One starry night in suburban California, a group of alien botanists' trip to Earth is interrupted by a shady team of federal agents. In their hurry to vacate, the aliens accidentally leave one of their own behind: a squashy little alien called E.T.
Later, a boy named Elliott hears strange noises in his backyard and almost literally stumbles across E.T. Naturally, he's stoked. The problem is, nobody believes him—not his older brother, Michael; not his younger sister, Gertie; not his mother, Mary, who's raising Elliott and his siblings on her own.
Elliott tries to lure E.T. back to his house using Reese's Pieces...and it works. (Hello, product placement.)
He hides E.T. in his closet, and then introduces him to Michael and Gertie. Elliott swears both to secrecy. Meanwhile, the menacing federal agents are still hot on E.T.'s interplanetary trail and the audience is getting a fun taste of E.T.'s weird noises.
As the kids get to know E.T., they discover that he has special powers. Case in point: he can make items like balls and bikes levitate. Oh, and he resurrects some dead geraniums. He also seems to share a special bond with Elliott (or, as E.T. would say, Elllll-eeee-uuuuut), and Elliott feels it, too.
In fact, Elliott feels everything E.T. feels.
Gertie teaches E.T. to speak, and he tells her and Elliott that he wants to call home. He hasn't been feeling so hot lately and needs to return to his home planet, pronto. Elliott and Michael help him gather parts to build a communicator. The sinister federal agents get closer, E.T. gets sicker, and when Elliott cuts his finger, E.T. quickly mends it with his healing touch.
On Halloween, Elliott and Michael sneak E.T. into the forest so he can call home. The next morning, Elliott wakes up alone and sick.
E.T. is gone.
Michael later finds E.T. severely weak and lying facedown in a creek bed. Michael brings him home, and E.T. is finally introduced to Mom...just before the federal agents and their team of doctors storm the house.
The doctors set up shop and run a battery of tests on E.T. As he gets sicker, Elliott gets better.
E.T. crashes. But when Elliott tells E.T. he loves him, E.T. awakens...and the plan to return E.T. to his home planet is back on.
Elliott, Michael, and Michael's three friends race E.T. back to the woods on their bikes, arriving just in time to meet the aliens' spaceship. After heartfelt goodbyes all around, E.T. returns to the ship and it departs, leaving a rainbow across the sky.