E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

PG | 115 or 120 mins | Fantasy, Science fiction | 11 June 1982

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HISTORY

News items in the 22 and 28 Feb 1978 Var and DV announced filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s intent to develop a project for Universal Pictures, titled Growing Up, expected to begin production in spring of that year. The story, written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, was rumored to involve only child characters, and would be filmed over twenty-eight days in Spielberg’s hometown of Phoenix, AZ, for just $1.5 million. Two years later, the 25 Mar 1981 Var reported the casting of Donald James. By 12 Jun 1981, however, DV claimed that the title had been changed to A Boy’s Life, which the Apr 1982 edition of Moviegoer identified as a working title Spielberg frequently used in order to conceal plot details from rival movie producers. Conflicting information in an 18 Jul 1982 LAT article indicated that in Apr 1980, Columbia Pictures began development on Spielberg’s latest film, tentatively titled E.T. and Me, but ten months and $1 million later, the project was moved to Universal. Although Columbia claimed they gave up the property due to Spielberg’s contractual obligation to make another film for Universal, the latter studio asserted that Columbia executives rejected E.T. and Me as a “kid’s picture,” compared to their more adult-oriented science-fiction project, Starman (1984, see entry), concurrently in development. However, a 15 Jul 1982 LAHExam story suggested that Columbia negotiated a deal to receive five percent of the film’s net profits.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Spielberg and producer Kathleen Kennedy, who began their professional partnership on ... More Less

News items in the 22 and 28 Feb 1978 Var and DV announced filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s intent to develop a project for Universal Pictures, titled Growing Up, expected to begin production in spring of that year. The story, written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, was rumored to involve only child characters, and would be filmed over twenty-eight days in Spielberg’s hometown of Phoenix, AZ, for just $1.5 million. Two years later, the 25 Mar 1981 Var reported the casting of Donald James. By 12 Jun 1981, however, DV claimed that the title had been changed to A Boy’s Life, which the Apr 1982 edition of Moviegoer identified as a working title Spielberg frequently used in order to conceal plot details from rival movie producers. Conflicting information in an 18 Jul 1982 LAT article indicated that in Apr 1980, Columbia Pictures began development on Spielberg’s latest film, tentatively titled E.T. and Me, but ten months and $1 million later, the project was moved to Universal. Although Columbia claimed they gave up the property due to Spielberg’s contractual obligation to make another film for Universal, the latter studio asserted that Columbia executives rejected E.T. and Me as a “kid’s picture,” compared to their more adult-oriented science-fiction project, Starman (1984, see entry), concurrently in development. However, a 15 Jul 1982 LAHExam story suggested that Columbia negotiated a deal to receive five percent of the film’s net profits.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Spielberg and producer Kathleen Kennedy, who began their professional partnership on 1941 (1979, see entry), thought of the idea for the project before starting production on Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, see entry). Kennedy reportedly suggested the script be written by Melissa Mathison, who had worked on one of her favorite films, The Black Stallion (1979, see entry), and was accompanying them on various Raiders of the Lost Ark locations with her boyfriend and eventual husband, Harrison Ford. Although Mathison initially declined, claiming she intended to quit writing altogether, she eventually accepted the job. Beginning 8 Oct 1981, Mathison consulted with Spielberg once a week for eight weeks throughout completion of the first draft. The 13 Jul 1981 LAHExam claimed that the film was co-written by Jack Sayles, who does not receive onscreen credit and whose involvement has not been confirmed by other contemporary sources. Mathison told the 23 Aug 1982 People that she and Spielberg collaborated on three drafts of the script, which changed “very little.” An earlier version featured Elliott’s friend, “who later becomes his nemesis,” but the character was omitted from the final film.
       Production notes indicated that Spielberg cast actress Dee Wallace after seeing her guest performance in the television series, Skag (NBC, 6 Jan 1980--21 Feb 1980). Actor Peter Coyote had previously auditioned for the role of “Indiana Jones” in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and ran into Spielberg again at an industry event in 1981. According to a 14 Jun 1982 article in Film Journal, Kennedy spent over six months auditioning child actors, including ten-year-old Henry Thomas, who was cast as “Elliott.”
