The Legacy Of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Forty years ago this month, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was released in theaters and captured the collective hearts and minds of moviegoers everywhere in 1982. To say it was a cultural phenomenon is certainly an understatement, yet it can be hard to believe for those who were too young to remember or were alive at that time. That is because unlike other culturally relevant properties from that time period like Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, etc. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial did not have the staying power in our collective minds.

Regardless, the sci-fi film by legendary director Steven Spielberg is a bonafide classic that knows just how to hit a viewer in the feels. Spielberg was in top form (and remains so to this day) and received a well-deserved status as a master storyteller with his tale of a stranded alien being in the forests of California who befriends a lonely boy, Elliott (Henry Thomas). As Elliott introduces the being he calls E.T. to his suburban lifestyle and pop culture, he does what he can to keep E.T. hidden from the outside world while E.T. tries to contact others of his kind to rescue him. The film boasted many classic Spielbergian tropes and themes, such as a reverance for middle-class childhood while exploring family trauma, examing a magical sense of wonder about the world through the use of lighting, pop cultural references, and of course, those famously long natural takes that define a Steven Spielberg film.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a fairly simple tale about an unlikely interstellar friendship or as a sci-fi version of a boy and his dog tearjerker, but the film excels in emotion and Spielberg pulled out all of his skills to wrench our heartstrings. He was aided by an exemplary filmmaking team which included special effects guru Carlo Rambaldi, a deeply emotional script by Melissa Mathison, genuine acting by the cast, breathtakingly beautiful cinematrography by Allen Daviau, and John Williams brilliant score. The master composer won a well-deserved Oscar for the film as the film won several technical Oscars. Unfortunately, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial failed to win the major Academy Awards like Best Picture or Director because by the time the awards ceremony came around, the allure of the film had worn off and the Academy instead bestowed the major awards to more standard fare like Gandhi. Go figure.

Perhaps if E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial had won the major awards it may have been more remembered these days. Another reason could be because the film was overhyped by media and in-your-face marketing and merchandising during that time and it finally burned out its good will after some time. It may be hard to imagine today but think of the constant merchandising of Star Wars, the Marvel and DC films, and Jurassic Park and picture that for one film that dominated the box office for 16 weeks straight. This is something that would be nearly impossible to pull off today in our fractured society. Many films released that summer in 1982 fared poorly because E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial sucked out all of the air from the competition. What is ironic is that many of those films are better remembered today and are considered classics in their own right. These include Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Tron, and The Thing.

Yet, another factor that probably impeded E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’s legacy is that no sequel film or reboot was ever made to keep the film in the public consciousness. The closest instances it received for follow ups were a sequel novel by William Kotzwinkle called E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet, a well-received 2019 Xfinity commercial featuring a now-adult Henry Thomas, who is reunited with E.T., and then introduces the alien to his family, and a theme-park ride at Universal Studios Florida, Japan and Hollywood (the Hollywood and Japan versions closed down years ago).

As to why Spielberg did not adapt this novel or went ahead with a film sequel, the answer is that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial holds a special place in his heart and he did not want to dilute it with follow ups. However, he did consider it. He and Mathison wrote a treatment in 1982 called E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears, which would have had Elliott and his friends kidnapped by evil aliens and E.T. rescuing him. But as we all know, Spielberg abandoned the idea and moved on to other projects. The last time E.T. was actually seen in theaters was when he and members of his race appeared in a gag cameo during Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Even though the film is not in the forefront of the public these days, it is still fondly remembered and still commands attention as seen with the positive word of mouth from the 2019 commercial and successful re-releases in theaters and home media. During its 20th anniversary the film was re-released and Spielberg altered the film with improved special effects, deleted footage and digitally altering a scene where federal agents who originally brandished guns and threatened E.T., Elliott and his friends, now had walkie-talkies instead. Spielberg has changed his mind about the alterations and encourages that only the original film be viewed.

With so many properties commanding our attention these days, it is so easy to overlook E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which would be foolish. The film is a cinematic wonder that should be required viewing for film buffs, genre fans and families. Simply put, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a perfect showcase for the artistry and magic of Steven Spielberg.

Summer Of 1982 Revisited


It’s strange to say but even back in the spring of 1982 many genre fans knew that summer would be special when it came to movies. Unlike previous summers, it seemed as if many film releases were catered to genre fans and that was a correct assumption.

Conventional wisdom has it that the summer season begins with the Memorial Day weekend. While that’s true for many aspects of summer, for the past few years it seemed as if the summer movie season didn’t begin with that holiday but on the first weekend of May. That reputation began with the release of several movies based on Marvel superheroes, which by the way, coincides with Free Comic Book Day. But even back in 1982, the summer movie season began in mid-May with the release of Conan The Barbarian, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first big hit.

While previous summer movie seasons boasted huge genre hits like The Empire Strikes Back and Alien, often there weren’t many genre films released in that time period. 1982 was the first year that the summer schedule was full of films that would appeal to fans of sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Since 1982, many summers featured a plethora of genre films; some were big hits, others didn’t do well and that continues to this day (case in point, the runaway success of The Avengers and the dismal box office performances of Battleship and Dark Shadows).

What makes the summer of 1982 so memorable for fans is that not only was it the first time there were many films to choose from but that so many of them are classics. For instance, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan is considered to be the best Star Trek film to this day, then there’s Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s masterpiece about a human hunting down rogue replicants in a decaying, future Los Angeles. Or there are the two opposing alien visitation films that are as different from each other as night and day, and are both classics, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and director John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. The sad thing about these two films is the general audience’s reaction to them. While E.T. won universal acclaim and became the biggest box office hit until the mid-90s, The Thing was scorned by critics and audiences. In fact, it made its debut near the bottom of that week’s top ten and disappeared from theaters quickly. It’s unfortunate that people back then weren’t open to a dark and horrifying movie about an alien invader because of the happy feelings they were getting from a stranded, friendly alien and his buddy human boy.

Blade Runner suffered a similar fate, while its opening was better than The Thing’s, many viewers and critics didn’t take to Scott’s moody, future noir tale. With Harrison Ford as the lead, fresh off his breakthrough hit Raiders Of The Lost Ark, many expected a similar rousing adventure film. But both Blade Runner and The Thing had happy endings as many discovered the films on cable and home video, elevating their statures from cult hits to genuine masterpieces (Blade Runner actually made AFI’s list of 100 Years…100 Films, along with E.T.).

Of course, there were a few stinkers and some films that were generally good, but didn’t leave a lasting impression. The most infamous stinker is Megaforce, a poor man’s G.I. Joe directed by Hal Needham (who helmed those awful Burt Reynolds car chase films) and it is laughably bad. Then there’s this terrible Scott Baio comedy called Zapped about a student who gets psychic powers and the less said about it the better. Meanwhile, some underrated genre films worth looking out for are Clint Eastwood’s Firefox (about a fighter pilot who steals an advanced, thought-operated Soviet plane), and Don Bluth’s first animated film The Secret Of NIMH (astonishing, Disneyesque animation highlighted this tale about a wood mouse and rats with advanced intelligence).

While the rest of that year featured some great films like The Dark Crystal, the summer of 1982 will always be fondly remembered and the milestone to compare with other summer movie seasons. The following are some of the more noteworthy films that were released that summer and thrilled fans thirty years ago. If you haven’t seen any of them, check them out.

Conan The Barbarian, Poltergeist, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, The Thing, Blade Runner, Tron, The Road Warrior

José Soto

For Dakota