No announcement yet.

“E.T.” 40th anniversary (retro article)

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • “E.T.” 40th anniversary (retro article)

    Reese’s Pieces, Flying Bicycles and a Boy’s Life: remembering “E.T.” on its 40th Anniversary

    Originally posted by Michael Coate/The Digital Bits



    By Michael Coate

    E.T. is the perfect balance between epic and intimate. It is an incredible example of how cinema can transport us into a world of limitless possibilities through imagination, and it showcases filmmaking at the highest level in its use of technology, skill, and craft. — Brian Herzlinger, director of My Date with Drew

    The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 40th anniversary of the release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Steven Spielberg’s classic family film about the friendship between a boy and an alien visitor who is afraid, totally alone, and three million light years from home.

    E.T. was the winner of four Academy Awards (visual effects, sound, sound editing, and John Williams’ original score) and starred Dee Wallace (The Howling), Henry Thomas (Cloak & Dagger), Robert MacNaughton (I Am the Cheese), Drew Barrymore (Firestarter), and Peter Coyote (Timerider).

    E.T. was for over a decade the industry’s highest-grossing motion picture, and in 1994 the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Its most recent home media release (on 4K UHD) was earlier this year and reviewed here.

    For the occasion of this year’s anniversary of E.T., The Bits features a multi-page article consisting of a 22-chapter oral history-style interview segment with a diverse group of pop culture authorities, Spielberg biographers, film historians and filmmakers who reflect on the movie. The article also features noteworthy box-office data and statistics, passages from a sampling of original reviews, and a reference listing of its 70mm theatrical presentations.



    Mark A. Altman (co-producer, 1982: Greatest Geek Year Ever!): E.T. is a significant moment in cinema. It represents a demarcation between the dark, fatalistic, cynical films of the 70's and really is the beginning of the 80's filmmaking era... even if it was already 1982. It's a beautifully constructed fairy tale which is the best Walt Disney film Walt never made.

    William Kallay (author, The Making of Tron): E.T. still resonates with people even after forty years. The style of clothing, the cars, and the humongous headphones on actor K.C. Martel’s head are very dated, but the story of friendship and love will always capture us and E.T. was the perfect film for that.

    Steven Awalt (author, Steven Spielberg and Duel: The Making of a Film Career): [For its 40th anniversary E.T. should be remembered] with great fondness, I hope, but also as an opportunity to introduce brand-new audiences to one of all of cinema’s greatest films.

    Brian Herzlinger (director, My Date with Drew): E.T. is 40! I can’t believe it! There is a comfort knowing that as we all get older, so do our favorite films. Films that were poignant enough to have merged with our childhood memories and unleash limitless imagination will always hold a special place in the annals of cinema. Sometimes, when you revisit a childhood favorite film as an adult, the magic is gone, and the techniques of the craft reveal cracks that were previously unseen by our unknowing eyes. On the other hand, sometimes those childhood favorites happen to stand the test of time so beautifully, that they continue to influence culture and remain an unforgettable chapter in the history of filmmaking. Fortunately, the latter is the case with E.T. Forty years later, and it’s still as perfect, relevant, and unforgettable as ever.

    Caseen Gaines (author, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: The Ultimate Visual History): E.T. is a masterpiece, not only of cinema, but of storytelling. It remains one of the most beloved films of all time, which is quite astonishing considering how intimate it is. This became a summer blockbuster, but it doesn't quite fit the description of what we think of when we hear those words, "summer blockbuster." It resonated because of the heart at the center of its story, Steven Spielberg's masterful direction, Melissa Mathison's brilliant words, the performances by the talented cast, and contributions of hundreds of people who made this film the uniquely special movie it turned out to be.

    James Kendrick (author, Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconstruction of the Films of Steven Spielberg): E.T. is a perennial classic that cuts across generational divides, so I think it will be remembered most for its enduring emotional power. A lot of films—including good ones—lose some of their edge, their effectiveness, their emotional intensity—with age and fail to connect with new generations. E.T. is not one of those films. Rather, it is a film that speaks to viewers today, young and old, just as it did in 1982. I had the great experience of watching it for the first time with my own kids (ages 7 and 9) just a few months ago, and they were utterly enthralled. They were scared at the scary parts, laughed at the funny parts, cheered for E.T. when he came back to life and rooted for Elliott and his friends to get away from the government agents and help E.T. get home. They—and I—were teary in the final moments. It is simply a movie that works.

    Mike Matessino (restoration producer of numerous John Williams/Steven Spielberg soundtracks): My perspective has really changed over the past few years. What comes to mind now is that E.T. is a window into a very different world, one with its own problems, for sure, but overall a world that was simpler and more innocent and that I find myself missing. Star Wars was the dominant pop culture phenomenon of the period, but it involved space travel and was set in another galaxy. E.T. presents the same exact world as existed outside the exit door of the cinema, and for me, that remains one of the most powerful things about it. The anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on how much our world has changed in forty years. As for how to do so [remember or celebrate the movie]? We’re blessed with a fantastic looking IMAX version that allows audiences to experience the movie in all its cinematic glory.

    Ray Morton (author, Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic Film): The picture deserved every bit of its success. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a wonderful movie—filled with thrills, comedy, emotion, and magic, it is a supremely entertaining picture. Melissa Mathison’s script is just superb. This cast is too and the craftspeople above and below the line all deliver at the top of their games. But the film’s triumph ultimately belongs to Spielberg. He brought all of his remarkable gifts for visual storytelling—his unerring sense of composition, camera movement, staging, pacing, and editing—to bear on the project, along with his deep and nuanced understanding of life in the American suburbs, and his unparalleled ability to infuse a film with an authentic sense of wonder and awe. He also brought his heart—E.T. is an intensely emotional movie, filled with joy and pain and love. Spielberg puts all of these emotions up on the screen unfiltered and with a deep and genuine sincerity that allowed viewers to experience the story with the same intensity of feeling that he does. As a result, auditoriums across the planet were filled with sniffles and snobs as E.T. and Elliott said their final goodbyes, followed by peals of joyous laughter as the alien visitor rose into the heavens in his Christmas-ornament of a spacecraft, leaving a brilliant rainbow in his wake as a parting gift for his friend—and for us all.


    Mike Matessino: No one else could have directed it. The movie was an extension of who he was as a person as well as a filmmaker. There’s almost no point in looking at any other of his films without E.T. as the main point of context. It’s the creative hub of his filmography.

    Joseph McBride (author, Steven Spielberg: A Biography): Truffaut was right that Spielberg was the ideal person to make E.T. because of his sensitivity to “keeds”—and he dealt with aliens. I later read Carl Jung’s 1959 book Flying Sauers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, which argues that for an age that is skeptical of the traditional conception of God, we want Gods from the machine, i.e., aliens from flying saucers. Jung also noted that UFO belief surges in times of social crisis, stemming from “an emotional tension having its cause in a situation of collective distress or danger, or in a vital psychic need." That was true when Spielberg conceived Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a UFO Watergate story and a response to the national trauma of the Vietnam Era. Gradually the political concept somewhat fell away, although Close Encounters shows how the government keeps the alien encounter a secret and puts out a cover story to hide it from the public. In E.T., we see the government swooping in secretly and basically killing E.T., although the UFOlogist “Keys” (Peter Coyote) is sympathetic with Elliott, saying he too dreamed of meeting an alien. Then E.T. is resurrected from the dead, in one of the film’s many parallels with the story of Jesus Christ. Spielberg’s work ironically is full of Christian iconography, which I recognize as part of his way to win acceptance from the majority, after being ostracized to some extent for being Jewish, as The Fabelmansshows us (although it oddly leaves out the anti-Semitism he experienced in Arizona, situating all of it in Northern California, the year in Saratoga he called “Hell on Earth”).Close Encounters and E.T. deal with Spielberg’s “vital psychic need” stemming from his family’s 1965 breakup, the trauma he deals with over and over in his films. Another psychiatrist who has studied the UFO phenomenon, Kenneth Ring, noted that when a child from a dysfunctional family learns “to dissociate in response to the trauma,” he is “much more likely to become sensitive to alternate realities."

    Ray Morton: With his work in both Close Encounters and E.T., Spielberg created the most accurate depictions of middle-class, suburban American life ever put on film. Unlike most cinematic portrayals of the ‘burbs, Spielberg’s depictions were not idealized, not condescending, and not cynical. They were simply and genuinely real.

    James Kendrick: E.T. is one of Spielberg's greatest films and no one else could have made it as he did. It was a deeply personal film for him, embodying as it does so many of his own childhood emotions, fears, longings, and resentments. His name is nowhere on the writing credits, but his fingerprints are all over the story, which is autobiographical in its emotional content.

    Brian Herzlinger: The visual language of Spielberg is its own master class of filmmaking, and E.T. showcases that talent unlike any of his other endeavors. Spielberg’s ability to tell a fantasy story while anchoring it in the most human of emotions and experiences (loss, alienation, exploration, exhilaration, love, family), and to explore these themes through a child’s perspective requires a masterful hand. It’s rare for a film to have audiences of all ages to be wholly moved by the story and its characters the way E.T. so skillfully does. While Spielberg’s entire body of work has been the singular inspiration for my own film career, E.T. remains my favorite film, and I consider Schindler’s List to be the best made film of all time.

    Steven Awalt: There was no other person who could’ve directed E.T. as well as Steven Spielberg. It came from his heart and dreams extending back to boyhood. One could rightly say the same about Poltergeist, as Spielberg has, only that comes from his very personal yet relatable childhood fears.

    Caseen Gaines: Spielberg is the only person who could have directed the film because it's so personal to him. It's largely inspired by his real life and definitely grounded in his emotional truth. He has a phenomenal way of making the unbelievable seem real, and I think E.T. stands out among his body of work as the best time he's done that on screen.

    Mark A. Altman: It was absolutely the perfect marriage of material and director. It's hard to believe that its origin as a dark, ominous, scary film in John Sayles' script for Night Skies was something he was serious about directing. E.T. is so on-brand for Spielberg and in his wheelhouse at the time. I think it's one of his best films right after Jaws, Close Encounters and Raiders. Although I'd put Munich, Schindler's List and Bridge of Spies ahead of it subsequently as well, but given his batting average, that's quite impressive.

    Saul Pincus (director/editor, Nocturne): Close Encounters of the Third Kind was one of my most formative cinema experiences, and remains so—but with E.T. Spielberg found a way to plug directly into kids by wisely restricting the film to their point of view. Permission to be a kid is a key hallmark of early-career Spielberg; here you can argue that impulse and follow-through was at its purest, most accessible, and most universally effective. It also served as a proof of concept for the backyard adventure—perhaps the primary conceptual backbone of the Amblin Entertainment brand.

    William Kallay: Steven Spielberg is perhaps our most powerful film director when it comes to getting an audience engaged in a story. Certainly George Lucas, James Cameron, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola changed how we see and experience films in the modern era. Spielberg, though, had the ability to go from action and scary films to utterly emotional films. E.T. was a combination of his instincts as a director to delve down to the core of being human. His film was one of those rare events that truly brought audiences together.


    Ray Morton: E.T. began its journey to the screen as a sort-of-a-sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg’s 1977 epic about the first contact between humans and extra-terrestrials. Close Encounters was a major hit and soon after its release Spielberg and Columbia, the studio that financed and released the picture, began talking about doing a sequel. Spielberg eventually opted not to do a direct continuation (he chose instead to revise the original—by re-editing it and adding some new scenes—and re-releasing it in 1980 as The Special Edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind), but he did come up with an idea for a spin-off called Night Skies. Based on a supposedly true story that Spielberg learned about when he was researching CE3K, Night Skies was to be a horror film about a family living on a remote American farm that is invaded by hostile aliens. The visitors raise all sorts of havoc (including dissecting livestock) as the family members barricade themselves in their home and fight off the aliens. Columbia liked the idea and agreed to develop the project with Spielberg producing. Acting in this capacity (with his former assistant Kathleen Kennedy as his co-producer), Spielberg hired John Sayles to write the script, Ron Cobb to direct, and Rick Baker to create the alien creatures before he headed off to North Africa to direct Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    Steven Awalt: The beautiful thing about E.T. is that Steven found the perfect collaborator in the late Melissa Mathison, who he hired to write the screenplay from his story after he told her the tale of this lost alien and boy while they were in Tunisia shooting Raiders. (Ms. Mathison was Harrison Ford’s girlfriend at the time and went overseas to visit him.) She had only written one produced screenplay to that point, for the Francis Ford Coppola-produced The Black Stallion, which is the story of a boy and his friendship with a special horse. I don’t know if it was a simple one-for-one in Steven’s mind: boy-horse story to boy-alien story, but he was a big admirer of what Melissa brought to that film and his choice of a screenwriter was clearly dead-on. Many have said over the decades, starting with Steven and E.T. producer Kathleen Kennedy, that Melissa’s script was a rare, near-perfect piece of work, ready to go before cameras on her first draft. That meeting of hearts and minds between Steven and Melissa was practically kismet based on Steven’s keen instinct for people and Melissa being in the right place at the right time.