       The Jan 1983 American Cinematographer indicated that filming was originally scheduled to begin May 1981, but was repeatedly postponed while Spielberg finished sound looping on Raiders of the Lost Ark. Almost immediately following the completion of Spielberg and Kennedy’s Poltergeist (1982, see entry) on 17 Aug 1981, principal photography for E.T. began 8 Sep 1981 in and around Los Angeles, CA. The first two days of production took place at a high school in Culver City, CA, before moving to Northridge and Tujunga, CA, for eleven days. American Cinematographer stated that since the house exterior selected in Northridge, CA, was not located close enough to the mountain landscape, a second house was found in Tujunga, CA, and edited to look as if it was part of the original neighborhood. According to production notes, filming continued over forty-two days on three Laird International Studios sound stages in Culver City. One stage contained the bedrooms of “Elliott,” “Gertie,” and their mother, “Mary.” The first floor and backyard areas of the family’s onscreen home was recreated on the second stage, while the third housed the forest landing area for “E.T.’s” spaceship. Six final days were spent shooting some of the forest sequences near Crescent City, CA, and production completed in Dec 1981, four days ahead of its estimated sixty-five day shooting schedule. American Cinematographer stated that additional scenes were filmed Jan—Feb 1982, by which point the title had been changed to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The 12 Nov 1981 edition of Rolling Stone noted that Spielberg formed a company called Extra Terrestrial Productions, Inc., to produce the film in conjunction with his Amblin’ Entertainment banner, but the company is not credited onscreen.
       The film marked the feature motion picture debut of director of photography Allen Daviau, who collaborated with Spielberg on their 1968 short film, Amblin’, and was approached in early 1981 after the director viewed his recent camerawork in television. Production designer James D. Bissell joined the production six months later than most of the other technical crewmembers. American Cinematographer indicated that Bissell and Daviau developed a cohesive visual style by watching and drawing inspiration from Night of the Hunter (1955, see entry), Alien (1979, see entry), Apocalypse Now (1979, see entry), and Last Tango in Paris (1972). Unlike Spielberg’s other productions, none of the film was storyboarded except for special visual effects shots, since Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) was paid by the exact frame count. Interior lighting for the bedroom scenes was diffused through a muslin sheet mounted on the ceiling, and Daviau kept the camera dolly mounted around four feet eight inches from the ground, in order to reinforce the child’s perspective of the story.
       The 31 May 1982 issue of Time reported that an unnamed special effects crew spent $700,000 on an unsuccessful prototype of the E.T. alien before Italian artist Carlo Rambaldi constructed the creature with an aluminum and steel skeleton under layers of sculpted fiberglass, polyurethane, and foam rubber. Each “muscle” was connected to a control mechanism, operated by Rambaldi and his ten assistants, responsible for 150 individual, complex motions. Since not all the necessary controls could fit into one model, Rambaldi built three E.T.s. People stated that the simulation of E.T.’s pulse and breathing was achieved by pumping air into his body though plastic bags, and the creature’s eyes were modeled off the designer’s Himalayan cat. In total, Rambaldi devoted 5,000 hours to the design and spent $1.5 million. Although Spielberg conceived the alien’s long neck “so nobody could think there was anyone inside,” a fourth model was built which allowed space for an actor. Two little people, Pat Bilon and Tamara De Treaux, and a legless boy named Matthew De Meritt, shared responsibility for providing E.T.’s waddling movements: Bilon spent the most time inside the “costume,” while De Treaux walked up the ramp to the spaceship, and De Meritt stood on his hands to simulate E.T.’s intoxication. Bilon died 27 Jan 1983, a few months after the film’s release, but the 28 Jan 1983 LAT stated that he frequently toured as the character, once accompanying composer John Williams at a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, CA.
       According to an article in the 24 Jul 1982 LAT, the script originally contained scenes in which Elliott is reprimanded by the school nurse and principal for drunkenly releasing his biology class frogs. The roles were respectively played by Mathison and Harrison Ford, but Mathison later insisted the scene be removed. However, the writer’s hands served as a model for the creation of E.T.’s slender fingers.
