E. T. Renfro

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

This article is about the 1982 film. For the term "E.T.", which redirects here, see ET.

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

The concept for E.T. was based on an imaginary friend Spielberg created after his parents' divorce. When work on Night Skies stalled, Spielberg met screenwriter Melissa Mathison, whom he hired to pen the script for E.T. The film was shot from September to December 1981 in California on a budget of US$10.5 million. Unlike most motion pictures, the film was shot in roughly chronological order, to facilitate convincing emotional performances from the young cast.

Released by Universal Studios, E.T. was a blockbuster, surpassing Star Wars to become the most financially successful film released to that point. Critics acclaimed it as a timeless story of friendship, and it ranks as the best science fiction film ever made in a Rotten Tomatoes survey. The alien became the subject of analogies for Jesus. The film was rereleased in 1985, and in 2002 with altered special effects and additional scenes. Spielberg believes E.T. epitomizes his work.


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

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

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

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

Scientists set up a medical facility in the house, quarantining Elliott and E.T. The link between E.T. and Elliott disappears as E.T. appears to die. Elliott is left alone with the motionless alien when he notices a dead flower, the plant E.T. had previous revived, coming back to life. E.T. reanimates and reveals that its people are returning. Elliott and Michael steal a van that E.T. had been loaded into and a chase ensues, with Michael's friends joining Elliott and E.T.'s bicycled evasion of the authorities. Suddenly facing a dead-end, they escape as E.T.'s telekinesis lifts them into the air and toward the forest. E.T. stands near the spaceship, his heart glowing as he readies to return home. Mary, Gertie and Keys (Peter Coyote), a government agent, show up. E.T. says goodbye to Michael and Gertie, and before entering the spaceship, tells Elliott "I'll be right here", pointing its glowing finger to Elliott's forehead.


  • Henry Thomas as Elliott, a lonely ten-year-old boy who is picked on by his older brother. Elliott longs for a good friend, and finds the friend in E.T. Elliott adopts the stranded alien and forms a mental, physical, and emotional bond with it.
  • Robert MacNaughton as Michael, Elliott's football playing sixteen-year-old brother who often picks on him.
  • Drew Barrymore as Gertie, Elliott's mischievous seven-year-old sister. She is sarcastic and initially terrified of E.T., but grows to love him.
  • Dee Wallace as Mary, the children's mother, coming off a recent separation from her husband. She is mostly oblivious to the alien's presence in her household.
  • Peter Coyote as "Keys", a government agent dubbed as such because of key rings that prominently hang from his belt. He tells Elliott that he has waited to see an alien since the age of 10.
  • K. C. Martel, Sean Frye and C. Thomas Howell as Greg, Steve and Tyler. They are Michael's friends and help Elliott and E.T. evade the authorities during the film's climax.
  • Erika Eleniak as the young girl Elliott kisses in class.

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

Debra Winger provided sounds for E.T., but the alien was actually voiced by Pat Welsh, an elderly woman who lived in Marin County, California. Welsh smoked two packets of cigarettes a day, which gave her voice a quality which sound effects creator Ben Burtt liked. She spent nine-and-a-half hours recording her part, and was paid $380 by Burtt for her services. Burtt also credited sixteen other people and various animals to E.T.'s "voice". These included recordings of his sleeping wife, who had a cold, a burp from his USC film professor, and racoons, sea otters and horses.

Doctors working at the USC Medical Center were recruited by Spielberg to play the doctors who try to save E.T. after government agents take over Elliott's home, as he felt actors playing doctors and reading lines of technical dialog would feel unnatural. During post-production, Spielberg decided to cut a scene featuring Harrison Ford as Elliott's principal. The scene featured Elliott being reprimanded for his behavior in science class, and saw Elliott's chair being levitated while E.T. was levitating his "phone" equipment up the staircase with Gertie.


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

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

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

E.T. began shooting in September 1981. The project was filmed under the title A Boy's Life to keep production a secret, as Spielberg did not want anyone to discover and plagiarize the plot. The actors had to read the script behind closed doors, and everyone on set had to wear an ID card. The shoot began with two days at a high school in Culver City, and the crew spent the next eleven days moving between locations at Northridge and Tujunga. The next forty-two days were spent at Laird International Studios in Culver City, for the interiors of Elliott's home. The crew shot at a redwood forest near Crescent City for the last six days of production. Spielberg shot the film in roughly chronological order to achieve convincingly emotional performances from his cast. In the scene when Michael first encounters the alien, the creature's appearance caused MacNaughton to jump back and knock down the shelves behind him. The chronological shoot gave the young actors an emotional experience as they bonded with E.T., making the hospital sequences more moving. Spielberg ensured the puppeteers kept away from the set to maintain the illusion of a real alien. For the first time in his career, he did not storyboard most of the film, in order to allow spontaneity in the performances. The film was shot so adults, except for Dee Wallace, are never seen from the waist up in the first half of the film, as a tribute to the cartoons of Tex Avery. The shoot was completed after sixty-one days, which was four days ahead of schedule.

