E.T. Released in Theaters
"E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (or simply E.T.)" was released in theaters June 11, 1982, produced and directed by Steven Spielberg. The film tells the story of Elliott, a boy who befriends an extraterrestrial dubbed E.T., who is stranded on Earth. Along with his friends and family, Elliott must find a way to help E.T. return home while avoiding the government. The film stars Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, Robert MacNaughton, and Drew Barrymore.
The film's concept was based on an imaginary friend that Spielberg created after his parents' divorce. In 1980, Spielberg met the writer of the film, Melissa Mathison and developed a new story from the unrealized project Night Skies. In less than two months, Mathison wrote the first draft of the script, titled E.T. and Me, which went through two rewrites. The project was rejected by Columbia Pictures, who doubted its commercial potential. Universal Pictures eventually purchased the script for $1 million. Filming took place from September to December, 1981 on a budget of $10.5 million. Unlike most films, E.T. was shot in rough chronological order to facilitate convincing emotional performances from the young cast. The animatronics for the film were designed by Carlo Rambaldi.
The film was an immediate blockbuster, surpassing Star Wars to become the highest-grossing film of all time, a record it held for eleven years until Spielberg's own Jurassic Park surpassed it in 1993. E.T. was widely acclaimed by critics, and is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. It received nine nominations at the 55th Academy Awards, winning Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, and Best Sound Editing, and also won five Saturn Awards and two Golden Globe Awards.
After his parents' divorce in 1960, Spielberg filled the void with an imaginary alien companion that he later recalled as "a friend who could be the brother [he] never had and a father that [he] didn't feel [he] had anymore" In 1978, he announced he would shoot a film entitled Growing Up, which he would film in four weeks. However, the project was set aside due to delays on 1941, but the concept of making a small autobiographical film about childhood would stay with him. 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 caused a sense of loneliness in Spielberg, far from his family and friends, and made memories of his childhood creation resurface. 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 concept of E.T. Mathison wrote a first draft titled E.T. and Me in eight weeks, which Spielberg considered perfect. The script went through two more drafts, one by Matthew Robbins which deleted an "Eddie Haskell"–esque friend of Elliott's. The chase sequence was also created, and he also suggested having the scene where E.T. got drunk.
Mars, Incorporated refused to allow M&M's to be used in the film, believing E.T. would frighten children. The Hershey Company was asked if Reese's Pieces could be used, and it agreed. This product placement resulted in a large increase in Reese's Pieces sales. Science and technology educator Henry Feinberg created E.T.'s communicator device.
Having worked with Cary Guffey on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg felt confident in working with a cast composed mostly of child actors. For the role of Elliott, he auditioned hundreds of boys, Including Keith Coogan; before Jack Fisk suggested Henry Thomas for the role because Henry had played the part of Harry in the film Raggedy Man, which Fisk had directed. Thomas, who auditioned in an Indiana Jones costume, did not perform well in the formal testing, but got the filmmakers' attention in an improvised scene. Thoughts of his dead dog inspired his convincing tears. Robert MacNaughton auditioned eight times to play Michael, sometimes with boys auditioning for Elliott. Spielberg felt Drew Barrymore had the right imagination for mischievous Gertie after she impressed him with a story that she led a punk rock band. He enjoyed working with the children, and he later said that the experience made him feel ready to be a father. Ralph Macchio was considered for the role of Tyler.
Principal photography began in neighborhoods in Los Angeles County and in the San Fernando Valley on September 8, 1981. The project was filmed under the cover name A Boy's Life, as Spielberg did not want anyone to discover and plagiarize the plot. The actors had to read the script behind closed doors, and everyone on set had to wear an ID card.
Spielberg shot the film in roughly chronological order to achieve convincingly emotional performances from his cast; it was also done to help the child actors with the workload. Spielberg calculated that the film would hit home harder if the children were really saying goodbye to E.T. at the end. In the scene in which Michael first encounters E.T., his 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 quarantine sequences more moving. Spielberg ensured that the puppeteers were kept away from the set to maintain the illusion of a real alien. For the first time in his career, Spielberg did not storyboard most of the film, in order to facilitate spontaneity in the performances. The film was shot so adults, except for Dee Wallace, are never seen from the waist up in its first half, as a tribute to the cartoons of Tex Avery. According to Spielberg, the scene in which E.T. disguises himself as a stuffed toy in Elliott's closet was suggested by fellow director Robert Zemeckis after he read a draft of the screenplay that Spielberg had sent him. The shoot was completed in 61 days, four ahead of schedule.