       People reported that Spielberg sought a cardiopulmonary resuscitation expert from University of CA, Los Angeles, to advise on E.T.’s medical scene. Anesthesiologist Dr. Robert Murphy referred him to Dr. Alexander Lampone and Dr. James Khan of St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, CA. The director hired the three doctors, along with a team of nurses and technicians, to serve as the onscreen “medical unit,” filming roughly fifty takes of the scene. Murphy reportedly ad-libbed his dialogue describing E.T.’s condition, but the 19 Feb 1984 LAT indicated that Spielberg later chose to eliminate most of the lines in the script which detailed the alien’s physiology. The 9 Jul 1982 LAT indicated that although he is not credited onscreen for his work as a medical consultant, Khan was also recruited by Spielberg to lend his science-fiction writing experience to revise the novelization of Poltergeist.
       The Sep 1985 edition of Ford Times revealed that E.T.’s voice designer, Ben Burtt, overheard Marin County, CA, resident Pat Welsh speaking in a store and asked her to audition for the alien’s voice. Although Spielberg originally considered the voices of an eighty-two year-old Tibetan woman and actress Debra Winger, who ultimately provided two of E.T.’s words and some heavy breathing, he chose Welsh to record the creature’s fourteen spoken lines. She earned $380 for nine-and-a-half-hour’s work repeatedly reciting the dialogue in English, French, German, and Spanish for the film’s international release. People reported that E.T.’s belch was provided by ILM employee Howie Hammerman, and various animal sounds, including an otter’s shriek and a dog’s growl, were electronically processed to create other reaction effects. The 20 Jul 1982 Us magazine alleged that Winger also had an uncredited role as a trick-or-treater in a Halloween costume.
       Production materials stated that post-production continued until mid-May 1981. According to the 30 Apr 1982 HR, the film was first shown 26 May 1982, as the closing night feature of the Cannes Film Festival. The 7 Jun 1982 HR announced that the world premiere was expected to take place on 10 Jun 1982 at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, CA, with funds benefitting the new Cinema-Television Center at the University of Southern California. The 18 Jul 1982 LAT noted that due to a lack of exhibitor interest, E.T. was originally only booked in 500 theaters, but a successful May 1982 test screening in Houston, TX, prompted Universal to increase the number to 1,600. When Spielberg protested such a wide opening, the studio settled on 1,100 theaters. Following the 30 May 1982 sneak previews, the 2 Jun 1982 Var anticipated bookings in 600—700 U.S. theaters, with later expansions throughout the summer. A 9 Jun 1982 DV article disputed earlier reports referring to an 18 Jun 1982 release date, stating that the picture was purposely scheduled for 11 Jun 1982, to avoid conflict with the 4 Jun 1982 release of Spielberg’s Poltergeist. Expansion would then follow on 25 Jun 1982 and 30 Jul 1982.
       Various contemporary sources, including the 15 Jun 1982 LAT, reported the opening of E.T. as a national phenomenon, with audiences lining up for hours outside their local theater to obtain tickets. As a result, the film broke numerous box-office records: the 15 Jun 1982 NYT stated that the picture earned $13 million in its first three days of release, making it the largest opening weekend in Universal’s history. After thirty-one weeks on the market, the 19 Jan 1983 Var announced that E.T. had surpassed Star Wars (1977, see entry) as the film with the highest domestic rentals, totaling $194,081,000.
       A 9 Jun 1982 DV brief named Dan Polier and David Knopf as consultants on all aspects of the film’s distribution and marketing. During its initial release, E.T. spawned massive advertising and publicity campaigns with multiple product tie-ins, most notably Hershey’s Reese’s Pieces candy. According to the 26 Jul 1982 People, Universal approached Hershey’s about the use of the candy in Oct 1981, after Mars declined Spielberg’s offer to feature M&M’s in the film. Upon accepting, Hershey’s spent $1 million in related promotional efforts, and Reese’s Pieces sales reportedly tripled within the first two weeks of release. 6 Aug 1982 LAHExam and 19 Jul 1982 WSJ news stories stated that an additional forty-three companies were approved to sell officially-licensed E.T. merchandise, which included dolls, sheets, posters, books, an Atari home video game, and Texas Instruments’ Speak & Spell toy like the one used onscreen, all personally overseen by Spielberg and Kennedy. The 1 Dec 1982 DV announced the opening of the $1 million “E.T. Earth Center” store on the Universal Studios lot in Universal City, CA, containing $700,000 worth of items to accommodate holiday sales demands. In addition, the 13 Dec 1982 HR stated that CBS aired a one-hour television program produced by Spielberg’s Amblin’ Entertainment, Andrew Solt, and Malcolm Leo, entitled E.T. & Friends (14 Dec 1982), detailing the depiction of extra-terrestrials in science-fiction films.
