Checked content

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Related subjects: Films

About this schools Wikipedia selection

SOS believes education gives a better chance in life to children in the developing world too. SOS Children is the world's largest charity giving orphaned and abandoned children the chance of family life.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Original 1982 theatrical poster
by John Alvin
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by Steven Spielberg
Kathleen Kennedy
Written by Melissa Mathison
Starring Henry Thomas
Dee Wallace
Robert MacNaughton
Drew Barrymore
Peter Coyote
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Allen Daviau
Editing by Carol Littleton
Studio Amblin Entertainment
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release date(s)
  • June 11, 1982 (1982-06-11)
Running time 115 minutes
Language English
Budget $10,500,000
Box office $792,910,554

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (often referred to as just E.T.) is a 1982 American science fiction film co-produced and directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Melissa Mathison and starring Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore, and Peter Coyote. It tells the story of Elliott (played by Thomas), a lonely boy who befriends a friendly extraterrestrial, dubbed "E.T.", who is stranded on Earth. Elliott and his siblings help the extraterrestrial return home while attempting to keep it hidden from their mother and the government.

The concept for E.T. was based on an imaginary friend Spielberg created after his parents' divorce in 1960. In 1980, Spielberg met Mathison and developed a new story from the stalled science fiction/horror film project Night Skies. The film was shot from September to December 1981 in California on a budget of US$10.5 million. Unlike most motion pictures, the film was shot in roughly chronological order, to facilitate convincing emotional performances from the young cast.

Released by Universal Pictures, E.T. was a blockbuster, surpassing Star Wars to become the most financially successful film released to that point. Critics acclaimed it as a timeless story of friendship, and it ranks as the greatest science fiction film ever made in a Rotten Tomatoes survey. The film was rereleased in 1985, and then again in 2002 with altered special effects and additional scenes.


The film opens in a Northern California forest as a group of alien botanists collect flora samples. U.S. government agents appear and the aliens flee in their spaceship, leaving one of their own behind in their haste. The scene shifts to a suburban California home, where a boy named Elliott plays servant to his older brother, Michael, and his friends. As he fetches pizza, Elliott discovers the stranded alien, who promptly flees. Despite his family's disbelief, Elliott leaves Reese's Pieces candy in the forest to lure it into his bedroom. Before he goes to bed, Elliott notices the alien imitating his movements.

Elliott feigns illness the next morning to avoid school so he can play with the alien. That afternoon, Michael and their younger sister, Gertie, meet the alien. Their mother, Mary, hears the noise and comes upstairs. Michael, Gertie, and the alien hide in the closet while Elliott assures his mother that everything is all right. Michael and Gertie promise to keep the alien a secret from their mother. Deciding to keep the alien, the children begin to ask it about its origin. It answers by levitating balls to represent its solar system, and further demonstrates its powers by reviving a dead plant.

At school the next day, Elliott begins to experience a psychic connection with the alien. Elliott becomes irrational due partly to the alien's intoxication from drinking beer. Elliott then begins freeing all the frogs from a dissection class. As the alien watches John Wayne kiss Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man, Elliott's psychic link causes him to kiss a girl he likes in the same manner.

Makeshift communicator used by E.T. to phone home

The alien learns to speak English by repeating what Gertie says as she watches Sesame Street and, at Elliott's urging, dubs itself "E.T." It enlists Elliott's help in building a device to "phone home" by using a Speak & Spell toy. Michael starts to notice that E.T.'s health is declining and that Elliott is referring to himself as "we". On Halloween, Michael and Elliott dress E.T. as a ghost so they can sneak him out of the house. Elliott and E.T. ride a bicycle to the forest, where E.T. makes a successful call home. The next morning, Elliott wakes up to find E.T. gone, and returns home to his distressed family. Michael finds E.T. dying in the forest, and takes the alien to Elliott, who is also dying. Mary becomes frightened when she discovers her son's illness and the dying alien, before government agents invade the house.