    Ray Morton: As good as Mathison’s script was, Columbia decided not to go ahead with the project. Unwilling to spend $10 million (the projected budget) on a film one of the studio’s executives described as “a wimpy Walt Disney movie,” Columbia put E.T. and Me(Mathison’s original title) into turnaround, choosing instead to proceed with another, more adult-oriented friendly-alien-stuck-on-Earth project called Starman (which John Carpenter directed in 1984 with Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen starring). Spielberg took E.T. and Meto his mentor Sid Sheinberg at Universal and Sheinberg agreed to make it.


    William Kallay: The performances Spielberg coaxed out of Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore are nothing short of astounding.

    Mike Matessino: To a great degree you have to cast children who are actually the characters you’re looking for, and Mike Fenton really did a fabulous job of finding the kids for E.T. They all feel like real kids of the period. The movie was also helped tremendously by having screenwriter Melissa Mathison as Associate Producer, which allowed her to be on set every day, working with the kids, coming up with new pieces of business or tweaking dialogue that kept it all feeling natural. It should also be noted that there was no way that the same performances could have been captured if E.T. himself was a digital creature added later. The fact that E.T. was a physical character in the scene with them is what makes it work. The rest of the cast are also perfect. Dee Wallace has just enough of a childlike vibe about her to make it work that she’s the only adult seen for the first two-thirds of the movie. I also think Peter Coyote’s performance is underrated. I love the moment where his face is revealed and the music is threatening, and then we find that he’s a very sympathetic and compassionate regular guy.

    Brian Herzlinger: The performances from adults and children alike in E.T. is perfection. The word real is immediately what I think of in describing their acting and its effect on the story. Peter Coyote as Keys and Dee Wallace as Mary are both natural, engaging, and real in their roles, and Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore and Robert MacNaughton all felt real as the children of this family. This, in turn, made E.T. feel real. In a film that at its heart is fantasy, and with the film’s namesake an abandoned lonely alien from another world, real from the other actors is vital for the film to connect with audiences. At no point does the audience not believe Henry Thomas has befriended a real alien. Even at such young ages, these actors were incredible. The casting is a testament to Spielberg, and the impeccable dialogue is a testament to screenwriter Melissa Mathison.

    Steven Awalt: Of course Henry Thomas, Robert MacNaughton and Drew Barrymore couldn’t be more perfect in their roles; they complete inhabit Elliott, Michael and Gertie respectively. They were such appealing, emotionally available kids to the material and for the audience to connect with, and I think that certainly extends to the wonderful Dee Wallace playing Mary, the Taylor kids’ mother. They feel like a real family, and far too many families, “breaking” or “broken” families in the audience, could associate with the state of their family, their feelings of an absent father from divorce, and the gap he left being filled in ways by this completely improbable visitor from beyond the stars. There are such profound feelings of loss, but in turn, deeper love through E.T., and the cast deserves every bit as much credit for that as Steven and Melissa do for their work.


    M. David Mullen, ASC (cinematographer, The Love Witch, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; co-editor, American Cinematographer Manual Eleventh Edition):The 1983 Oscar Cinematography nominations pointed to the new era of film stocks—you had one feature shot on Fuji high-speed stock get nominated, Das Boot, and two others used the first high-speed Kodak stock to come out, 5293, but E.T. and Gandhi were shot on slower Kodak 5247, the 125 ASA film stock released in the mid-1970s. They were probably in production before the new Kodak stock became available in 1982.

    Allen Daviau’s use of smoke and shadowy lighting transformed the mundane suburban setting into something magical, more like life as seen through the eyes of a child. To help with this perspective, the movie is often shot from lower angles with wider-angle lenses. Spielberg and Daviau also studied Alien (photographed by Derek Vanlint), calling it a textbook on textured lighting. Besides haze, much of the movie was shot with a light Double Fog filter, creating halation around light sources (McCabe and Mrs. Miller, photographed by Vilmos Zsigmond, is one of the more notable examples of the use of a Double Fog for diffusion.) In E.T. there is also a complex version of the dolly-zoom combination made famous by Hitchcock in Vertigo (and used by Spielberg in The Sugarland Express and Jaws for a key moment.) The shot involves a hilltop view of the neighborhood where the government agents looking for E.T. are revealed, ending on a shot of keys hanging from actor Peter Coyote’s belt.

    Allen Daviau was not a fan of anamorphic lenses, perhaps because he preferred a less-wide aspect ratio that was closer to the frame used by the European art films and classic Hollywood films that he admired. Also, for various reasons, the 1980s was a period of decline for anamorphic photography until a resurgence in the 1990s. Some say it was because of the rise of home video before letterboxing had become accepted, causing filmmakers to avoid the experience of seeing their 2.40:1 anamorphic framing butchered by panning-and-scanning. But in the case of E.T., the use of 1.85:1 instead of 2.40:1 might have been a signal to the audience that Spielberg was making a more intimate, personal film rather than a spectacle.


    Mike Matessino: By the time Steven Spielberg made E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, it was not at all surprising that John Williams would compose its score. It was their sixth project together, three of which—Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark—had yielded instantly recognizable music. The latter of these was a collaboration between Spielberg and Star Wars creator George Lucas, which solidified the sheer creative power and box office dominance that both men had brought to cinema. John Williams was the musical voice not only of the films the pair made, but of the era itself.

    Raiders was an important milestone for Spielberg. As successful as Jaws and Close Encounters had been, both had gone over-schedule and over-budget. When the same thing happened with the epic comedy 1941, only with no blockbuster receipts saving the day at the back end, Spielberg’s sure-fire bankability was questioned. It even gave Lucas pause about having him direct Raiders, which his company was itself financing. But Spielberg promised to finish the first Indiana Jones adventure on-time and on-budget, which he not only fulfilled but exceeded. Apart from assuring its financial success, Spielberg came away from the experience with a discipline of working efficiently that stays with him today.

    Following his first two hits, Spielberg had begun backing other films as an executive producer, but with the success of Raiders came the ability to formally establish “Amblin Productions” through the auspices of M-G-M, which had agreed to make the Spielberg production of Poltergeist. E.T. was made in parallel, to be released by Universal, although it was filmed at the neighboring Laird Studios (previously Desilu Culver and the Selznick International). The film went before the cameras in September 1981, after Poltergeist had wrapped, and even during filming Spielberg discussed what he had in mind for Williams’ music: “It’s to be a very expansive score, and yet it’s going to focus down in a rather intimate style because it’s a love story. We need pure violins and oboes, and harp and piano, and a rather quiet ensemble probably comprised of over 70 musicians. This movie is a tiny epic and I think John’s score will be very suitable for that description.”

    Williams had recorded his scores for Jaws, Close Encounters and 1941 at the 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. scoring stages, with Raiders taking place in London, where the production (like the Star Wars films) was based. But with Amblin’s deal at M-G-M came access to their legendary stage, and on the day after Williams’ 50th birthday, February 9, 1982, the composer came to the final Jerry Goldsmith session for Poltergeist and was asked by Spielberg if he could do E.T. there with the same core crew. This would include music editor Ken Hall, who, along with Williams, had been among the talent present in Lionel Newman’s music department at Fox in the 60s, and recording engineer Lyle Burbridge, whose career had started by recording Williams’ underscore cues for the 1969 musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips. As for the M-G-M stage, it was a homecoming, as Williams had played there as a session pianist in the late 50s and into the 60s. Herbert Spencer, another alum from the 20th days, would orchestrate E.T. (and he’d even done a couple of cues on Poltergeist), and supervising the cutting-edge digital mix-downs would be Bruce Botnick, who would become Goldsmith’s regular scoring mixer beginning the following year.

    E.T. scoring began on March 25, 1982, and among the first music recorded was for the finale of the picture, specifically The Bike Chase and The Departure, which yielded the most oft-recounted anecdote from the sessions. Williams had designed both cues to precisely synchronize with specific visual and emotional beats on the screen, but the fluid tempo variances proved difficult to achieve. Spielberg then offered the solution: he would let Williams record the music without the picture, capturing the tempos that felt emotionally right, and then later recut the film to the music. Williams summarized the result: “I think part of the reason the end of the film has such an operatic sense of completion and real emotional satisfaction, is that it was music first, and then refinement of the picture editing second.”

    The Bike Chase was one of the few action-based cues in the E.T. score. In contrast to what Spielberg’s previous films has required of the composer, the music reflected the director’s note that it was, essentially, a love story, and called for a purity of instrumentation. Rich with thematic material, its melodies all related to each other (as well as subtly, almost subconsciously, connecting with some of Close Encounters’ music), E.T. features several noteworthy solos for flute, piano, and harp. The ensemble called for two of the latter instrument, played by Dorothy Remsen and Catherine Gotthoffer, who offer a duet of the theme in the cue At Home. It is in the score’s more intimate passages such as this, rather than the action material, that the Spielberg-Williams collaboration truly solidifies in the score for E.T. In this masterwork (arguably among many for both men), Williams finds the emotional core of the story, characters, and the suburban and forest settings, and helps it resonate on levels beyond the tangible.

    Recording sessions for the film concluded on April 2, 1982, but an additional two days at the end of the month were booked for album arrangements, which comprised about half the running time of the soundtrack that was released the same week as the film. As a listening experience it worked beautifully, freed of narrative constraint and conveying the thematic material almost as an emotional memory. The album achieved Gold Records status and won two Grammy Awards, both for best soundtrack as well as for the track Flying, which presents the well-known main theme and instantly summons the iconic image of harvest moon-silhouetted Elliott and E.T. on airborne bicycle. Said icon would, in just two years’ time, become the logo for Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, formed with E.T.’s and Poltergeist’s producers (and soon to be spouses) Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, established at Universal Studios, where it remains today.

    The music of E.T. has had a remarkable life beyond the movie. Williams began his third season as principal conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra just as the film was completed, and immediately added selections from the score to concert repertoire. The following year the composer received an Academy Award for the score (his fourth), followed by the aforementioned Grammys. He then revisited the material in 1990 for the theme park ride The E.T. Adventure, and in 1996 the first expanded version of the score was released. An updated version appeared in 2002, when the film was reissued for its 20th anniversary (in a since retracted, recut and CG-tweaked edition), the celebration kicking off with Williams conducting live orchestra in sync to the picture. This event in itself laid the groundwork for the numerous live-to-picture concerts that we enjoy today, with E.T. itself being presented beginning in 2016, including a newly composed “entr’acte” penned by Williams to begin the second half of the program. Another updated and remastered presentation of the soundtrack, that I produced with original mixing engineer and album producer Bruce Botnick, was released for the film’s 35th anniversary in 2017. For the first time, the full film score, along with alternates and extras, plus the 1982 original soundtrack album, were all comprehensively presented in a single package. The 40th anniversary was marked with an IMAX format reissue of the film, coming in the midst of celebration for Williams’ 90th birthday and just ahead of the 50th anniversary of the remarkable director-composer collaboration. Clearly there is every reason to be “over the moon” about John Williams’ timeless music for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.


    Bill Mead (Dolby Laboratories):By 1982, Dolby had become a critical ingredient brand that simply meant that a particular cinema had invested in equipment that would deliver the best sound. Prior to the 1977 Star Wars release, many moviegoers in the smaller markets had never heard surround sound before. The standard 35mm soundtrack was plagued with clicks and pops, distortion, and was generally a bad audio experience. The audiences may not have understood the technology, but they had become aware of Dolby from their experiences with the Dolby releases beginning with Star Wars, and on to many other blockbuster titles. They knew that a Dolby-equipped theatre, identified by the Dolby logo, would give them a sound experience that was better than what they would get otherwise. Those moviegoers in the major markets where a 70mm Dolby print was available, got a state-of-the-art sound experience. This is still true today, with Dolby Cinema and Dolby Atmos.

    Steve Lee (The Hollywood Sound Museum):Creating believable sounds for alien creatures in movies can be pretty tricky, especially when the character is a completely manufactured puppet. But the sounds of E.T. are absolutely brilliant and completely sell that character to the audience. The sound effects for the film were supervised by the late great Charles Campbell, and E.T.'s voice was by Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt. He mostly used the voice of an old chain-smoking woman named Pat Welsh that he met in a Northern California camera shop. She had a peculiar, androgynous voice... you couldn't tell if it was male, female, or an alien creature! Ben supplemented it with otters and other animals he recorded. (He hired Pat again later for the voice of bounty hunter Boushh who is Princess Leia's disguise in the first part of Return of the Jedi.). I remember hearing that they were very concerned that E.T. might be too scary for small kids. So Steven Spielberg gave a note to the Foley crew performing movement sound effects for the film that they should do whatever they can to "make E.T. funnier." When E.T. is getting drunk in the kitchen and waddling around, they filled a T-shirt with Jell-O for some funny sloshy body movement sounds. Really clever stuff. Chuck Campbell and Ben Burtt won the Oscar for Best Sound Editing that year for the film. [And for the film’s production audio and re-recording mixing, Robert Knudson, Robert Glass, Don Digirolamo and Gene Cantamessa won the Oscar for Best Sound.]


