the Sword)

E.T. pulls through. He's alive! He's alive!

The Road Back

This stage is a short one. Elliott celebrates with Michael, and then boom! They're loading E.T. into a stolen van and getting pumped for their final clash with Keys' task force.


Resurrection's a weird title for this stage, don't you think? Really, it's more about Elliott's final battle: getting E.T. back to the forest in time to meet his spaceship. He evades federal agents by van, by bike, and by air to return E.T. to the forest just in time. If you ask us, this stage should be called "Boss Battle."

Return With the Elixir

E.T.'s extra-terrestrial buddies return in their spaceship, and Elliott says goodbye. He's sad, for sure, but he's stronger. E.T.'s going to be okay now, and so is Elliott.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...