Scientists set up a medical facility in the house, quarantining Elliott and E.T. Their link disappears (presumably severed by E.T. to save Elliott's life), and E.T. then appears to die while Elliott recovers. Elliott is left alone with the motionless alien when he notices a dead flower, the plant E.T. had previously revived, coming back to life. E.T. reanimates and reveals that his people are returning. Elliott and Michael steal a van that E.T. had been loaded into and a chase ensues, with Michael's friends joining them as they attempt to evade the authorities by bicycle. Suddenly facing a dead end, they escape as E.T. uses telekinesis to lift them into the air and toward the forest. Standing near the spaceship, E.T.'s heart glows as he prepares to return home. Mary, Gertie, and "Keys", a government agent, show up. E.T. says goodbye to Michael and Gertie, and before entering the spaceship, tells Elliott "I'll be right here", pointing his glowing finger to Elliott's head. E.T. then picks up the flower pot Gertie gave him, walks into the spaceship, and takes off, leaving a rainbow in the sky. The last shot of the movie is Elliot looking up at the sky.


  • Henry Thomas as Elliott, a lonely ten-year-old boy. Elliott longs for a good friend, whom he finds in E.T, who was left behind on Earth. Elliott adopts the stranded alien and they form a mental, physical, and emotional bond.
  • Robert MacNaughton as Michael, Elliott's football-playing sixteen-year-old brother who often makes fun of him.
  • Drew Barrymore as Gertie, Elliott's mischievous five-year-old sister. She is sarcastic and initially terrified of E.T., but grows to love the alien.
  • Dee Wallace-Stone as Mary, the children's mother, recently separated from her husband. She is mostly oblivious to the alien's presence in her household.
  • Peter Coyote as "Keys", a government agent so dubbed because of the key rings that prominently hang from his belt. He tells Elliott that he has waited to see an alien since the age of ten.
  • K. C. Martel, Sean Frye and C. Thomas Howell as Greg, Steve and Tyler, Michael's friends. They help Elliott and E.T. evade the authorities during the film's climax.
  • Erika Eleniak as the young girl Elliott kisses in class.

Spielberg auditioned more than 300 children for the roles. Having worked with Cary Guffey on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he felt confident in working with a cast composed mostly of child actors, rather than young adults. Robert Fisk suggested Henry Thomas for the role of Elliott. Thomas, who auditioned in an Indiana Jones costume, did not perform well in the formal testing, but got the filmmakers' attention in an improvised scene. Thoughts of his dead dog inspired his convincing tears. MacNaughton auditioned eight times to play Michael, sometimes with boys auditioning for Elliott. Spielberg felt Drew Barrymore had the right imagination for the film after she impressed him with a story that she led a punk rock band. Spielberg enjoyed working with the children, noting that the experience made him feel ready to become a father.

The major voice work for E.T. was performed by Pat Welsh, an elderly woman who lived in Marin County, California. Welsh smoked two packets of cigarettes a day, which gave her voice a quality that sound effects creator Ben Burtt liked. She spent nine-and-a-half hours recording her part, and was paid $380 by Burtt for her services. Burtt also recorded 16 other people and various animals to create E.T.'s "voice". These included Spielberg; Debra Winger; Burtt's sleeping wife, who had a cold; a burp from his USC film professor; and raccoons, sea otters, and horses.

Doctors working at the USC Medical Centre were recruited to play the doctors who try to save E.T. after government agents take over Elliott's home. Spielberg felt that actors in the roles, performing lines of highly technical medical dialogue, would come across as unnatural. During post-production, Spielberg decided to cut a scene featuring Harrison Ford as Elliott's principal. The scene featured Elliott being reprimanded for his behaviour in science class, and saw Elliott's chair being levitated while E.T. was levitating his "phone" equipment up the staircase with Gertie.


After his parents' divorce in 1960, Spielberg filled the void with an imaginary alien companion. Spielberg said that E.T. was "a friend who could be the brother I never had and a father that I didn't feel I had anymore." During 1978, Spielberg announced he would shoot a film entitled Growing Up, which he would film in 28 days. The project was set aside because of delays on 1941, but the concept of making a small autobiographical film about childhood would stay with Spielberg. He also thought about a follow-up to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and began to develop a darker project he had planned with John Sayles called Night Skies in which malevolent aliens terrorize a family.

Filming Raiders of the Lost Ark in Tunisia left Spielberg bored, and memories of his childhood creation resurfaced. He told screenwriter Melissa Mathison about Night Skies, and developed a subplot from the failed project, in which Buddy, the only friendly alien, befriends an autistic child. Buddy's abandonment on Earth in the script's final scene inspired the E.T. concept. Mathison wrote a first draft titled E.T. and Me in eight weeks, which Spielberg considered perfect. The script went through two more drafts, which deleted an " Eddie Haskell"-esque friend of Elliott. The chase sequence was also created, and Spielberg also suggested having the scene where E.T. got drunk. Columbia Pictures, which had been producing Night Skies, met Spielberg to discuss the script. The studio passed on it, calling it "a wimpy Walt Disney movie", so Spielberg approached the more receptive Sid Sheinberg, president of MCA.