    Joe Fordham (writer, Cinefex): I considered myself a savvy movie-goer, Harryhausen aficionado, early consumer of imported Cinefex magazines, and a dabbler in Super-8, so I was cocky in my knowledge of go-motion and animatronic creations. But this thing confounded me. E.T. was a perfect illusion, and completely spellbinding.

    William Kallay: Carlo Rambaldi’s creation of a moving and three-dimensional being still astounds me. The combination of puppetry and the voicing of E.T. made him all the more believable.

    John Scoleri (co-author, The Art of Ralph McQuarrie): Ralph’s primary role was designing E.T.'s ship. This time out, Ralph's marching orders were to create a ship that looked like Dr. Seuss designed it. Ralph said, “I thought that was kind of interesting. Very off the wall. I made five or six sketches of spaceships… Steven looked at them. I think I sent them down to L.A., he looked at them there, and he picked one out and I made a painting of it. They built the model at ILM, it looked almost exactly like the painting. And it had all the features, with the retractable lights and everything. It was amazing. They did a beautiful job and I thought it was good. I suggested that it take off with a sort of a blue flame, which they did, and as it lifted into the evening sky it would be very quiet, and the sound of like a jet in the distance, like an airliner, would come in as it disappeared. They did all that I think pretty much the way I described it in my sketch.” Ralph was also asked to come up with some alternate concepts for E.T. himself; including embellishments on the design based on reference photos of Carlo Rambaldi sculpts: “Steven was working with Carlo Rambaldi, and he had sculpted what was really E.T. Steven was just kind of tweaking little wrinkles and so forth, and he had me making sketches of E.T.s, and I made a whole lot of off-the-wall E.T.s. Rambaldi’s version stood up. Steven was just wanting to get another opinion, you might say, which I gave him. But he stayed with the E.T. that Rambaldi made, which I thought was very good.”

    Julie A. Turnock (author, The Empire of Effects: Industrial Light & Magic and the Rendering of Realism): The film is a good example of ILM's maturing house style. ILM only opened to outside (non-Star Wars) business in 1980, so E.T. is a good example of the ILM artists applying what they learned on the original Star Wars and showing their range; in this case, for more “real life” earthbound effects.

    Joe Fordham: Steven Spielberg memorably stated it was John Williams that made the bikes fly in E.T. Without a doubt, the musical score was the transformative magic that put the breath of life into those two sequences in E.T. In my first screening, during the classic shot of E.T. and Elliott silhouetted against the moon audience members cheered and one person popped a flashbulb photo of the screen in the darkened theatre of the Empire Leicester Square. What’s heart-stopping about that scene is the authenticity of the image for such an iconic fantasy emblem. E.T., Elliott, and the moon have become as emblematic of cinematic magic as Georges Méliès’ moon face with a rocket in his eye. As Cinefex revealed in Paul M. Sammon’s January 1983 article, it was Industrial Light & Magic effects cameraman Mike McAlister, working under visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren, who captured that moon as an original motion picture image. After calculating the moon’s ascension, and the exposure and composition of a 1000mm lens, it took three months of long cold nights in a Marin County valley to capture that giant silvery, shimmering orb perfectly through the trees. Little Elliott and E.T. were go-motion miniatures brought to life with subtle motion control movements under animation supervisor Sam Comstock. The 20th anniversary version gave Elliott a flapping cape. But it was still pure magic. And it was the same attention to detail that brought the boys’ final flight to life. Spielberg and cinematographer Allen Daviau’s choice to have the boys race through dappled lighting of an end-of-the-summer’s-day in Granada Hills gave a perfect strobing light effect, emphasizing E.T.’s magic. ILM replicated the light and shadow play in their bluescreen shots of the riders, followed by a gentle progression from twilight to sunset, through aerial photography, real and miniature forests, go-motion puppets, and the final studio landing. We soar on the score, and it’s still exhilarating today.

    Julie A. Turnock: To judge whether E.T. deserved the Oscar for Best Visual Effects that year against Blade Runner and Poltergeist [and Tron, which wasn’t even nominated!], I always find the effects Oscar arbitrary since by the time it gets to the final ballot, it is the full Academy body voting and they tend to vote for the movie in the lineup they liked the best. But for 1982, E.T. makes sense because it is demonstrating that ILM isn’t just Star Wars. Its artists can make a naturalistic, even mundane setting appear fantastic and magical, and not just a galaxy far, far away. And those effects appearing in the biggest movie of the year just solidified ILM’s position at the top of the effects business, a place they have held since that time.


    Saul Pincus: Playing coy worked for this film. In 1982, it was possible for a general audience member or even die-hard science fiction fan to know nearly nothing about what they were about to see until the theater curtains parted and light hit the screen. It sounds quaint, but think about that: it meant that you weren’t in control—the filmmaker was. For Spielberg to keep us in the dark until we were literally in the darkness of a theater gave him the ability to control the total experience and its impact, and because he’s a master filmmaker, we were all the better for his efforts.

    Steven Awalt: I can tell you it had an actual physical impression on my nine-year-old imagination and mind. I remember standing with my family (my mother, father, five siblings and I all went to see it, a rarity that our entire family of eight would go to the movies as one) on line to get into the theater to be seated for the movie. While standing in a completely packed theater lobby, we wound up spending a lot of time right next to this glorious cardboard standee with the film’s teaser key art—that mysterious, slightly ominous but magical image of dark clouds backlit by what surely had to be the lights of some sort of spaceship. Before the film, all I knew about it was that it was directed by the man whose work I was already obsessed with after seeing Close Encounters andRaiders of the Lost Ark, as well as the TV broadcasts of Jaws and 1941, and that likeClose Encounters, it was about an alien. I stared at that standee, studying the image of the clouds and lights and let my imagination go for the movies I was about to see and still nothing could prepare me for the next two hours in that theater. I felt total bliss, heartache and elation by film’s end. I’m an empathetic sponge for movies and stories, but nothing has ever made me feel like I did that summer of 1982 seeing E.T. The memory of those feelings I had that day are still palpable to me now in middle age, forty years on from that summer. The marketing of E.T. was a beautiful mystery, totally evocative without giving a thing away. That’s an art, rare even in that era.

    Brian Herzlinger: E.T. was the highest-grossing film of all time, until Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park took the title in 1993. I would say the movie’s marketing was the most successful in history at that time. Of course, I had multiple E.T. stuffed animals, board games, books, trading cards, toys, etc., so I’m a testament that the marketing worked just fine!

    William Kallay: I do not recall a lot about the marketing. Once it was released in theaters, though, you could not escape it. Early that summer, Time magazine published a multi-page article about Steven Spielberg. The article was glowing about Spielberg’s talent and the fact that E.T. was going to be a blockbuster. The writer also raved about Poltergeistand that was the movie I wanted to see.

    Mike Matessino: I really don’t like when the creature itself is used on key art. We all know what E.T. looks like but there is always another generation coming in and they deserve to experience some of the mystery and gradual reveal that the movie offers.

    Mark A. Altman: It was very cagey not to give away the game. The teaser posters and trailers didn't show much and that was super smart unlike today where they tell you everything in the trailer. It really lured you in. Of course, as a result there wasn't much merchandise to support the film and when it became a juggernaut there was a mad scramble to play catch up and you end up with Atari's E.T. game.


    Mike Matessino: I was blown away. I saw the movie at a sneak preview on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and knew very little about it going in. I thankfully missed the Timemagazine article that revealed the creature, which, famously, was because the Falklands conflict bumped it from the front cover, so I went in thinking that it might be really good but basically on the order of a Lassie-type movie. I honestly didn’t think it was going to be something I’d want to see more than once or twice, despite how much I like Steven Spielberg’s films. A lot of my impression of the movie was enhanced by the audience around me, all of whom seemed to go in completely cold as well. The response was overwhelming and it might have been the single greatest experience I ever had seeing a movie. The applause at the end continued all the way through the credits, and then we all went out into a world that didn’t know about this movie. The advance hype for films was not what it would start becoming by the end of that decade; to a great degree the success of a film was still very much reliant on the film itself. Buttons were handed out at the end of the screening that said, “I Saw E.T.” and, if you can imagine, most people who commented on it over the following week-and-a-half had no idea what it was referring to. It was surreal to sort of feel like I had this secret all to myself for a couple of weeks, but then when the movie opened the world just went instantly crazy over it. I went to see it multiple times over the first weekend and I particularly remember the packed house on Sunday afternoon as being a particularly powerful experience. That went on and on all summer.

    Alison Martino (television producer and historian; founder, Vintage Los Angeles): I was eleven years old and I had just seen Poltergeist four times at the Plitt Theater at the ABC Entertainment Center in Century City. E.T. was released while my family and I were in San Francisco. I simply could not wait until getting home to L.A. to see it and so my parents took me to see it in San Francisco. I was so knocked out by it that when we did get back to L.A. my parents took me to the Cinerama Dome to see it several additional times. We waited two-and-a-half hours in line each time. I remember seeing Kristy McNichol, Leonard Nimoy and, believe it or not, Dee Wallace in line at random showings.

    Mark A. Altman: It's funny, it took me awhile to see it. The marketing was very vague and I thought it'd be too soft for me. I was busy seeing Star Trek II and Poltergeist over and over instead. One day after school, I decided given how much everyone seemed to universally like it, I should finally see it. I took a bus from school to a shitty theater on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn and fell victim to the spell it cast instantly.

    Joseph McBride: I knew François Truffaut, whom I would see every time he visited Hollywood during that period. Truffaut told me he had urged Spielberg to make a movie about “keeds,” since he was so good at directing “keeds.” Finally I heard that Spielberg had made his movie about “keeds,” but it involved a kid and an alien. I told Truffaut about that, and he laughed uproariously. I heard about the shooting under a dummy title, A Boy’s Life, but didn’t see the movie for about a week after its opening. A seven-year-old boy I knew had urged me to go see it, saying it was so wonderful. He was deeply moved. I went and agreed with him.

    Steven Awalt: It hit me in a way no other film had or has still, not even Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Close Encounters and Raiders of the Lost Ark before it, as monumental as those were to a boy growing up in that era. E.T. covers the waterfront of emotions it takes audiences through: apprehension, fear, curiosity, tenderness, bravery, loss, and above all, love—all wrapped up in a very exciting and humorous story.

    Brian Herzlinger: I was six years old when E.T. was released in theaters. It was a perfect age to see it for the first time as my imagination and my willingness to believe in the magic of cinema combined perfectly with realizing I, too, could be part of this incredible filmmaking world. It was the first time I thought, “I want to grow up and make movies like this.” E.T. was immediately my favorite film when I left that theater in June, 1982, and now, as a filmmaker myself, E.T. is still my favorite film.

    Caseen Gaines: I remember being mesmerized by the black-and-green VHS cassette tape and the stunning image of E.T. and Elliott riding past the face of the moon. I remember being a little afraid of the beginning, and maybe the scene when Elliott and E.T. are dying, but beyond that, I think I really just thought the movie was real life. It's written and shot in such a believable way, I never thought for a moment that Elliott and E.T. weren't real and that their bond wasn't real.

    James Kendrick: I saw it for the first time in theaters when I was in second grade. I remember being utterly mesmerized by it and emotionally absorbed. Most of the movies I had seen up until that time had been fairly action oriented, and what a lot of people forget about E.T. is that there aren't a lot of big action scenes until the third act. The first half of the move is a mix of horror/suspense and interpersonal family drama, and even though I didn't fully understand all the familial dynamics at the time, I still felt what Spielberg wanted me to feel with regard to the characters and their situations.

    Ray Morton: My first viewing of E.T. is my greatest cinematic memory. I was a student in the NYU film school and a friend of mine’s brother was a film critic for Variety. He had seen the film in a press screening in L.A. and loved it. He wanted his sister to see it, so he got her on a list for a screening in New York. She was allowed to bring a guest and, knowing I was a big Spielberg fan, she invited me to go with her. This was several weeks before it was released. We went to see the movie and of course it was amazing. The theater was very large and as the movie reached its climax, we started hearing sniffles coming from the dark all around us. And then full on sobs. And then cheers of happiness at the end. That shared experience in the dark that cinephiles talk about when they talk about the movies? We experienced it that night—it really was the magic of the movies, courtesy of Melissa Mathison, Carlo Rambaldi, John Williams, and Mr. Steven Spielberg.