       On 18 May 1983, Var announced that, after earning $375 million worldwide, Universal decided to withdraw all theatrical, television, and ancillary media distribution for two years. According to the 13 Aug 1984 DV, the hiatus began 9 Jun 1983, and was scheduled to end 19 Jul 1985, when E.T. would be given a full-scale theatrical reissue, complete with a new marketing campaign.
       Rumors of a sequel were first published in the 23 Jul 1982 HR, and the 24 Nov 1982 Var suggested that Spielberg had almost immediately approached Sidney Sheinberg, president of Universal’s parent company, MCA, who dismissed the idea until E.T. grossed more than $100 million. An article in the 23 Aug 1982 issue of People magazine stated that Spielberg and Mathison decided on a story idea, but were forced to prolong development due to the director’s commitment to film a segment of the anthology, Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983, see entry), and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, see entry). A 15 Jan 1983 LAHExam brief also indicated that actor Robert MacNaughton was uninterested in reprising his role as Elliott’s brother, “Michael,” in a potential sequel. Plans for additional E.T. films did not move forward.
       In addition to three Golden Globe nominations and two wins for Best Motion Picture—Drama, and Best Original Score, E.T. won four Academy Awards for Music (Original Score), Sound, Sound Effects Editing, and Visual Effects, and received nominations for Best Picture, Directing, Cinematography, Film Editing, and Writing.
       In 1998 and 2007, AFI ranked E.T. #25 and #24, respectively, on the list of Greatest American Films of All Time. The film was also named by AFI the #6 Most Inspiring, #14 Greatest Film Score, and #44 Most Thrilling, while “E.T. phone home,” was named the fifteenth Greatest Movie Quote of All Time.
       End credits note: Sesame Street segments courtesy of Children’s Television Workshop; excerpts from ‘Peter Pan’ courtesy of Hospital for Sick Children, London, England; and, "Photographed at Laird International Studios, Culver City, California." Acknowledgements also state: “The Producers wish to thank the following for their contributions: American Hi-Lift; Everything Bicycles; Beckman Instruments, Inc.; Fieldtec, Inc.; Dynatech Laboratories, Inc.; Gould, Inc.; Hershey Chocolate Company; Ivac Corp.; Piker International; ILC Dover; Quantel Business Computers; Perkin-Elmer, Inc.; Stanford Linear Accelerator Center; The North Face Company; Texas Instruments Incorporated.” More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Jan 1983.
---
Daily Variety
28 Feb 1978.
---
Daily Variety
12 Jun 1981.
---
Daily Variety
25 May 1982
p. 3.
Daily Variety
9 Jun 1982.
---
Daily Variety
1 Dec 1982
p. 8.
Daily Variety
13 Aug 1984.
---
Film Journal
14 Jun 1982.
---
Ford Times
Sep 1985.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Apr 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 May 1982
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jun 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jul 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Dec 1982
p. 3.
LAHExam
13 Jul 1981.
---
LAHExam
15 Jul 1982.
---
LAHExam
6 Aug 1982
p. 1.
LAHExam
15 Jan 1983.
---
Los Angeles Times
24 Jul 1982
Section V, p. 3, 6.
Los Angeles Times
11 Jun 1982
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
15 Jun 1982
pp. 2-3.
Los Angeles Times
9 Jul 1982
p. 1, 11.
Los Angeles Times
18 Jul 1982
Calendar, pp. 3-4.
Los Angeles Times
28 Jan 1983.
---
Los Angeles Times
19 Feb 1984.
---
Moviegoer
Apr 1982.
---
New York Times
11 Jun 1982
Section III, p. 4.
New York Times
15 Jun 1982.
---
Newsweek
31 May 1982
pp. 62-64.
Newsweek
19 Jul 1982
p. 76.
People
26 Jul 1982
p. 27.
People
23 Aug 1982
pp. 81-86, 88.
Rolling Stone
12 Nov 1981.
---
Rolling Stone
8 Jul 1982
pp. 25-26.
Time
31 May 1982
pp. 54-60.
Time
19 Jul 1982
pp. 62-64.
Us
20 Jul 1982
p. 59.
Variety
22 Feb 1978.
---
Variety
25 Mar 1981.
---
Variety
26 May 1982
p. 14.