Ed Verreaux created a $700,000 prototype for E.T., which Spielberg deemed useless. Carlo Rambaldi, who designed the aliens for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, was hired to design the animatronics of E.T. Rambaldi's own painting Women of Delta led him to give the creature a unique, extendable neck. The creature's face was inspired by the faces of Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein and Ernest Hemingway. Producer Kathleen Kennedy visited the Jules Stein Eye Institute to study real and glass eyeballs. She hired Institute staffers to create E.T.'s eyes, which she felt were particularly important in engaging the audience. Four E.T. heads were created for filming, one as the main animatronic and the others for facial expressions, as well as a costume. Two dwarfs, Tamara De Treaux and Pat Bilon, as well as 12-year-old Matthew De Meritt, who was born without legs, took turns wearing the costume, depending on what scene was being filmed. Caprice Roth, a professional mime, filled prosthetics to play E.T.'s hands. The finished creature was created in three months at the cost of $1.5 million. Spielberg declared it was "something that only a mother could love." Mars, Incorporated found E.T. so ugly that the company refused to allow M&M's to be used in the film, believing the creature would frighten children. This allowed the Hershey Company the opportunity to market Reese's Pieces.

E.T. began shooting in September 1981. The project was filmed under the cover name A Boy's Life, as Spielberg did not want anyone to discover and plagiarize the plot. The actors had to read the script behind closed doors, and everyone on set had to wear an ID card. The shoot began with two days at a high school in Culver City, and the crew spent the next 11 days moving between locations at Northridge and Tujunga. The house scenes were shot at 7121 Lonzo Street in Tujunga. The next 42 days were spent at Laird International Studios in Culver City, for the interiors of Elliott's home. The crew shot at a redwood forest near Crescent City for the last six days of production. Spielberg shot the film in roughly chronological order to achieve convincingly emotional performances from his cast. In the scene in which Michael first encounters the alien, the creature's appearance caused MacNaughton to jump back and knock down the shelves behind him. The chronological shoot gave the young actors an emotional experience as they bonded with E.T., making the hospital sequences more moving. Spielberg ensured the puppeteers kept away from the set to maintain the illusion of a real alien. For the first time in his career, he did not storyboard most of the film, in order to facilitate spontaneity in the performances. The film was shot so adults, except for Dee Wallace, are never seen from the waist up in the first half of the film, as a tribute to the cartoons of Tex Avery. The shoot was completed in 61 days, four days ahead of schedule. According to Spielberg, the memorable scene where E.T. disguises himself as a stuffed animal in Elliott's closet was suggested by colleague Robert Zemeckis, after he read a draft of the screenplay that Spielberg had sent him.

Longtime Spielberg collaborator John Williams composed the musical score for E.T. Williams described his challenge as creating a score that would generate sympathy for such an odd-looking creature. As with their previous collaborations, Spielberg liked every theme Williams composed and had it included. Spielberg loved the music for the final chase so much that he edited the sequence to suit it. Williams' took a modernist approach, especially with his use of polytonality, which refers to the sound of two different keys played simultaneously. The Lydian mode can also be used in a polytonal way. Williams combined polytonality and the Lydian mode to express a mystic, dreamlike and heroic quality. His theme—emphasizing coloristic instruments such as the harp, piano, celesta, and other keyboards, as well as percussion—suggests the childlike nature of E.T. and his “machine.”


Spielberg drew the story of E.T. from the divorce of his own parents; Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called the film "essentially a spiritual autobiography, a portrait of the filmmaker as a typical suburban kid set apart by an uncommonly fervent, mystical imagination". References to Spielberg's childhood occur throughout: Elliott feigns illness by holding his thermometer to a light bulb while covering his face with a heating pad, a trick frequently employed by the young Spielberg. Michael's picking on Elliott echoes Spielberg's teasing of his younger sisters, and Michael's evolution from tormentor to protector reflects how Spielberg had to take care of his sisters after their father left.