    John Cork (co-author, James Bond Encyclopedia): I was a college student spending a semester abroad, and found my way to Cannes during the festival in late-May of 1982, and I had heard nothing about E.T. But there was a huge sign for it near the Carlton Hotel. How had Steven Spielberg made a film about which I, a film student at USC, had heard nothing? I didn’t attend the festival, but I was allowed to wander the film market, even meet with some of the filmmakers. None of the folks I spoke with had anything good to say about E.T. “I hear it’s a goofy kid’s film,” was one sentiment. Although the success of Raiders was still palpable, many felt that was due to George Lucas’s guiding hand. In the industry, many felt Spielberg was far too self-indulgent. Jaws had horrible production problems, as had Close Encounters. Many in Hollywood had been gleeful when Spielberg’s audience and critics abandoned him with the obviously bloated 1941. Many at Cannes were ready to see him fail again and be relegated to directing mid-level Disney films.

    Joe Fordham: It took six months after he landed in the US for E.T. to arrive in the UK. At least, officially. As a card-carrying member of the Steven Spielberg Film Society, I was determined to avoid the pirate VHS recorded via handheld camcorder in the States and sold under the tables in pubs. Largely, I succeeded. When the creature first waddled out of the Taylor family toolshed, arms extended and light streaming behind it, that was the first time I laid eyes on him, and I gasped.

    John Cork: I left Cannes before the closing night screening, but the word is that the cynics left the theater that night wiping tears away from their eyes. They knew Spielberg had done as good a job depicting single-motherhood in his science fiction film as Scorsese had done in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, that he had captured middle-American childhood, and the way children compartmentalize, fight, bond, obsess, and love in a way that no filmmaker has ever accomplished before or since.

    Saul Pincus: I saw E.T. the second day it opened, a Saturday matinee. It floored me with its message, with the brilliance of its filmmaking and teases, how simply and purely it all went down. I still remember wondering why I couldn’t cry, until I realized I’d spent all my tears watching Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan the night before. Such was the richness of the summer of ’82.

    William Kallay: I remember enjoying the film very much. I was charmed by Elliott and E.T.’s friendship, moved by the broken family dynamic, thrilled by the action sequences and the flight across the moon. But being a cynical teenager, I refused to let myself cry; but damn, it was so hard! As the final scene rolled on that big screen, my dad, who rarely got misty eyed, was wiping tears from his face and sniffling. I had always respected my dad, but that gave me even more respect for him.

    John Scoleri: I was twelve when E.T. opened in June of 1982 and I saw it in San Jose where, surprisingly (in retrospect), it was playing in the smaller “split” Century 23 Dome. But that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the film. I was moved by it. Of course, at twelve I was the perfect target age for it. I could identify with Elliott (a fellow Star Warsaficionado), despite my having a better family life. Who wouldn't want an extra-terrestrial for a best friend? The film is graced with what is arguably John Williams' finest score. It touched me then, and still fills me with emotion when E.T. (spoiler alert) comes back to life, as well as during the goodbyes at the end. And I will freely admit that because of the film, I tried (and actually liked) Reese's Pieces candy (though they don't hold a candle to M&Ms—what were those guys thinking!).

    Joe Fordham: The whip-smart writing, note-perfect performances, luminous photography, the deftness of techniques and transcendent score made E.T. pulse with life. Opening night in the Empire Leicester Square, December 9, 1982, I had no idea what made him tick. And he’s still somewhat of a mystery. William Kotzwinkle’s novel, The Book of the Green Planet, based on a Spielberg story, gave some insights into E.T.’s origins, also seen in the old Universal Studios ride—E.T. was part-vegetable, a junior botanist from a jungle planet three million light-years away, student of a much older sage whose ten fingers glowed. But the eggplant-headed gnome with an elongating neck, fat feet, and a ducky rump was a wonderful contradiction. Part suit and puppet, with dexterous performer hands, giant baby blue eyes in a wrinkled turtle face, was graceful and ugly, wise and young, and his illuminated innards proved that he was all heart. An inspired creation. I’ll love him always. Happy birthday, bald monkey.


    Mike Matessino: They are numerous, but if I had to pick one thing it would be the climactic bike chase and final scene. The movie was already so good that it almost didn’t need to go there in order to be great, but it shot up to a whole other level in its last fifteen minutes. It transcended itself and its own art form.

    John Cork: The truest moment in the film is the look on Dee Wallace’s face at the end when she realizes the depth and profoundness of her son Elliott’s inner life, a life so separate from what she can share with him as his mother. She conveys just the right amount of wonder, longing, pride, and loneliness at getting a glimpse into this complex world of his that she had never imagined.

    Caseen Gaines: I've always loved the first time we meet the Taylors and Michael's friends around the dinner table. There's something so natural and beautifully imperfect about that scene. However, as an adult, I really get choked up at the goodbye scene. I have always had trouble with goodbyes and there's something really wonderful about all the performances, including Caprice Rothe, the underappreciated mime artist who manipulates E.T.'s hands throughout the film. The actors' work, with Melissa Mathison's wonderfully simple and honest writing, Spielberg's direction, John Williams' score, and great work from Industrial Light & Magic? I don't think it gets any better.

    James Kendrick: The best scene in E.T. and one of the best scenes in all of Spielberg's body of work is the dinner table scene following Elliott's first encounter with E.T. It is genuinely daring in the way it honestly dramatizes the emotional stress under which a broken family is living. The conversation at the table is already tense because it revolves around the rest of the family’s not believing Elliott’s claim about having seen E.T. the night before. Elliott is clearly frustrated and feeling isolated, and when his older brother gives him a hard time, he jumps up and yells, “It wasn’t anything like that, penis breath!” It is a comical moment—a brief bit of levity—but it is also clearly reflective of Elliott's anger and resentment. “Dad would believe me,” he then says, and when his mother suggests that maybe he should call his father, he responds with absolute cruelty by saying, “I can’t. He’s in Mexico with Sally.” Elliott clearly intends for this statement to hurt his mother; we see it in his eyes, which flick up at her, and in his posture, which raises up with a bit of defiance as he says “with Sally.” It is a stark emotional moment, bursting with complex familial tensions that play out in the characters’ faces: the pain of a newly single mother being reminded that she has been left for another woman and disempowered by her young son knowing their whereabouts while she does not; the defensive cruelty of an emotionally angry child lashing out in ways he doesn’t entirely understand; and the subsequent divisiveness between siblings as Michael, old enough to recognize the emotional damage of Elliott’s thoughtless remark, angrily chastises him. The power of the scene and the manner in which it balances the emotional experiences of both the mother and the children undercuts lazy criticisms of Spielberg only seeing the world through the eyes of a child.

    Brian Herzlinger: I have so many favorite scenes!!! The sequence where Elliott and E.T. are experiencing the same feelings—culminating in Elliott’s first kiss and the simultaneous liberation of the classroom frogs is a classic. If I had to pick one scene that gets me every time, I’d have to say the finale. Watching Elliott and E.T.’s unbreakable bond as they say goodbye will always be the most epic and intimate perfection.

    William Kallay: The scene where E.T. drinks beer and makes Elliott drunk at the same time is my favorite. Like Elliott, I was a kid with a crush on a cute girl in science class. Granted, I did not have an alien visitor staying at home drinking beer to cause me to get drunk. However, I might have gotten the thought in my head to release the frogs from impending doom.

    Joseph McBride: I found a college interview with Spielberg in which he praised the 1967 Disney fantasy movie The Gnome-Mobile (directed by Robert Stevenson). I didn’t see it until after I wrote the first edition of my biography. Then I saw it and found that the “little people”—gnomes, supernatural creatures like leprechauns or elves—appear in a Redwood forest like the one in E.T. I had always wondered why the Southern California suburb in E.T. was adjacent to a Redwood forest, a Northern California geographical feature. It’s because Spielberg liked The Gnome-Mobile.

    Saul Pincus: I have many favorite scenes, but for me the standout moment is when E.T. comes back to life and Gertie’s flowers regenerate in simpatico as Elliot is pulled away. The audience reaction was indescribably joyful and loud—every single time I saw it, an auditorium of 700 people feeling exactly the same thing, their hearts beating as one. It’s what movies were made for, and a great marriage of music and image, too. Maestros Spielberg and Williams knew exactly how to send it home.


    Scott Mendelson (box office analyst): E.T. broke numerous box office records and was the first motion picture to earn over $300 million domestic in a single release. (Star Warsby this time had earned over $300 million, too, but had crossed that milestone during one of its numerous re-issues.) And E.T. held the all-time Number One position (domestically) for the longest period of time since Gone with the Wind.

    Joseph McBride: Art Murphy, our box office maven at Variety, told me that Spielberg had such a success with the audience with E.T. because he was honest about the reality that half of the marriages in the U.S. were ending in divorce. Murf told me the guys running Disney at the time were still trying to make the kind of movies Walt had made, but that made them behind the times, which was why their movies were so bad and failing to find much of an audience. Murf Said that Walt always moved with the times, and if he had been around in 1982, he would have made movies that acknowledged the reality of divorce.

    William Kallay: E.T. was a rare film that made audiences laugh out loud one minute and then be in tears by the final fade out. People connected to the friendship and love between Elliott and E.T. This was a film that made unemotional people cry. It was a film that young kids and their parents could watch together that still had a modern edge without being sugary sweet.

    Saul Pincus: E.T. was significant for me because in a lot of ways, I was Elliott. I was a 12-year-old nerd, an only child who looked to the stars and wished I had a sibling. The film felt effortless, providing the emotional escape I didn’t know I needed.

    William Kallay: The film significantly cemented that just one blockbuster movie could make obscene amounts of money, drive sales of candy (Reese’s Pieces), increase sales of LP records of the soundtrack, spawn songs dedicated to itself (Neil Diamond’s Turn On Your Heartlight), create a mega fan in Michael Jackson, cause audiences to come over and over to the theater to see it, and simply make people collectively laugh and cry without shame.

    Ray Morton: The film’s success transformed Spielberg into significant public figure—he not only became the most famous movie director in the world, but also his own brand: the modern Walt Disney—a filmmaker whose name identified a special form of entertainment (animation for Disney; family-friendly fantasy for Spielberg) and an assurance of quality to the public at large.

    William Kallay: I always saw E.T. as a boy and his dog fable. Under Spielberg’s direction, it became so much more than that. The story soared like an epic movie, yet had a tender heart and audiences fell in love.

    John Scoleri: After E.T. surpassed Star Wars on the all-time box office chart, Ralph [McQuarrie] was tasked with creating a piece of art for a congratulatory trade ad, which had Star Wars characters standing below E.T. holding a sheet with which they had lobbed him skyward!


    Mark A. Altman: It's remarkable in that it really is the progenitor of what we call the "four quadrant" movie. A film that not only appeals to kids, but adults and the kid in all of us. It's also a remarkably crafted film from the cinematography from the great Allen Daviau, the magnificent score from John Williams, striking visual effects from ILM and, of course, the virtuoso direction from Steven Spielberg at the height of his powers.

    Mike Matessino: Picking up on the point about the phenomenon going on all summer long in 1982, one thing I remember is that E.T. was that rare film that hit all demographics. It was a movie that was okay to bring little kids to but also the grandparents. I saw a lot of that and it was pretty amazing. Unless you were there, it’s hard to really convey what a phenomenon it was. The other big significant thing about it, from my perspective, is that it seemed to be the last movie that achieved this level of success that didn’t feel calculated to do so or was driven by merchandising. That all came as the result of a success that no one saw coming, and, in fact, there was a bit problem with unlicensed merchandise appearing all over the place because of the time involved in making the officially licensed product deals, which took time.

    Brian Herzlinger: E.T.’s significance is wide-ranging. From single-handedly making Reese’s Pieces a household name, to the iconic line “E.T. phone home,” it ignited the imaginations of generations of adults and children alike wondering, “are we really alone In this universe?” No other film experience explores the love, loss, and exhilaration in friendship or family as well as E.T. To explore these themes through the relationship of a child and an abandoned alien is not only a daunting task, which could have overwhelmingly misfired (i.e. the less popular film, Mac and Me), but it is handled so brilliantly in the direction, script, performances, cinematography, score, and editing, and for those reasons the film’s significance endures.

    Joseph McBride: It’s ironic that people who misunderstand Spielberg think he sentimentalizes suburbia, when in fact he portrays it in Close Encounters, E.T., Poltergeist, et al, as a hellish environment from which his characters need to escape.

    James Kendrick: E.T. is artful in the way so few summer blockbusters are today. The patience with which Spielberg sets up the story and introduces the characters and establishes the mood and tone is just beautiful. However, the film's true significance lies in how powerfully it connects with viewers emotionally—how it moves them and draws them into such concern, admiration, and (dare I say it?) love for this dumpy, oddball extra-terrestrial. It is also significant for how it demonstrated the breadth of the science fiction genre. Like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. eschews all the action and adventure that so many sci-fi movies wanted to embody in the years following Star Warsand instead used the genre to explore ideas and emotions.

    Caseen Gaines: E.T. redefined what could be a summer blockbuster. It's a small, intimate picture with a very small cast that had outsized impact around the world. It also firmly cemented Steven Spielberg as one of the most prolific film directors of all time. He had significant successes before E.T., of course, but this film was both a departure from some of his earlier works and also came to best encapsulate what a "Steven Spielberg film" looks and feels like. Beyond that, it also led to the creation of Amblin Entertainment, which was responsible for a slew of innovative films. It was the first film Kathleen Kennedy produced, introduced the world to Drew Barrymore... the impact of E.T. is hard to just sum up in a few sentences.