Variety
2 Jun 1982.
---
Variety
24 Nov 1982.
---
Variety
19 Jan 1983.
---
Variety
18 May 1983.
---
WSJ
19 Jul 1982.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d unit dir
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Lighting best boy
Key grip
Grip best boy
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Prod illustrator
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
2d asst ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Const coord
Propmaker foreman
Propmaker foreman
Propmaker foreman
Labor foreman
Paint foreman
Greensman
Set dressing leadwoman
Prop master
Asst propertyman
Asst propertyman
COSTUMES
Costumer
Asst costumer
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom man
Sd tech
Supv sd ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Post prod dial
ADR ed
Asst sd ed
Foley by
Foley by
E. T.'s voice des
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
E. T. created by
Visual eff supv
E. T. tech supv
Opt eff coord
Addl E. T. eff
Spec artistic consultant
Communicator des
E. T. eyes des
Spec eff coord
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
E. T. movement coord
E. T. op
E. T. op
E. T. op
E. T. op
E. T. op
E. T. op
E. T. op
Spec E. T. movement
Spec E. T. movement
Spec E. T. movement
Spec E. T. movement
Spec E. T. movement
Spec E. T. movement
Spec visual eff prod at
Eff cam, ILM
Cam op, ILM
Cam op, ILM
Cam asst, ILM
Cam asst, ILM
Cam asst, ILM
Cam asst, ILM
Opt photog supv, ILM
Opt printer op, ILM
Opt line-up, ILM
Opt tech, ILM
Opt tech, ILM
Opt tech, ILM
Go-Motion™ figures, ILM
Model shop supv, ILM
Chief model maker, ILM
Chief model maker, ILM
Model maker, ILM
Model maker, ILM
Model maker, ILM
Model maker, ILM
Model maker, ILM
Model maker, ILM
Model maker, ILM
Space ship des, ILM
Matte painting supv, ILM
Matte painting artist, ILM
Matte painting artist, ILM
Matte photog, ILM
Matte photog asst, ILM
Eff ed supv, ILM
Eff ed, ILM
Gen mgr, ILM
Prod coord, ILM
Prod coord, ILM
Anim supv, ILM
Anim, ILM
Anim, ILM
Anim, ILM
Anim, ILM
Still photog, ILM
Still lab tech, ILM
Still lab tech, ILM
Supv stage tech, ILM
Stage tech, ILM
Stage tech, ILM
Stage tech, ILM
Stage tech, ILM
Stage tech, ILM
Stage tech, ILM
Stage tech, ILM
Stage tech, ILM
Stage tech, ILM
Electronic systems des, ILM
Model electronics, ILM
Model electronics, ILM
Opt printer engineering, ILM
Opt printer engineering, ILM
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Casting
Casting
Casting
Prod coord
Scr supv
Loc services
Asst to Mr. Spielberg
Asst to Ms. Kennedy
Asst to Mr. Marshall
Prod assoc
Prod assoc
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Cine Guarantors II representative
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Loc prod vehicle
Craft service
First aid
Teacher
Unit pub
Harvey's owner & trainer
Medical unit consultant
Medical unit consultant
Prod accountant, ILM
Equip maintenance, ILM
Equip maintenance, ILM
Medical unit
Medical unit
Medical unit
Medical unit
Medical unit
Medical unit
Medical unit
Medical unit
Medical unit
Medical unit
Medical unit
Medical unit
Medical unit
Medical unit
Respirator helmets courtesy of
Medical unit
STAND INS
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col processing by
Col timer
SOURCES
SONGS
"Willie," composed by Jenifer Smith, performed by Jenifer Smith, Peter Meissner, Joe Scrima, Bob Parr
"Papa Oom Mow Mow," by Alfred Frazier, John Earl Harris, Carl L. White, and Turner Wilson Jr., published by Beechwood Music, performed by The Persuasions, courtesy of Elektra Records
"Accidents Will Happen," composed by Elvis Costello, courtesy of Plangent Visions Music Inc., © 1978
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SONGS
"Willie," composed by Jenifer Smith, performed by Jenifer Smith, Peter Meissner, Joe Scrima, Bob Parr
"Papa Oom Mow Mow," by Alfred Frazier, John Earl Harris, Carl L. White, and Turner Wilson Jr., published by Beechwood Music, performed by The Persuasions, courtesy of Elektra Records
"Accidents Will Happen," composed by Elvis Costello, courtesy of Plangent Visions Music Inc., © 1978
"People Who Died," composed and performed by Jim Carroll, courtesy of Earl McGrath Music.