Critics have focused on the parallels between the life of E.T. and Elliott, who is "alienated" by the loss of his father. A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote that while E.T. "is the more obvious and desperate foundling", Elliott "suffers in his own way from the want of a home" (coincidentally, E.T. is the first and last letter of Eliott's name). At the film's heart is the theme of growing up. Critic Henry Sheehan described the film as a retelling of Peter Pan from the perspective of a Lost Boy (Elliott): E.T. cannot survive physically on Earth, as Pan could not survive emotionally in Neverland; government scientists take the place of Neverland’s pirates. Vincent Canby of The New York Times similarly observed that the film "freely recycles elements from [...] Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz". Some critics have suggested that Spielberg's portrayal of suburbia is very dark, contrary to popular belief. According to A.O. Scott, "The suburban milieu, with its unsupervised children and unhappy parents, its broken toys and brand-name junk food, could have come out of a Raymond Carver story." Charles Taylor of wrote, "Spielberg's movies, despite the way they're often characterized, are not Hollywood idealizations of families and the suburbs. The homes here bear what the cultural critic Karal Ann Marling called 'the marks of hard use'."

Other critics found religious parallels between E.T. and Jesus. Andrew Nigels described the story of E.T. as "crucifixion by military science" and "resurrection by love and faith". According to Spielberg biographer Joseph McBride, Universal Pictures appealed directly to the Christian market, with a poster reminiscent of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam and a logo reading "Peace". Spielberg answered that he did not intend the film to be a religious parable, joking, "If I ever went to my mother and said, 'Mom, I've made this movie that's a Christian parable,' what do you think she'd say? She has a kosher restaurant on Pico and Doheny in Los Angeles."

As a substantial body of film criticism has built up around E.T., numerous writers have analyzed the film in other ways as well. E.T. has been interpreted as a modern fairy tale and in psychoanalytic terms. Producer Kathleen Kennedy noted that an important theme of E.T. is tolerance, which would be central to future Spielberg films such as Schindler's List. Having been a loner as a teenager, Spielberg described the film as "a minority story". Spielberg's characteristic theme of communication is partnered with the ideal of mutual understanding: he has suggested that the story's central alien-human friendship is an analogy for how real-world adversaries can learn to overcome their differences.


E.T. was previewed in Houston, Texas, where it received high marks from viewers. The film premiered at the closing gala of the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, and was released in the United States on June 11, 1982. It opened at number one with a gross of $11 million, and stayed at the top of the box office for six weeks. It fluctuated between the first and second positions until January. By the end of its theatrical run, it had grossed $359.2 million in the United States and Canada. Spielberg earned $500,000 a day from his share of the profits. The Hershey Company's profits rose 65% due to the film's prominent use of Reese's Pieces. The film was rereleased on July 19, 1985, and grossed $40 million domestically. E.T. was released on VHS and laserdisc on October 27, 1988; to combat piracy, the tapeguards on the videocassettes were colored green, and encoded with macrovision. In North America alone, VHS sales came to $75 million.

Spielberg with President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan, fans of the film, in 1986

Critics acclaimed E.T. as a classic. Roger Ebert wrote, "This is not simply a good movie. It is one of those movies that brush away our cautions and win our hearts." Michael Sragow of Rolling Stone called Spielberg "a space age Jean Renoir.... [F]or the first time, [he] has put his breathtaking technical skills at the service of his deepest feelings." Leonard Maltin would include it in his list of "100 Must-See Films of the 20th Century" as one of only two movies from the 1980s. George Will was one of the few to pan the film, feeling it spread subversive notions about childhood and science.

There were allegations that the film was plagiarized from a 1967 script, The Alien, by celebrated Bengali director Satyajit Ray. Ray stated, "E.T. would not have been possible without my script of The Alien being available throughout the United States in mimeographed copies." Spielberg denied this claim, stating, "I was a kid in high school when his script was circulating in Hollywood." Star Weekend Magazine disputes Spielberg's claim, pointing out that he had graduated from high school in 1965 and began his career as a director in Hollywood in 1969. Besides E.T., some believe that another earlier Spielberg film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), was also inspired by The Alien.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial holds a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It has a Metacritic score of 94. In addition to the many impressed critics, President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan were moved by the film after a screening at the White House on June 27, 1982. Princess Diana was in tears after watching the film. On September 17, 1982, the film was screened at the United Nations, and Spielberg received the U.N. Peace Medal.