    Steven Awalt: I honestly worry sometimes that it’s lost something of its importance and reputation with audiences as time passes us by and culture changes into something it certainly wasn’t back in 1982. Life truly was simpler in its way then, where a story about a little lost alien and a lonely boy finding friendship could enchant audiences around the world, in completely different cultures. The basics of E.T. are so universal across humanity, which is the key reason for its unprecedented popularity when it was first released to theaters in 1982-1983. Now, a modest gem like E.T.—and remember, this was from the biggest filmmaker of that era, coming after the runaway successes of Jaws,Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark—I don’t know, the landscape of movie culture and popular culture in general just seems so different today. We’re living in a “post-modern” age, certainly a less innocent, more knowing, sadly cynical age. Even in the space for family films, the majority of releases are either hyperkinetic digital creations like the Marvel movies (which I would argue push the definition of films for the whole family to begin with, given the scale of their violence) or the standard-issue CG of the American animation market where too often so much looks the same and there’s a tiresome preponderance of witty, cynical talking animals. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy Marvel or CG animated films, but you look at E.T. next to the things that are popular nowadays, and there’s a gentleness to E.T., a calm, patient hand building the narrative and emotional movements of the film that we really don’t see in the “throw everything at the wall” hyper-kinetics of modern media. I probably sound like an old man shouting at computer-generated clouds, but I miss the more handmade feel of the movies we grew up with in the 1970s and 1980s. They felt more shaped by the hands of humans, especially so when you have such strong authorial voices like that of Steven Spielberg and his peers.


    April Wright (director, Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace):Many of us experienced E.T. for the first time on a big screen, larger than life in a dark theater full of strangers, where we all believed the magical scene where Elliott’s bicycle flew across the sky in front of us. There’s something special about seeing films in theaters where you can be swept away and have a very intimate experience with the story and the characters. It creates an experience and implants a memory that doesn’t happen in the same way when you’re watching something at home.

    John Sittig (Pacific Theatres): We hosted the world premiere and exclusive Los Angeles County first-run at the Cinerama Dome. The after party for the premiere was held in the Dome parking lot. They had a giant tent. The parking lot under the tent had artificial grass, the E.T. spaceship with rotating lights was hanging at the top of the tent, and the shed from Elliott’s backyard was in the corner. There were probably seventy-five picnic tables with potted Geranium plants on each table. (It was supposed to look like Elliott’s back yard.) The premiere was really star-studded: I recall Hugh Hefner, Jane Fonda, Helen Reddy, Marty Feldman…. Feldman said he really liked the film but was dismayed that he was not offered the title role!

    Saul Pincus: Between June 1982 and February 1983, [I saw E.T.] twelve times. The first three months required waiting two hours in long lines, but cinemas were still full well into the fall. I saw the film so often that specific scratches preceding reel changes are still burnt into my retinas, even now when watching pristine versions on home video.

    Mike Matessino: I saw it fifty-one times in ten months as it played all through 1982 and then through awards season into April 1983. I couldn’t get enough of it. I went to the reissue in 1985 a few times and to a few screenings prior to the 2002 reissue, which, of course, kicked off with the live-to-picture performance of the score, conducted by John Williams at the Shrine Auditorium. I’m not a fan of that version of the film, and I’m glad it’s sort of faded into the background, but that concert was really special.

    Steven Awalt: In 1982 in the theater, only once, coming from a working-class family of eight as I did, but over the last four decades I’ve seen it more times in the theater and at home than I’ve kept track of since. It’s always a film best seen on a big screen, but I am so grateful to have it at home, and in the very best format of this moment, 4K UHD.

    William Kallay: I saw E.T. twice that summer. The first was at a pathetic and tiny theater in Brea, California. The second time was at Edwards “Big” Newport Cinema in Newport Beach, California. Big Newport had over a thousand seats, curtains covering a huge screen, and good Six-Track Dolby Stereo. I will say that the 70mm screening of E.T. at Big Newport was far superior to the 35mm Brea screening; much brighter picture and the sound was phenomenal.

    Brian Herzlinger: [I’ve seen E.T.] too many times to count. Just this year I took my pregnant wife and two children (8 and 5) to see it on the big screen for their first time. It is always an amazing experience watching the film with first-timers. Seeing their reactions is the best, and as a filmmaker, being exposed to Spielberg’s craftsmanship is always a welcome Saturday afternoon at the movies.

    Mark A. Altman: I only saw it once in a theater and it was many, many years until I saw it again. The most I ever enjoyed it was watching it with my kids who were seeing it for the first time a few years ago and I gained a newfound appreciation for it having always liked it, but never loving it until a more recent viewing where I discovered how truly special it was.

    Ross Melnick (Professor of Film and Media Studies at University of California Santa Barbara; author, Hollywood’s Embassies: How Movie Theaters Projected American Power Around the World): E.T. was an indelible moviegoing experience for many, particularly those like me who are in the later years of Generation X. Some might have been too young for the original release of Star Wars in 1977 but in E.T. our generation was featured front and center by Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore. In Jaws, Close Encounters, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg focused on the struggles of adults and parents. In E.T., Spielberg’s focus, for the first of many times, was on their children and grandchildren. The film not only brought audiences together in suburban, urban, and rural theaters but highlighted the movie theater as the place where kids could share their greatest fears and dreams together in a public not private space. E.T. certainly became a perennial cable and home video hit, but it penetrated the American consciousness through repeated trips to the movie theater and grabbed hold of my generation like few movies before or since. That sense of a collective feeling—an unwritten Reese’s Pieces, flying bicycle vernacular—began inside America’s movie houses and was revisited through every theatrical re-release, every new video edition, and every trip on the E.T. ride at Universal Studios. In 1982, movie theaters created those moments and they shaped a generation who returned year after year chasing that same generational, collective moment of shared excitement.


    William Kallay: That was one heck of a summer, wasn’t it?

    Mark A. Altman: Having just finished a documentary about the films of 1982, I have to say it was an utterly fascinating year. The sheer diversity of the type of films that were released were astounding from Conan the Barbarian to The Verdict, Fast Times At Ridgemont High to First Blood, The Road Warrior to Tron. As a counterpoint to E.T., you had The Thing which was utterly destroyed at the box office by the success of E.T.Adrienne Barbeau tells us a great story in our doc that as her and [then husband] John [Carpenter] returned from a vacation in Hawaii, they picked up a magazine with E.T. on the cover and John instantly knew his "bad E.T." was DOA. It's interesting because the optimistic, hopeful films were the ones that really worked at the time. It tied in with Ronald Reagan's so-called "Morning In America." The idea that after Watergate and the Iran Hostage Crisis, things were looking more bright and hopeful in the U.S. Of course, we forget the rampant inflation, pro-business/anti-consumer, anti-gay policies and secret deal his campaign cut with the Iranians so the hostages wouldn't be released until after the election, but for the sake of argument it was a more optimistic, hopeful time in America. Darker movies like Blade Runner and The Dark Crystal underperformed but more hopeful, bright movies like Star Trek II, An Officer and a Gentleman, Rocky III and Tootsie were huge hits.

    Steven Awalt: E.T. was surely the film amongst the genre offering of that year that had the greatest four-quad appeal, meaning it appealed to all audiences overall—from kids to teens to adults to the elderly. As movies have tended to go since at least the 1950s into today, once teens had “pocket money” of their own, the movies have been dominated by films that appeal to (roughly) fourteen to thirty-four-year-olds for various reasons. Even a film like Mr. Spielberg’s production of Poltergeist, which premiered the week before E.T.didn’t capture the four-quadrants since despite being PG, it was a bit too rough for younger audiences to enjoy, and the same presumably applied to elderly audience members as well. Likewise, phenomenal movies like Blade Runner or The Thing had a very narrow audience, being R-rated and hard sci-fi or too violent for many, while films like Tron and Wrath of Khan too had more limited appeal likely squared more at teenage through 30-something males. E.T. appealed to most ages, male and female, and across race and class, since it’s not really science fiction (even with its sci-fi trappings), certainly not violent, and it’s a fun, exciting, appealing movie about friendship without prejudices.

    Mike Matessino: This picks up on the points I’ve alluded to about the movie not being calculated for success and also the fact that it really came as a surprise. You just don’t know the answer. I think it’s because it was so relatable, it felt like the real world, but there was something about how it all came together as a movie that, for lack of a better phrase, felt like it lifted you out of yourself. It left you with a great feeling of optimism and with a feeling of joy about just how good a movie could be.

    Saul Pincus: I think E.T. was unique because it was grounded fantasy, positive, and was a complete, left-field surprise. We didn’t know what we were in for—even those of us who considered ourselves “in the know” (i.e. read Starlog).

    Caseen Gaines: I think E.T. works so well because it's a sci-fi fantasy film that doesn't treat itself as a sci-fi fantasy film. The movie is honest and grounded in reality. You know you're watching an animatronic, or a person in a suit, but there's so much heart there.

    James Kendrick: E.T. was so popular because it connected with audiences in the way so many movies don't. Lots of movies—especially summer blockbusters and genre movies—keep us enthralled while they're playing, but then then dissipate in the days after. E.T.sticks with you and makes you want to see it again and take other people with you. Despite being a science fiction film, it is fundamentally honest in its emotions and drama, and people connect with that.

    Brian Herzlinger: For me, the other impactful movies from 1982 were Grease 2 and Poltergeist. None of the other sci-fi movies that year really impacted me at the time. Blade Runner was cool to watch, but too cerebral for a six-year-old to really understand. The Dark Crystal was memorable, but it was also quite dark thematically, so it didn’t rise to the top of the bunch. My most vivid memory of moviegoing that year was when I went to see E.T. for the first time, and the film actually broke during the scene when E.T. was getting drunk. (Back when the projection used real tangible film!) The theater lights went on, and the movie on the screen stopped as the projectionist spliced the film together before continuing. I didn’t see that sequence in its entirety until home video!


    Steven Awalt: I waited a grueling six years to see E.T. again after it played in theaters in 1982. I don’t recall us seeing the 1985 rerelease, but I was desperate to have it at home on VHS. The day it went up for pre-order at our neighborhood video store, I asked for a copy to be ordered. I then purchased the film on LaserDisc (incredible box set!), DVD, Blu-ray, UHD, Digital. It’s an essential film and a no-brainer when it comes to wanting to upgrade it as the formats and resolution got better and better. Having it in such a stunning UHD now is pretty amazing, especially looking back at how low-quality VHS and even LaserDisc are now in hindsight.

    Ron Dassa (owner, Laser Blazer): The CLV E.T. came out in December ’88 and the CAV in December ’89. Back then there were only a few thousand titles on LaserDisc and so everything was being asked for, but E.T. was on most people’s request list, definitely top five. Then, Universal came out with the Signature Collection boxed set in 1996, which did well, considering the list price was $149.98. E.T. was also highly requested for DVD, which came out in 1997, but E.T. not making it until 2002.

    Mike Matessino: I had the initial VHS in 1988 and then the LaserDisc, and all the iterations that followed. My connection with the movie gradually elided into a professional one, with doing Q&As at screenings and then working on the soundtrack, so it’s hard to get back a place of purely looking at it for enjoyment, especially after seeing it more times theatrically than any other movie, perhaps around eighty now. I will say, however, that the best way to experience E.T. now is by going to the live concert version. The response of the audience brings you right back to 1982 and allows you to marvel at just how powerful a movie it is.

    Saul Pincus: I've owned E.T. in nearly every home video incarnation. The pre-HD options were a tough go, because so much of the film relied on Allen Daviau’s exquisite, subtle night photography and the Impressionism of the 35mm theatrical experience could get lost, especially on wider lenses in the forest. And though home video E.T. worked just as well as an emotional experience, it was now a much more personal emotional experience. I missed what the audience brought to it, that communal heartbeat. The film was a marvel to most audiences of the time.

    Brian Herzlinger: I own E.T. on every format—Beta, VHS, LaserDisc, DVD, Blu-ray, 4K… even Hi-8 back in the day! However, nothing beats watching a film in a packed cinema!

    Mark A. Altman: I do think the film plays well at home since it’s fairly intimate without a great deal of scope as opposed to something like Jaws or Raiders that play much better on the big screen. Or even 1941. It's funny; even though I had it on LaserDisc and DVD and Blu-Ray, I never watched it again until the 4K version came out and I could show it to my kids.

    Steven Awalt: While I was waiting to see the film again all those years, it felt like something of a dream having seen it in 1982. I think by Steven Spielberg holding out on releasing it to home video it kept the film a bit more special, again magical, like this beautiful shared memory the world had. There’s something to be said about having to wait for something versus having hundreds of thousands of films now at our fingertips. As movie mad kids who grew up in the 70s/80s can attest, we had to “recreate” the experience of seeing movies through the novelizations, storybooks, comics, and Topps trading cards.