Spielberg's regular collaborator John Williams, who composed the film's musical score, described the challenge of creating one that would generate sympathy for such an odd-looking creature. As with their previous collaborations, Spielberg liked every theme Williams composed and had it included. Spielberg loved the music for the final chase so much that he edited the sequence to suit it. Williams took a modernist approach, especially with his use of polytonality, which refers to the sound of two different keys played simultaneously. The Lydian mode can also be used in a polytonal way. Williams combined polytonality and the Lydian mode to express a mystic, dreamlike and heroic quality. His theme, emphasizing coloristic instruments such as the harp, piano, celesta, and other keyboards, as well as percussion, suggests E.T.'s childlike nature and his "machine".
The major voice work of E.T. for the film was performed by Pat Welsh. She smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, which gave her voice a quality that sound effects creator Ben Burtt liked. She spent nine-and-a-half hours recording her part, and was paid $380 by Burtt for her services. He also recorded 16 other people and various animals to create E.T.'s "voice". These included Spielberg, actress Debra Winger, his sleeping wife sick with a cold, a burp from his USC film professor, raccoons, otters, and horses.
Doctors working at the USC Medical Center were recruited to play the ones who try to save E.T. after government agents take over Elliott's house. Spielberg felt that actors in the roles, performing lines of technical medical dialogue, would come across as unnatural. During post-production, he decided to cut a scene featuring Harrison Ford as the principal at Elliott's school. It featured his character reprimanding Elliott for his behavior in biology class and warning of the dangers of underage drinking. He is then taken aback as Elliott's chair rises from the floor, while E.T. is levitating his "phone" equipment up the stairs with Gertie. Ford's face is never seen.
E.T. was previewed in Houston, Texas, where it received high marks from viewers. The film premiered at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival's closing gala on May 26, 1982, 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 then fluctuated between the first and second positions until October, before returning to the top spot for the final time in December during a brief holiday season re-release. In its second weekend, it recorded the highest-grossing second weekend of all time, surpassing the record of $10,765,687 set by Superman II in 1981. In its fourth weekend, it recorded the highest-grossing weekend of all time, surpassing the record of $16,706,592 set earlier that year by Rocky III. It had a record eight weekends with a gross of over $10 million, a feat not matched until Home Alone (1990), and set a record for being at number one for 16 weeks in total.
In 1983, E.T. surpassed Star Wars to become the highest-grossing film of all-time; by the end of its theatrical run, it had grossed $359 million in North America and $619 million worldwide. Box Office Mojo estimates that the film sold over 120 million tickets in its initial U.S. theatrical run. Spielberg earned $500,000 a day from his share of the profits, while The Hershey Company's profits rose 65% due to the film's prominent placement of Reese's Pieces. The "Official E.T. Fan Club" offered photographs, a newsletter that let readers "relive the film's unforgettable moments [and] favorite scenes", and a vinyl record with "phone home" and other sound clips.
The film was re-released in 1985 and 2002, earning another $60 million and $68 million respectively, for a worldwide total of $792 million with North America accounting for $435 million. It held the global record until it was surpassed by "Jurassic Park", another Spielberg-directed film, in 1993, although it managed to hold on to the domestic record for a further four years, where a Star Wars reissue reclaimed it.
The film sold over 15 million VHS units in the United States, and grossed over $250 million in video sales revenue. The VHS cassette was also rented over six million times during its first two weeks in 1988, a record it held until the VHS release of Batman the following year. The 2012 release of E.T. on DVD and Blu-ray grossed $24.4 million in sales revenue as of 2017 in the United States. The film was also a merchandising success, with dolls selling 15 million units by September 1982 and becoming the best-selling toy that Christmas season. E.T. went on to generate over $1 billion in merchandise sales by 1998.
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