Longtime Spielberg collaborator John Williams composed the score for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Williams described his challenge on this project as creating a score that would create sympathy for an odd-looking creature like E.T. As with their previous collaborations, Spielberg liked every theme Williams composed and had it included. Spielberg loved the music for the final chase so much that he edited the sequence to suit it.


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

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

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

As a substantial body of film criticism has built up around E.T., numerous writers have analyzed the film in other ways as well. E.T. has been analyzed as a modern fairy tale and in psychoanalytic terms. Producer Kathleen Kennedy noted that an important theme of E.T. is tolerance, which would be central to future Spielberg films such as Schindler's List. Having been a loner as a teenager, Spielberg described the film as "a minority story". Spielberg's common theme of communication is partnered with the ideal of common understanding as represented in his depiction of humans and aliens: he asks that if an alien and a human can become friends, so too can many enemies who live close to one another on Earth.


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

Critics acclaimed E.T. as a classic. Roger Ebert wrote, "This is not simply a good movie. It is one of those movies that brush away our cautions and win our hearts." Michael Sragow of Rolling Stone called Spielberg "a space age Jean Renoir... [F]or the first time, [he] has put his breathtaking technical skills at the service of his deepest feelings. Leonard Maltin called it the best film of the year. George Will was one of the few to pan the film, feeling it spread subversive notions about childhood and science, while Vincent Canby of the New York Times criticized it for "freely recycl[ing] elements from [...] Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz".

There were allegations that the film was plagiarized from a 1967 script, The Alien, by celebrated Bengali director Satyajit Ray. Ray stated, "E.T. would not have been possible without my script of The Alien being available throughout the United States in mimeographed copies." Spielberg denied this claim, stating, "I was a kid in high school when his script was circulating in Hollywood.

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

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

In American Film Institute polls, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has been voted the twenty-fifth greatest film of all time; the forty-fourth most thrilling; the sixth most uplifting; as having the fourteenth greatest music score; and as the third greatest science-fiction film. The quote "E.T. phone home" was listed fifteenth on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes list, and forty-eighth on Premiere's top movie quote list. E.T. has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 2005, the film topped a Channel 4 poll of the 100 greatest family films, and was also listed by Time as one of the 100 best films ever made. In 2003, Entertainment Weekly called the film the eighth most "tear-jerking"; in 2007, in a survey of both films and television series, the magazine declared E.T. the seventh greatest work of science-fiction media in the past 25 years. The Times also named E.T. as their ninth favorite alien in a film, calling it "one of the best-loved non-humans in popular culture".

20th anniversary edition

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

At the premiere, John Williams conducted a live performance of the score while the film release grossed $35 million domestically, and brought the film's total worldwide gross to $792 million since 1982. The 20th Anniversary edition was released on a two-disc DVD on December 9, 2002, and was also packaged in a collector's edition with the original version. The changes to the film, in particular the switch from shotguns to walkie-talkies, were criticized as political correctness. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wondered, "Remember those guns the feds carried? Thanks to the miracle of digital, they're now brandishing walkie-talkies.... Is this what two decades have done to free speech? Chris Hewitt of Empire wrote, "The changes are surprisingly low-key [...] while ILM's CGI E.T. is used sparingly as a complement to Carlo Rambaldi's extraordinary puppet. South Park parodied many of the changes in the 2002 episode "Free Hat".

Other portrayals

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

In 1998, E.T. was licensed to appear in television public service announcements produced by the Progressive Corporation. The announcements featured E.T.'s voice reminding drivers to "buckle up" their safety belts. Traffic signs depicting a stylized E.T. wearing a safety belt were installed on selected roads around the United States. The following year, British Telecommunications launched the "Stay in Touch" campaign, with E.T. as the star of various advertisements.

A theme park ride named E.T. Adventure was also created. The $40 million attraction features the title character saying goodbye to visitors by name. Atari made a 2600 game that was based on the film. Despite the popularity of the film, the game was widely considered to be one of the worst games ever.

A sequel book was written entitled E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet by William Kotzwinkle (author of the film's novelization). The book concerns E.T.'s return to his planet, Brodo Asogi, and his subsequent demotion and exile to his childhood "farm" where he attempts to return to Earth by effectively breaking all the laws of his planet.


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