    Gary Gerani (editor, Topps bubblegum card series):We were pitched E.T. ahead of time, because we already had a good relationship with Spielberg [for our trading-card sets of Close Encounters and Raiders]. I had access to excellent material, and made a nice set. We would have released a Series 2, but some legal problems with Universal held that up, and ultimately I created a very limited Series 2 that had no text... a real creative challenge. This one was never released, although I still have a mint uncut sheet. Also never released was the Widevision E.T. set I put together many years later.

    Scott Rogers (game designer and historian; author, Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design): I know the Atari E.T. game gets a lot of flak for having terrible controls, incomprehensible graphics and blatantly unfair gameplay. For being a rush job by an arrogant programmer and clueless execs who were trying to capitalize on the popularity of the movie at the last minute to get a quick Christmas holiday cash grab. it’s been blamed for destroying the American video game industry in the 80s. These accusations are all true. But, it did give video game industry, its greatest urban myth—that if your game is so bad, it will be buried in a New Mexico landfill like a dead mobster.


    William Kallay: By far the worst was Mac and Me. I have watched it and cannot fathom, to this day, what the filmmakers were thinking. The aliens were freaking creepy and totally hideous. The family was a very poor rip-off on the family in E.T. The scenes were clumsy. And what was with that dance scene at McDonald’s?

    Mike Matessino: Drew Barrymore on Saturday Night Live was funny…with Eddie Murphy as Mr. T. looking for his son “E.” But beyond that, we’re talking about lightning in a bottle. You can make reference to it, you can throw its basic ingredients into another bowl and stir it up, but you’re never going to come up with that piece of pure cinematic magic that came our way forty years ago.

    Saul Pincus: Does the Atari game count as a rip-off? Sure felt like it!

    William Kallay: John Carpenter’s Starman was released two years after E.T. and some people considered it to be a rip off. Apparently, though, the screenplay for Starman had been circulating around Hollywood before E.T. was written. I thought Starman was a worthy film itself and told a similar but very different story. The biggest surprise for me was how adept Carpenter was with emotion! Here was the same director who scared audiences with Halloween and The Thing making a sensitive alien meets earthling film.

    Brian Herzlinger: The best form of flattery is imitation, and all of the imitations only succeed in reminding us how wonderful E.T. truly is.


    James Kendrick: Avoid it. Nothing that was added to the revised cut did anything to improve the film, and it is no surprise that Spielberg has largely abandoned it in favor of the theatrical version. Spielberg made a nearly perfect film the first time, so there was no reason to alter it in any way.

    Mark A. Altman: I was so happy that after the anodyne gun-less, CGI E.T. re-issue, Spielberg quickly realized what a mistake he made and buried that version forever and once again re-embraced the original theatrical version. If only George Lucas had the same epiphany.


    Brian Herzlinger: Having both E.T. and Jaws released in IMAX this year was the best gift to theaters and audiences. As I said, nothing beats the experience of seeing a movie in the theater, and to have the films formatted and restored with the care and attention that comes with an IMAX presentation creates a wonderful experience for filmgoers.

    Steven Awalt: Beautifully done, as was the Jaws IMAX re-issue. I was so fortunate to see not only E.T. and Jaws during this past year’s reissues, but also Raiders of the Lost Ark, and all at the classic Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. I’d first been to the Chinese as an invitee for the premiere of Steven’s War of the Worlds back in 2005, and then again not soon after I moved to L.A. in 2018 to work for Amblin, for the premiere of The House with a Clock in Its Walls. It’s a gorgeous theater, world-famous and rightly so for not only the venue, but the high quality of projection and sound. These films deserve the very best treatment and exhibition standards, and Universal (and Lucasfilm, in the case of Raiders) really did right by audiences with the re-issues. Pure cinematic magic, all.


    Brian Herzlinger: I believe it is the one film that Spielberg refused to make a sequel to, and I agree with his decision 100 percent. The film is a perfect story, and it leaves nothing more to tell and nothing more to see. The finality of the last frame of the film- the closeup on Elliott’s face as John Williams’ epic score closes the story for us, is the best ending to any film I’ve seen. I would not like to see a sequel (but, ya know, if Steven changes his mind, I’ll be first in line).

    Saul Pincus: Technically there was a sequel in the form of an official book called E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet (1985). I bought it, but never finished it. I’m reminded of that famous episode of The Twilight Zone, Walking Distance, where the adult protagonist Martin Sloan is told “there’s one summer to every customer.” I think of E.T. as a similar singular experience, and I’m sure Spielberg did too. My mental image of the summer of ’82 will forever be intwined with that squishy little guy and his adventures on earth.

    Mark A. Altman: One of my favorite moments was being in a pitch for a TV series (which I sold by the way) at Black Tower at Universal and outside was a guy holding a cardboard sign that read: “E.T. 2. Phone Me Steven” with his telephone number. And it was some guy trying to convince Steven to do E.T. 2. We found it quite amusing. That said, I don't think it's a film that warrants a sequel although it might be interesting for E.T. to come back now that Elliott and the family is grown up and has kids of his own. But these things rarely work and I don't think Spielberg wants to touch it which is nice given our IP/franchise driven world in which sequels and reboots rarely live up the quality of their progenitors. I do, however, have fond memories of the goofy ride at Universal Studios where you saved E.T. and took him back to the Green Planet and Botanicus and at the end he personally thanked you by name, which was always a lot of kitschy fun.

    Steven Awalt: I love that it’s a film that stands alone, as it should, and as it always should. And yet, I have to speak out of church for the first time publicly, so to speak, to tell you how heartbroken and even angry I was with that 2019 television commercial for Xfinity (owned by Universal) that featured Henry Thomas playing Elliott and a hideously off-model E.T., reunited. I still despise the fact it ever happened, bringing these two characters back together as pitchmen for cable service. And it was told as a sequel story, even being a television commercial. I abhor thinking the world now has in its head; I wish it were never in my head. I don’t know the business behind it all, but I was honestly disappointed that Steven agreed to allow his characters to be used for it. Of course Universal owns the rights to E.T., but Steven’s word about the property’s handling weighs heavily with the studio. It felt like it sullied such a pure thing that Steven had spent decades protecting from crass sequelization. Sad fact of life, but the older I get I find that nothing is really sacred. This might read silly, crying over the specialness of a movie, but stories and characters matter to audiences, we really do open our hearts to them. And even with all the merchandizing and over-saturation in the culture of the 1980s, E.T. was something singular and unique and special in all of film history. These things are worth protecting.


    Joseph McBride: The legacy of E.T. is that it is one of Spielberg’s most beloved and deeply personal films, along with Close Encounters and The Fabelmans, which all deal with his primal trauma of his family’s divorce and his identification with outsiders. (Alice Walker, who wrote The Color Purple, observed after seeing E.T., “From the very beginning of the film, I recognized E.T. as a Being of Color.”) Whenever Spielberg makes a movie about African Americans, he is pilloried, even though Amistad is one of his greatest works, and The Color Purple is also magnificent in many ways. E.T. and Celie resemble each other.

    Mike Matessino: The legacy of E.T., for me, are the points I mentioned—the window into the period of time in which it was made as well as to a period when blockbusters were made by the audience. And, of course, it remains an anchor for any discussion about the work of Steven Spielberg.

    Mark A. Altman: It's really interesting because even though it was one of the biggest grossing films of all-time and a perennial family classic like The Wizard of Oz, it doesn't really get the enduring love of films like Star Wars or even some of the less successful films of 1982 like Blade Runner or The Thing or Megaforce. (Okay, not Megaforce.) For a long time, I enjoyed Poltergeist more than E.T., but realized more recently what a miraculous achievement it is and I think it will continue to stand the time for many decades to come.

    Steven Awalt: Reflecting back to your question about E.T.’s significance, I know how it should be remembered, but I do fear its place within the larger culture might be slipping. But I can say for myself—and I do hope millions of others as individuals might feel the same way—the film is truly one-of-a-kind no matter what, a movie imbued with the magic of a filmmaker at the top of his craft, telling this simple, ultimately delicate story of friendship and love that spans the stars, where two completely different beings can find empathy and the very best of what we can be—caring, compassionate, fearless when it comes to being there for one another, protecting one another, and having the strength of heart and character to say goodbye no matter how much it pains us. That’s universal and eternal, which I really hope E.T. will continue to be in its own quiet way. Society grows too fast, too complex with advancements in knowledge and technology, but in the sacred spaces of our own hearts, I think there must always a place for stories like E.T.

    Caseen Gaines: After having written my book—E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: The Ultimate Visual History—I think I have a slightly different answer on this than what I would have said a few years ago. For me, E.T. is about faith. It's a film that, for a million reasons, shouldn't have worked. It's a movie that almost wasn't made. It almost materialized as a very different project and with a different lead actor as Elliott. So many things could have been different, but a number of really phenomenal people, many of whom were relative newcomers to cinema, came together and created this work of art that has withstood the test of time. This happened because Steven Spielberg had faith the film would work and that this was a story worth telling. On screen, Elliott had faith that E.T. would come back to him, and wouldn't harm him, and he had faith his siblings would keep his secret. E.T. had faith in Elliott too, and had faith his family would come back to get him. It's a film about love and connectedness, of course, but what if the message of E.T. is that we all need to have a little more faith and trust in each other? That's the lesson I take from this film.

    Brian Herzlinger: E.T. is the perfect balance between epic and intimate. It is an incredible example of how cinema can transport us into a world of limitless possibilities through imagination, and it showcases filmmaking at the highest level in its use of technology, skill, and craft. But its most basic legacy is that’s it’s a simple and beautiful story—just two lost souls from different worlds who found each other, taught each other, and lost each other in an unforgettable and perfect experience.

    John Cork: Part of the greatness of E.T. is how the film resonates as a metaphor for so much about the experience of childhood. It does an amazing job of reminding adult viewers of our own childhoods, the depth of our wants, the acuteness of the pain we felt, the unbridled joys we experienced, the way we interacted with the adult world. But E.T. himself exists as Elliott’s alter-ego. He is the toddler and kid who is clumsy, uneducated, baffled by the complex world that surrounds him in such pure childlike ways. He’s shuffled here and there for reasons he doesn’t understand, just like we are growing up. Yet, he’s brilliant and on a quest to do something amazing if he can just navigate the strange existence where he finds himself. And that is the conundrum of childhood. If we are lucky, we have faith in ourselves and know throughout all the many failures and goofs we inevitably make growing up, we can do amazing things. We know we will inevitably leave home, that we must to flourish as adults. When E.T. touches Elliott’s forehead at the end, Elliott’s alter-ego is not only saying that there is some psychic connection that will remain between the pair, but Spielberg is communicating that all the intelligence and power that E.T. possesses to do the impossible is inside all of our heads, that we can live brilliant lives where we make the impossible happen if we embrace the power of our brains.

    Saul Pincus: E.T. may be the greatest love story ever filmed about friendship. It's about seeing others for whom they really are—not through the easy lens of fear—and having the tenacity to convince those around you that if they can just trust their better instincts, they’ll come through it all the better, too. The film memorably celebrates some of life’s simplest, most lasting values and yeah, it’s a great cinematic experience, too. These are the thoughts that go through my head whenever I contemplate another viewing—and I can’t say I’m ever disappointed.