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DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Growing Up
E.T. and Me
A Boy's Life
E.T.
Release Date:
11 June 1982
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles world premiere: 10 June 1982
Los Angeles and New York openings: 11 June 1982.
Production Date:
8 September--December 1981 and January--February 1982 in Northridge, Tujunga, and Culver City, CA
Copyright Claimant:
Universal City Studios, Inc.
Copyright Date:
3 August 1982
Copyright Number:
PA143231
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo® in selected theaters
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex cameras by Panavision®
Prints
Color prints by Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
115 or 120
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26717
SYNOPSIS

On a late autumn night, a spaceship filled with foliage and fungi sits among the trees of a quiet forest. Small, squat alien creatures wander near the ship observing plants on Earth until their chests illuminate red. One alien wanders off alone, looking at the city lights below, when a brigade of trucks parks nearby and humans begin to inspect the area with flashlights. The extra-terrestrial’s chest glows red, attracting the attention of the humans, and the creature runs screeching back toward its spaceship. However, the aircraft’s ramp closes and the ship launches into the sky, leaving the alien behind. Meanwhile, as a group of boys play games in a suburban home, Michael instructs his younger brother, Elliott, to retrieve pizzas from the deliveryman. While outside, Elliott hears a rustling in the illuminated shed behind the house. Believing the noise to be coming from the dog, Harvey, the boy tosses a baseball inside the shed, but the ball is thrown back to him. Elliott leads the other boys and his mother, Mary, outside to show them the strange occurrence. There, they find unusual footprints, which they assume were made by coyotes. After everyone has gone to sleep, Elliott inspects the yard and nearby cornfield with a flashlight. He follows a pair of tracks into the dirt and encounters the wrinkly, blue-eyed extra-terrestrial, which screams and runs away. The next morning, Elliott rides his bicycle into the park, dropping a trail of Reese’s Pieces candies behind him, but quickly returns home when he notices a man inspecting the area. During dinner, the boy insists that the alien he saw was real, despite the skepticism from his mother, brother, and younger ... +


On a late autumn night, a spaceship filled with foliage and fungi sits among the trees of a quiet forest. Small, squat alien creatures wander near the ship observing plants on Earth until their chests illuminate red. One alien wanders off alone, looking at the city lights below, when a brigade of trucks parks nearby and humans begin to inspect the area with flashlights. The extra-terrestrial’s chest glows red, attracting the attention of the humans, and the creature runs screeching back toward its spaceship. However, the aircraft’s ramp closes and the ship launches into the sky, leaving the alien behind. Meanwhile, as a group of boys play games in a suburban home, Michael instructs his younger brother, Elliott, to retrieve pizzas from the deliveryman. While outside, Elliott hears a rustling in the illuminated shed behind the house. Believing the noise to be coming from the dog, Harvey, the boy tosses a baseball inside the shed, but the ball is thrown back to him. Elliott leads the other boys and his mother, Mary, outside to show them the strange occurrence. There, they find unusual footprints, which they assume were made by coyotes. After everyone has gone to sleep, Elliott inspects the yard and nearby cornfield with a flashlight. He follows a pair of tracks into the dirt and encounters the wrinkly, blue-eyed extra-terrestrial, which screams and runs away. The next morning, Elliott rides his bicycle into the park, dropping a trail of Reese’s Pieces candies behind him, but quickly returns home when he notices a man inspecting the area. During dinner, the boy insists that the alien he saw was real, despite the skepticism from his mother, brother, and younger sister, Gertie. When Elliott mentions that his absent father is in Mexico with a woman named Sally, his mother begins to cry and leaves the room. That night, Elliott sits outside on a lawn chair and the alien approaches him, dropping a handful of Reese’s Pieces at his feet. Elliott uses more of the sweets to lure the creature into his bedroom, where the alien mimics Elliott’s movements and watches the boy as he falls asleep. Elsewhere, a group of men use radar equipment to search the forest and find a cluster of the forgotten candies. The next day, Elliott feigns illness so he can stay home while his mother goes to work and his siblings attend school. The boy speaks to the alien and shows it his belongings. Once he retrieves food from the