The film was nominated for nine Oscars at the 55th Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Gandhi won that award, but its director, Richard Attenborough, declared, "I was certain that not only would E.T. win, but that it should win. It was inventive, powerful, [and] wonderful. I make more mundane movies." It won four Academy Awards—Best Original Music Score, Sound, Sound Effects Editing, and Visual Effects. At the Golden Globes, the film won Best Picture in the Drama category and Best Score; it was also nominated for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best New Male Star for Henry Thomas. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded the film Best Picture, Best Director, and a "New Generation Award" for Melissa Mathison. The film won Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Writing, Best Special Effects, Best Music, and Best Poster Art, while Henry Thomas, Robert McNaughton, and Drew Barrymore won Young Artist Awards. In addition to his Golden Globe and Saturn, composer John Williams won a Grammy and a BAFTA for the score. E.T. was also honored abroad: the film won the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Blue Ribbon in Japan, Cinema Writers Circle Awards in Spain, César Awards in France, and David di Donatello in Italy.

In American Film Institute polls, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has been voted the 24th greatest film of all time, the 44th most thrilling, and the sixth most uplifting. Other AFI polls rated it as having the 14th greatest music score and as the third greatest science-fiction film. The line "E.T. phone home" was ranked 15th on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes list, and 48th on Premiere's top movie quote list. In 2005, the film topped a Channel 4 poll of the 100 greatest family films, and was also listed by Time as one of the 100 best films ever made. In 2003, Entertainment Weekly called the film the eighth most "tear-jerking"; in 2007, in a survey of both films and television series, the magazine declared E.T. the seventh greatest work of science-fiction media in the past 25 years. The Times also named E.T. as their ninth favorite alien in a film, calling it "one of the best-loved non-humans in popular culture". The film is among the top ten in the BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14. In 1994, E.T. was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry.

20th anniversary version

An extended version of the film, including altered special effects, was released on March 22, 2002. Certain shots of E.T. had bothered Spielberg since 1982, as he did not have enough time to perfect the animatronics. Computer-generated imagery (CGI), provided by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), was used to modify several shots, including ones of E.T. running in the opening sequence and being spotted in the cornfield. The spaceship's design was also altered to include more lights. Scenes shot for but not included in the original version were introduced. These included E.T. taking a bath, and Gertie telling Mary that Elliott went to the forest. Spielberg did not add the scene featuring Harrison Ford, feeling that would reshape the film too drastically. Spielberg became more sensitive about the scene where gun-wielding federal agents threaten Elliott and his escaping friends; he digitally replaced the guns with walkie-talkies.

At the premiere, John Williams conducted a live performance of the score. The new release grossed $35 million domestically, bringing the film's total worldwide gross to $793 million since 1982. The 20th anniversary version was released as part of a two-disc DVD set on December 10, 2002; it was also packaged in a collector's edition with the original version. The changes to the film, particularly the escape scene, were criticized as political correctness. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wondered, "Remember those guns the feds carried? Thanks to the miracle of digital, they're now brandishing walkie-talkies.... Is this what two decades have done to free speech?" Chris Hewitt of Empire wrote, "The changes are surprisingly low-key [...] while ILM's CGI E.T. is used sparingly as a complement to Carlo Rambaldi's extraordinary puppet." South Park parodied many of the changes in the 2002 episode " Free Hat".

Other portrayals

In July 1982, during the film's first theatrical run, Spielberg and Mathison wrote a treatment for a sequel to be titled E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears. It would have seen Elliott and his friends kidnapped by evil aliens and follow their attempts to contact E.T. for help. Spielberg decided against pursuing the sequel, feeling it "would do nothing but rob the original of its virginity".

Atari made a video game based on the film. Released in 1982, it was widely considered to be one of the worst video games ever. William Kotzwinkle—author of the film's novelization—wrote a sequel, E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet, published in 1985. The novel concerns E.T.'s return to its planet, Brodo Asogi; its subsequent demotion and exile to its childhood "farm"; and its attempts to return to Earth by effectively breaking all the laws of Brodo Asogi. E.T. Adventure, a theme park ride, debuted at Universal Studios Florida in 1990. The $40 million attraction features the title character saying goodbye to visitors by name.

In 1998, E.T. was licensed to appear in television public service announcements produced by the Progressive Corporation. The announcements featured E.T.'s voice reminding drivers to "buckle up" their safety belts. Traffic signs depicting a stylized E.T. wearing a safety belt were installed on selected roads around the United States. The following year, British Telecommunications launched the "Stay in Touch" campaign, with E.T. as the star of various advertisements. The campaign's slogan was "B.T. has E.T.", with "E.T." also taken to mean "extra technology". At Spielberg's suggestion, George Lucas included members of E.T.'s race as background characters in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999).

Retrieved from ""