    E.T. NUMBER$

    1 = Peak all-time box-office chart position
    1 = Rank among top-earning movies of the 1980s
    1 = Rank among top-earning films during opening weekend
    1 = Rank among top-earning films released in 1982
    1 = Rank among top-earning Spielberg movies (adjusted for inflation)
    1 = Rank among Universal’s all-time top-earning films at end of original run
    4 = Number of Academy Awards
    4 = Rank on all-time top-grossing films (adjusted for inflation)
    8 = Number of weekends exceeding a $10 million gross*
    9 = Number of Academy Award nominations
    10 = Number of years top-grossing motion picture (worldwide)
    14 = Number of years top-grossing motion picture (domestic)
    16 = Number of weeks North America’s top-grossing movie*
    30 = Number of days to surpass $100 million*
    34 = Number of 70mm prints during first run
    52 = Number of weeks longest-running engagement played
    66 = Number of days to surpass $200 million*
    76 = Number of months between theatrical and home-video release
    184 = Number of days to surpass $300 million*
    218 = Number of days to become all-time top-grossing motion picture
    1103 = Number of cinemas playing the movie during its opening weekend

    $24.95 = SRP of initial Beta & VHS release*
    $29.95 = SRP of initial LaserDisc release
    $10,730 = Opening weekend per screen average
    $2.1 million = Domestic box-office gross (2022 IMAX re-issue)
    $3.1 million = Opening-day box-office gross**
    $5.2 million = Highest single-day gross* (Day 16)
    $10.5 million = Production cost
    $11.8 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross**
    $12.6 million = Second-weekend box-office gross*
    $13.7 million = Third-weekend box-office gross*
    $16.7 million = Fourth-weekend box-office gross* (4-day holiday)
    $21.8 million = Opening-week box-office gross**
    $32.4 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
    $35.3 million = Domestic box-office gross (2002 re-issue)
    $40.6 million = Domestic box-office gross (1985 re-issue)
    $187.0 million = Domestic box-office rental (through 12/31/82)
    $209.6 million = Domestic box-office rental* (through 12/31/83)
    $228.0 million = Domestic box-office rental* (through 12/31/85)
    $259.8 million = International box-office gross (first run)
    $355.8 million = International box-office gross (first run + re-issues)
    $359.2 million = Domestic box-office gross* (first run)
    $437.1 million = Domestic box-office gross (first run + re-issues)
    $619.0 million = Worldwide box-office gross (first run)
    $792.9 million = Worldwide box-office gross (first run + re-issues)
    $1.3 billion = Domestic box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
    $2.3 billion = Worldwide box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)

    *established new motion picture industry record
    **established new Universal Studios record


    “Clap your hands if you believe in fairies, friendly aliens or Steven Spielberg. Even if you have doubts about the first two, let me assure you Spielberg deserves a standing ovation all his own for creating a well-nigh perfect family film in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. About the only people who aren’t going to be happy with this movie are the makers of Anniewho may fear their sure-fire family audience will be siphoned off.” — Eleanor Ringel, The Atlanta Constitution

    E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is the best cinematic fairy tale since The Wizard of Oz.” —Michael Blowen, The Boston Globe

    “Much of the credit must go to Spielberg’s genius for casting and directing children. A graver, less spacey version of Cary Guffey’s alien-accepting child in Close Encounters, Henry Thomas communicates intelligence, courage and a growing spirit. Drew Barrymore and Robert MacNaughton as his siblings and Dee Wallace as their mother complete a family circle that’s always credible, affectionate, charming, but not immune to pain—the father is absent, having run away to Mexico. It’s one of the few modern movie families we get a chance to care about.” — John Hartl, The Seattle Times

    “There’s a luminous, uplifting quality to this movie, which is child-like and innocent without being childish.” — Carol Olten, The San Diego Union

    “Spielberg has earned the tears that some people in the audience—and not just children—shed. The tears are tokens of gratitude for the spell the picture has put on the audience. Genuinely entrancing movies are almost as rare as extraterrestrial visitors.” — Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

    “As Elliott, Henry Thomas is wonderful. He never pushes himself at an audience. He is filled with awe toward his otherworldly friend and transmits that innocent wonderment to us, for it is Elliott we identify with in the film. Likewise, Spielberg has directed Robert MacNaughton and Drew Barrymore with that same combination of naturalness and surprise. They are cute without working at it. Thanks to that, and to Melissa Mathison’s script which does not have a false note in it, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is a marvel.” — Michael Janusonis, The Providence Journal

    E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial sparkles with humanity and humor and brims with action. Excitement comes not only from watching the wonders of the movie but also from the realization that a classic fairy tale is being born.” — Donna Chernin, The Plain Dealer(Cleveland)

    “Not only is E.T. the best movie the 34-year-old Spielberg has yet made, but it is also the culmination of all the going home fantasies ever made, a movie of old-fashioned dopey optimism given vivid and refreshing originality by a wunderkind who has never quite grown up, and perhaps never even really left home.” — Ron Base, The Toronto Star

    “It sounds like a Walt Disney project, but the people at Disney haven’t come this close to touching the child in each of us in 20 years. And I think the answer really is this simple: Spielberg, like the real Walt Disney did, conceives his stories from a child’s sense of wonder. Not as an adult trying to think like a child, but as an adult who hasn’t stopped thinking like one.” — Jack Matthews, Detroit Free Press

    “In the tradition of the angels has Steven Spielberg created his transitory masterpiece. It is a work so timely, so plush with the humor and pathos of the 1980s, the video games and psychodrama, that it may endure only so long as Pac-Man, pizza and Marin County. But if E.T. lives longer than Camelot, that is the nature of fantasy and of now. Modernity is a Spielberg hallmark. No other director has so captured us as we are at the moment; his films could have been made the week they open, they are so apt, so full of exact slang. And in his new Spielbinder, the bittersweet story of an abandoned alien, the 34-year-old director/producer wraps modern metaphors around ancient allegory. It’s like reading the Bible while chewing bubblegum, and running through the forest primeval while playing John Williams on your Walkman. Awesome.” — Rita Kempley, The Washington Post

    “Parts of E.T. are corny, and the whole is a fantasy, despite Spielberg’s sense for realistic detail. And much of the film’s superficial appeal depends on the success of the special-effects crew in devising and operating a charming little alien. But beneath that work something stronger is pulling us: There is a goodness to Spielberg’s work that suffuses nearly every moment on the screen, a sense that the filmmaker wishes the world well. Given his imagination, and his ability to translate his wishes without mawkishness or pandering, Spielberg has a unique gift for making us feel good. He is a storyteller for our time, and his E.T. is a marvelous story.” — Bill Cosford, The Miami Herald

    E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial may become a children’s classic of the space age. The film freely recycles elements from all sorts of earlier children’s works, including Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz. E.T. is as contemporary as laserbeam technology, but it’s full of timeless longings expressed in children’s literature of all eras.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times

    “The movie is the work of a consummate story-teller who uses his celebrated technical skills to a different purpose. This is very much felt at the end, where there is a chase involving youngsters on bicycles that is every bit as exciting as the vaunted pursuits in other Spielberg works. But E.T. has, by that time, made you care much more about what happens. In that sense, E.T. is a Spielberg film in which the central characters are not overwhelmed by the exuberant craftsmanship.” — Desmond Ryan, The Philadelphia Inquirer

    E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial may be the best Disney film Disney never made. Captivating, endearingly optimistic and magical at times, Steven Spielberg’s fantasy about a stranded alien from outer space protected by three kids until it can arrange for passage home is certain to capture the imagination of the world’s youth in the manner of most of his earlier pics, as well as those of George Lucas. Result will be a summer time bonanza for distrib. Universal.” — Todd McCarthy, Variety

    “It’s fitting that E.T the Extra-Terrestrial opened nationally on the same day that Walt Disney’s 1943 animated classic, Bambi, went into re-release. Steven Spielberg, who co-produced and directed E.T., loads his story of a space alien’s estrangement on Earth with the best kind of Disneyesque simplicity.” — Michael Maza, The Arizona Republic(Phoenix)

    “One of the most beautiful fantasy-adventure movies ever made. The millions who see E.T. will stay rooted to their seats, astonished at what movies can do.” — David Denby,New York Magazine

    “I have written elsewhere that love stories seem to be in short supply these days, as they have been in the last decade of American movies. Maybe that’s because filmmakers don’t believe today’s hip audience will accept a pure—you might say unadulterated—love story. Instead we get films about relationships breaking apart: An Unmarried Woman, Kramer vs. Kramer. But the hunger for love on the screen is there, and director Spielberg gives it to us in E.T., and because the lovers are a little boy and a little creature, we accept it. Of such simple concepts, timeless entertainments are made. And it wouldn’t surprise me if E.T. was playing somewhere in Chicago until the end of this year. It is that appealing.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

    “A triumph. Wickedly funny and exciting as hell.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

    “They saved the best for last. Steven Spielberg brought the world premiere of E.T. to the closing of the Cannes Film Festival and showed the Godards and the Antonionis and Fassbinders who had bored everyone into a state of catatonia for the previous two weeks how real movies are made.” — Rex Reed, New York Post

    “Steven Spielberg casts an enchanting spell in his best movie yet.” — Judy Stone, San Francisco Chronicle

    “Steven Spielberg’s E.T. is so full of love and wonder, of pure invention and the best kind of screen magic, that it’s not only the film of the summer, it may be the film of the decade and possibly the double decade.” — Sheila Benson, Los Angeles Times

    “Well, I don’t love you, E.T.” — George Will, Newsweek


    One of the exhibition trends in 1982 was for prestige and event films to be presented in 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo. Only eighteen films (out of 150+ total releases) that year had 70mm prints struck for selected theaters, and E.T. was among that coveted group.

    Only thirty-four of the high-quality 70mm prints were struck for E.T. for exhibition in North America—29 for opening day plus three for a subsequent release wave and two more struck mid-run [plus more for key international markets]—and represented only about 3% of the film’s total initial print run. (By comparison, 1982’s largest North American 70mm print run was Quest for Fire with one-hundred twenty-five, and the smallest 70mm print run was Yes, Giorgio with two.)

    The 70mm prints were several times more expensive than 35mm prints and more labor-intensive to manufacture (i.e. blown up, printed, mag-striped, sounded in real-time, individually QC’d).

    The 70mm prints of E.T. featured pillarboxed imagery (at approximately 1.85:1) blown up from spherical 35mm and Six-Track Dolby Stereo (Baby Boom format with “A” type noise reduction). (Some theaters played back the audio on non-Dolby-brand equipment.) The 70mm prints of E.T.that screened in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco were blown-up directly from the original negative, with the majority of its 70mm prints contact-printed from a 65mm blow-up inter-negative.

    Universal, during the initial weeks of E.T.’s release, circulated 70mm Six-Track Dolby coming-attraction trailers for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The Dark Crystal and The Thing. (During that era, 35mm trailers typically featured monaural audio, and thus 70mm trailers were a unique experience.) Additional 70mm trailers became available over the course of the film’s lengthy release (Halloween III, The Sting II, etc.) During the film’s 1985 re-issue, Universal circulated 70mm trailers for Creator, Legend, Out of Africa and Weird Science. Other studios circulated 70mm trailers during this period, as well, and so, ultimately, any 70mm trailers screened during 70mm presentations of E.T. varied by venue and screening.

    The 70mm presentations cited below commenced June 11th, 1982 (except where noted otherwise). The number of weeks the bookings played is included in parenthesis following each theater name; several of these set a new house record for duration and/or gross.

    Vancouver — Odeon’s Park (45)

    Costa Mesa — Edwards’ Town Center 4 (49)
    Los Angeles — Pacific’s Cinerama Dome (5)
    Oakland — Renaissance Rialto’s Grand Lake Twin (36)
    Orange — Syufy’s City Center Twin (27)
    Sacramento — Syufy’s Capitol Twin (39)
    San Diego — Mann’s Loma (52)
    San Francisco — Blumenfeld’s Regency II (5)
    San Jose — Syufy’s Century 21 (1)
    Westminster — UA’s Westminster Mall Twin (27)

    Washington — K-B’s Cinema (26)

    Honolulu — Consolidated’s Waikiki Twin (27)

    Calumet City — Plitt’s River Oaks 6 (27)
    Chicago — GCC’s Ford City Triplex (27)
    Orland Park — Plitt’s Orland Square 4 (28)
    Schaumburg — Plitt’s Woodfield 4 (27)
    Skokie — M&R’s Old Orchard Triplex (21)

    Metairie — Cobb’s Lakeside 4 (52) [70mm from Week 28]

    Minneapolis — Plitt’s Skyway 4 (23)

    New York — Loews’ New York Twin (27)
    New York — Moss’ Movieland (52)
    New York — Reade’s Bay (26)

    Toronto — Odeon’s Hyland Twin (44)

    Beaverton — LT’s Westgate Triplex (43)
    Portland — LT’s Eastgate Triplex (43)

    Dallas — GCC’s Northpark West Twin (27)
    Houston — GCC’s Galleria 4 (32)

    Riverdale — Tullis-Hansen’s Cinedome Twin (1+)
    Salt Lake City — Plitt’s Crossroads Triplex (48)
    South Salt Lake — Syufy’s Century 5 (51)


    1982-06-17 … San Jose, CA — Syufy’s Century 23 Twin m/o (2 [3])
    1982-07-02 … San Jose, CA — Syufy’s Century 22 Triplex m/o (3 [6])
    1982-07-16 … Los Angeles, CA — Pacific’s Hollywood Pacific Triplex m/o (27 [32])
    1982-07-16 … Los Angeles, CA — Pacific’s Picwood (22)
    1982-07-16 … Newport Beach, CA — Edwards’ Newport Twin (19)
    1982-07-16 … Riverside, CA — Sanborn’s Canyon Crest 5 (39)
    1982-07-16 … San Francisco, CA — Blumenfeld’s Regency I m/o (22 [27])
    1982-07-16 … Seattle, WA — UA’s Cinema 150 (22)
    1982-07-23 … San Jose, CA — Syufy’s Century 23 Twin m/o (43 [49])
    1982-08-20 … Atlanta, GA — Columbia (17)
    1982-10-22 … West St. Paul, MN — Engler’s Signal Hills 4 (1+)
    1982-11-12 … Nashville, TN — Martin’s Belle Meade (5)
    1982-12-17 … Colorado Springs, CO — Commonwealth’s Ute 70 (14)
    1982-12-17 … Dallas, TX — Plitt’s Cinema Twin m/o (9 [38])
    1982-12-17 … Philadelphia, PA — Budco’s Regency Twin (17) [70mm from Week 7]
    1982-12-22 … Los Angeles, CA — Mann’s Valley West 6 (9)