kitchen, Elliott draws a bath and speaks to his mother on the telephone while the alien swims in the water. After school, Elliott shows the creature to Michael and Gertie, who yell in alarm, but agree to keep the creature a secret from their mother. The alien uses its powers to levitate balls of clay into the air, mimicking the orbit of planets in the solar system, and revive a wilted flower. Although amazed, Elliott becomes concerned about beeping noises and voices of the scientists nearing the house. After Elliott and Michael leave for school, Mary hears shuffling in Elliott’s closet, but the alien hides itself among the children's stuffed animals. While Elliott attends a dissection lesson in biology class, the creature drinks beer from the refrigerator at home. As the alcohol takes effect in the alien’s body, their telepathic connection causes Elliott to simultaneously become intoxicated and slide out of his chair. Meanwhile, the alien reads a newspaper comic depicting spacemen attempting to contact their home planet, and watches television programs featuring flying spaceships and people using telephones. In class, Elliott frees the frogs from their jars before their classmates can dissect them. As the alien watches John Wayne kiss Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man, Elliott grabs his classmate and kisses her, prompting a teacher to drag him away. The alien then dismantles a Speak & Spell toy and carries various household items upstairs to the closet. Later, Gertie attempts to show the creature to her mother, but Mary is distracted putting away groceries and does not notice that it has begun to mimic the girl's educational television program. She then receives a telephone call from the school and leaves to pick up Elliott. When the boy returns home, he finds that Gertie has dressed the alien in a dress and wig, and that the creature can now speak. Elliott calls the creature “E.T.,” and E.T. uses signals and its limited vocabulary to tell the children that it wishes to “phone home.” That night, a man drives by the house in a van and eavesdrops on Elliott and Michael rummaging through the garage for equipment to build a radar machine. On Halloween, Elliott reminds Gertie to meet him at “the lookout” point later that evening, and covers E.T. in a sheet, pretending it is his sister dressed as a ghost. He and Michael lead E.T. up the hill to meet Gertie with his bicycle, and Elliott rides into the woods with E.T. in the front basket. After nightfall, E.T. levitates the bike into the air and they ride through the sky. Elliott then helps E.T. construct a device that will send a signal to the alien's home planet. When the children do not return home that night, Mary leaves to search for them, and a group of suited men enter the house. She finds Gertie and Michael on the streets, who inform her that Elliott is in the forest. Meanwhile, the wind pushes the gears on the machine, emitting a code out into space. Upset by the thought of E.T. leaving, Elliott cries and falls asleep among the trees. The next morning, Mary reports Elliott’s disappearance to a police officer, but the boy returns home, ill and alone. Michael finds E.T., white and sickly, lying in a stream. When he brings the dying creature home and shows it to Mary, she attempts to take the children away. However, a team of scientists dressed in spacesuits enter the house and cover the premises in protective quarantine barriers. While scientists run medical tests on E.T. and Elliott and asks the family questions, Michael informs them that his brother is able to telepathically sense E.T.’s feelings, and one man tells Elliott he is glad that he found E.T. before they did. As Elliott regains strength through the night, E.T. fades, and the alien’s heart eventually stops. Despite the scientists’ efforts to resuscitate the creature, E.T. dies, and they pack its body in a nitrogen chamber. As Elliott says goodbye, E.T.’s chest glows red, and a nearby pot of wilting flowers blooms again. E.T. repeats “E.T. phone home,” prompting Elliott to realize that the alien’s companions are returning. Elliott loudly weeps to distract the doctors from noticing that E.T. is still alive, and later Mike steals a medical van, with Elliott and E.T. hiding in back. He instructs his friends to meet them at the top of the hill as Mary and Gertie chase after them in the car, the scientists trailing behind. The boys ride their bicycles through the neighborhood with E.T. perched in Elliott’s basket, lifting them into the air to evade the police. As they reach the forest, E.T.’s spaceship lands in the clearing, and Mary arrives with Gertie. The girl gives E.T. a flower pot, and the alien tells her to “be good.” Elliott asks his friend to stay, but E.T. hugs the boy goodbye, assuring him, “I’ll be right here,” before walking up the ramp. The spaceship flies away, leaving behind a rainbow in the sky. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.