    1983-02-18 … Cedar Grove, NJ — Cinema 23 (3)
    1983-02-18 … East Meadow, NY — UA’s Meadowbrook 4 (3)
    1983-02-18 … Hicksville, NY — RKO Century’s Mid-Island Plaza Twin (3)
    1983-02-18 … Nanuet, NY — UA’s Route 59 (3)
    1983-02-18 … New York, NY — Loews’ New York Twin (3)
    1983-02-18 … New York, NY — Reade’s Bay (2)
    1983-02-18 … Secaucus, NJ — Loews’ Meadow 6 (3)
    1983-02-18 … Wayne, NJ — Loews’ Wayne 6 (3)
    1983-02-18 … White Plains, NY — UA’s Cinema (3)
    1983-03-04 … Los Angeles, CA — UA’s Egyptian Triplex (3)
    1983-03-25 … Chicago, IL — Plitt’s State Lake (1)
    1983-03-25 … Evergreen Park, IL — M&R’s Evergreen Triplex (1)
    1983-03-25 … Forest Park, IL — Essaness’ Forest Park Triplex (1)
    1983-03-25 … Norridge, IL — M&R’s Norridge 4 (1)
    1983-03-25 … Schaumburg, IL — Plitt’s Woodfield 4 (1)
    1983-04-01 … Little Rock, AR — UA’s Heights (2)
    1983-04-01 … Memphis, TN — Rand’s Park (2)
    1983-04-08 … Oklahoma City, OK — Westwood (6)
    1983-04-13 … Greenfield, WI — Capitol’s Spring Mall Triplex (1)
    1983-04-15 … Toronto, ON — Famous Players’ Palace Triplex (3)
    1983-05-06 … Tacoma, WA — Galaxy’s Temple (5) [w/ The Dark Crystal]
    1983-05-20 … Cleveland, OH — Colony (1)
    1983-05-20 … San Jose, CA — Syufy’s Century 21 m/o (3 [52])
    1983-05-20 … Southfield, MI — SDT’s Northland Twin (2)
    1983-05-27 … Huntsville, AL — United Amusement’s Madison Twin (2)
    1983-06-03 … Atlanta, GA — Fox (6 days) [6th Annual Family Film Festival]

    1985-07-19 … Los Angeles, CA — Mann’s Plaza (2)
    1985-07-19 … Los Angeles, CA — Pacific’s Hollywood Pacific Triplex (4)
    1985-07-19 … Montreal, QC — Cineplex Odeon’s Champlain Twin (5) [Version Francaise]
    1985-07-19 … New York, NY — Loews’ Orpheum Twin (4)
    1985-07-19 … New York, NY — Loews’ State Twin (3)
    1985-07-19 … San Francisco, CA — Blumenfeld’s Royal (2)
    1985-07-19 … San Jose, CA — Syufy’s Century 22 Triplex (3)
    1985-07-19 … Toronto, ON — Famous Players’ Hyland Twin (5)
    1985-07-19 … Washington, DC — Circle’s MacArthur Triplex (4)
    1985-08-09 … San Jose, CA — Syufy’s Century 24 Twin m/o (1 [4])
    1985-08-16 … Corte Madera, CA — Marin’s Cinema (1)
    1985-08-23 … Los Angeles, CA — Four Star (1)
    1985-08-30 … Mesa, AZ — Mann’s Superstition 5 (3) [w/ The Black Cauldron]
    1985-09-27 … Wichita, KS — Dickinson’s Mall (1)
    1985-10-13 … Sacramento, CA — Landmark’s Tower Triplex* (2 days)
    1985-12-20 … Norfolk, VA — Naro (1)
    1985-12-26 … Toronto, ON — Cinesphere* (11 days)

    1986-02-22 … Cleveland, OH — CWRU’s Strosacker [CWRU Film Society series]
    1986-06-06 … Los Angeles, CA — Pacific’s Hollywood Pacific Triplex (1) [w/ Back to the Future]

    1987-06-30 … Universal City, CA — Cineplex Odeon’s Universal City 18** [THX]

    1990-07-22 … Los Angeles, CA — Cineplex Odeon’s Fairfax Triplex***

    2017-06-18 … Los Angeles, CA — American Cinematheque’s Egyptian*
    2017-06-23 … Los Angeles, CA — American Cinematheque’s Egyptian*
    2017-08-20 … Santa Monica, CA — American Cinematheque’s Aero*
    2017-12-23 … Toronto, ON — TIFF Bell Lightbox*
    2017-12-25 … Toronto, ON — TIFF Bell Lightbox*
    2017-12-30 … Toronto, ON — TIFF Bell Lightbox*
    2017-12-31 … Toronto, ON — TIFF Bell Lightbox*

    2018-01-06 … Toronto, ON — TIFF Bell Lightbox*
    2018-09-?? … Seattle, WA — Cinerama*

    2019-08-03 … Los Angeles, CA — American Cinematheque’s Egyptian*
    2019-09-28 … Seattle, WA — Cinerama*

    2020-03-13 … New York, NY — Alamo Drafthouse Brooklyn [canceled]

    2021-06-19 … Santa Monica, CA — American Cinematheque’s Aero*

    * Screened during a 70mm series/festival
    ** Screened during the Magnificent Movie Poll grand-opening event
    *** Screened during the Classic Film Festival

    International 70mm engagements of E.T. have not been included in this work.

    Note that some of the presentations included in this listing may have been presented in 35mm during the latter week(s) of engagement due to contractual terms or print damage and the distributor’s unwillingness to supply a 70mm replacement print or because the booking was moved to a non-70mm-equipped auditorium within a multiplex. Any 35mm portion of the engagement is included in the duration figure.


    If you liked what you just read, then we would like to point you to this column’s other Spielberg retrospectives, which include Duel 50th anniversary, Jaws 40th anniversary, Close Encounters of the Third Kind 40th anniversary, 1941 40th anniversary, 1941 35th anniversary, Raiders of the Lost Ark 40th anniversary, Raiders of the Lost Ark 35th anniversary, Poltergeist 35th anniversary, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 30th anniversary, Back to the Future30th anniversary. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 25th anniversary, and Jurassic Park25th anniversary.


    Selected images copyright/courtesy Bobby Henderson, Los Angeles Times, National Screen Service, Ogden Standard-Examiner, Pacific Theatres, and Universal City Studios, Variety.


    The primary references for this project were the motion picture E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial(Universal, 1982), regional newspaper coverage, trade reports published in Boxoffice,The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety, and interviews conducted by the author. All figures and data pertain to North America (i.e. United States and Canada) except where stated otherwise.


    Mark A. Altman, Steven Awalt, David Ayers, Don Beelik, Neil S. Bulk, Lanham Bundy (Providence Public Library), Alexander Coates (Weber County Library), John Cork, Ron Dassa, Joe Fordham, Caseen Gaines, Gary Gerani, Bobby Henderson, Brian Herzlinger, Bill Hunt, William Kallay, James Kendrick, Steve Lee, Alison Martino, Mike Matessino, Joseph McBride, Bill Mead, Ross Melnick, Scott Mendelson, W.R. Miller, Ray Morton, M. David Mullen ASC, Saul Pincus, Scott Rogers, John Scoleri, John Sittig, David Strohmaier, Julie A. Turnock, April Wright.


    Pat Bilon (special E.T. movement), 1947-1983
    Bennie Dobbins (stunts), 1932-1988
    Tamara De Treaux (special E.T. movement), 1959-1990
    Wallace Worsley (production manager), 1908-1991
    Herbert W. Spencer (orchestrator), 1905-1992
    Robert Glass (re-recording mixer), 1939-1993
    Pat Welsh (E.T.’s voice), 1915-1995
    Robert Knudson (re-recording mixer), 1925-2006
    Gene Cantamessa (sound mixer), 1931-2011
    Ralph McQuarrie (shape ship design), 1929-2012
    Carlo Rambaldi (E.T. creator), 1925-2012
    Charles L. Campbell (supervising sound editor), 1930-2013
    Richard Butler (stunts), 1936-2013
    Melissa Mathison (screenwriter), 1950-2015
    Barbara Hartnett (“Medical Unit”), 1952-2016
    Allen Daviau (director of photography), 1942-2020
    Mike Fenton (casting), 1935-2020
    Felix Silla (stunts), 1937-2021

  • #2
    I've watched so many movies in my life that very few stand out, but E.T. does hold some memories.

    Our film booker in 1982 was an older guy and he was very even-tempered -- he never really got excited about much. If a movie looked to be a flop, but we needed to play it to fill a space, he'd try to be encouraging, and say "It'll do a few bucks." If a movie looked like a decent performer, he'd say "It looks fine, it'll do some business." His strongest words were saved for a predicted blockbuster: He'd say "You'll knock 'em dead with that one." He was almost always spot-on with his outlook.

    In the case of E.T., we were visiting on the phone about upcoming movies for that summer and after he ran off a few titles saying this one looks pretty good, that one is just okay, etc. he finally said "Then there's this Extra-Terrestrial picture, I think that's going to knock 'em dead."

    At the time it was released, my day job was managing a music/TV store, and I had gone to Billings for a Zenith TV product presentation. After the presentation, I went over to the nearby multiplex where E.T. was showing. I believe it was during the first week the movie was playing -- people didn't have "opening weekend fever" in those days the way they do now, a movie would be given time to build. It was a weekday, and there were very few people in the auditorium. I thought the movie was excellent. I felt like E.T. had the magic touch to be a hit, for sure. It wasn't long until the movie was doing "knock'em dead" business.

    119 days after E.T. was released, we finally played it in my theatre. It was the highest grossing movie in the theater's history and it held that record until last summer when it was finally beaten by Top Gun: Maverick. The record stood for nearly 41 years.


    • #3
      Bravo! Another great article. Your best yet!


      • #4
        I didn't have high expectations for E.T. the first time I watched it. I was in my early teen years and figured E.T. was just a kid's movie. My parents really wanted to see it due to it being a Spielberg movie and the outstanding critical response for it. We had just seen Poltergeist a few days prior. I was blown away by that movie and didn't see how E.T. could top that. But it did.

        My Uncle John came to the show with us. He can be pretty critical of movies at times. I remember him being really pissed at the cliffhanger ending of The Empire Strikes Back, "we have to wait 3 more years to find out what happened!?" When E.T. let out my Uncle said, "that was a really damned good movie!"

        That's another movie that reminds me of how long people had to wait in order to buy or rent a copy of E.T. on home video. Over SIX years. The movie had a somewhat wide re-release in 1985. I think Universal had the intention of treating E.T. like Disney did with a number of its movies, only playing them in theaters every few years. The home video business boom was eventually too much to resist, so E.T. finally hit home video in October of 1988.

        Today the wait time between a movie's debut in theaters and home video is barely more than a month. Or there is no wait time at all. Avatar: The Way of Water appears to be having a longer theatrical run. But I imagine it will probably be streaming on Disney+ before the end of February. It's going to take a fundamental shift from distributors for movies to be allowed to have long theatrical runs anymore.​

        Edit: the Summer of 1982 was a pretty damned good season for big movies.

        Obviously E.T. was the biggest hit of all. Poltergeist works as good double-feature material with E.T. since both involve suburban families plunged into super-natural situations. Poltergeist was more horrific with scenes like that guy tearing off his face in the bathroom mirror. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was released the same day as Poltergeist (June 4) and was arguably the best out of the six original cast member movies. Bladerunner was released on June 25. It was not nearly as big a hit initially, but the movie was highly influential to filmmakers and has since achieved "classic" status. John Carpenter's re-make of The Thing was also released on June 25, featuring ground-breaking and terrifying visual effects. And then there was Disney's release of Tron on July 9. The coin-op video game craze was hitting its peak at the time. Tron wasn't a big success initially but it was the first movie that really started the CGI/digital trend that now dominates movie and TV production.​ Gotta throw in a mention of Pink Floyd: The Wall. All of those movies mentioned had 70mm Dolby mag prints too.
        Last edited by Bobby Henderson; 01-16-2023, 03:58 PM.


        • #5
          Last night I was cleaning up my "all time" boxoffice chart. Anytime I quote our top 10 or whatever to anyone, I always use the ticket-count total rather than the gross, since it's a far more meaningful figure. For fun, I sorted it by total gross last night. E.T. is now Film-Tech Cinema Systems in our all time sales when measured by ticket count, but by gross, it's #103!

          Overall there are 10 movies in our top 25 list that don't appear in the top grosses list at all.

          To me this is a good sign, it shows that a lot of recent movies are drawing great crowds. Almost half our all-time top-25 list consists of movies released in 2010 or later, and three of them are from the 2020s. Only six titles are from 1999 or earlier. (Avatar 2 is CSS Examples for us.)