Top secrets of the Spielberg classic revealed


Top secrets of the Spielberg classic revealed

ET the Extra-Terrestrial turns 40 this Saturday. But the iconic alien doesn’t look a day older than 10 million – his approximate age in a 1982 novelization of the film.

Steven Spielberg’s family drama, about which a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas) finds a lost alien in his backyard, was an instant classic. It made “ET phone home” one of the most enduring catchphrases in all of cinema; it named Reese’s Pieces It Candy of the Decade. It also introduced the world to 6-year-old Drew Barrymore, who played Elliott’s adorable younger sister, Gertie.

The film ran in theaters for a year, until June 1983.

Check out these insider facts about Spielberg’s epic childhood drama, then watch it again: Us Car you should not cry.

The concept for ET started out much darker

Elliot looks at ET's glowing fingers.
Originally ET was supposed to be about an alien invasion.

When Spielberg first started thinking about making an alien sequel to his 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he commissioned writer-director John Sayles to write a screenplay titled Night Skies, which will feature a farming community appeared terrorized by alien invaders. As the Guardian reported, “The tone of ‘Night Skies’ was set for horror and violence.” Thankfully, the director had a change of heart.

9-year-old Henry Thomas quit his audition

Thomas, who had previously played a role in the Sissy Spacek drama Raggedy Man, had an impromptu audition with Spielberg, during which he cried while begging a government agent not to take ET. “The improvisation was so heartfelt and honest that I gave him the part right there,” Spielberg said.

Ralph Macchio was almost in the movie

“Cobra Kai” star Macchio told People he had the opportunity to play Tyler, a friend of Elliott’s older brother. “C. Thomas Howell – my ‘Outsiders’ grease buddy Ponyboy – actually played that role,” he said in an interview on Drew Barrymore’s show. It was Howell’s film debut; The Outsiders was released the following year.

Spielberg drew famous faces for his alien hero

ET and Steven Spielberg.
ET should have “frivolous” eyes.
Getty Images

In the special, The Making of ET the Extra-Terrestrial, the director shared that he wanted ET’s face to conjure up multiple legends. “I remember saying [special effects artist] carol [Rambaldi], here are some pictures of Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway and Carl Sandburg. I love their eyes, can we make ET’s eyes as frivolous as they are wrinkled and as sad as these three icons?”

Special effects artist Ben Burtt used many sources for ET’s voice – including a chain smoker

Elliot and ET
Burtt got creative with ET’s voice.
Courtesy of the Everett Collection

Burtt drew ET’s unusual vocal range from many places, he told the BBC. “There’s raccoons in there, there’s sea otters, there’s some horses, there’s a burp from my old USC film professor. There’s my wife’s labored breathing as she falls asleep at night with a cold.” But the lead voice came from actress Pat Welsh, a chain smoker. According to, she earned $380.

Originally Harrison Ford had a share

The three original actors of ET
Another actor was almost part of the film.

Ford was dating ET screenwriter Melissa Mathison at the time — and had just filmed Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. He made a cameo as the principal, admonishing Elliott for releasing dissected frogs. The scene was cut, but as Spielberg put it, “That was it [Henry] I had the chance to meet Harrison.”

A legless actor gave ET his signature gait

Elliot and ET hug.
ET’s walk was unique.
Courtesy of the Everett Collection

In many scenes, ET is controlled by puppeteers. But Matthew De Meritt was 11 when he was hired to be in costume in the scene where ET raids the fridge; Born without legs, he walked on his hands, giving the alien a unique waddle.

Spielberg gave several top hats to “Star Wars.”

The director had fun paying tribute to the work of his friend George Lucas. In one scene, Elliott ET shows his “Star Wars” action figures; in another, his older brother Michael (Robert McNaughton) DJs a Yoda voice. And in the Halloween sequence where the brothers throw a sheet over ET to smuggle him into the forest, they see a kid wearing a Yoda mask as they move among the trick-or-treaters.

The doctors in the film are really doctors

For the chilling sequence in which the house is taken over by scientists and medical teams, Spielberg hired real doctors for the roles: “The entire medical team that worked on ET was real ER doctors and various specialists from all over California, and it was completely improvised . He just wanted them to do it like a real Code Blue situation,” McNaughton said.

Spielberg digitally erased weapons in one version

That "ET" Children riding bicycles.
Weapons were deleted from the film.
©Universal/Courtesy of Everett Col

While Elliott and ET are being hunted by the Fed, there’s an FBI agent with guns in their ranks. In a re-release, the director replaced the gun with a less menacing walkie-talkie. He said he received a lot of negative feedback about the film’s makeover: “I learned a great lesson and that was the last time I decided to ever mess with the past.”

Spielberg was accused of plagiarism

Steven Spielberg in front of an ET poster.
The concept for ET was similar to that of The Alien.

Indian author Satyajit Ray believed the concept for ET was strikingly similar to a screenplay he wrote in the 1960s called The Alien, about “an alien who lands in a village in Bengal and makes friends with a boy”. Ray was made aware of this by American science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke after Clarke saw a screening of Spielberg’s film. Spielberg denied the allegations and Ray eventually decided not to pursue legal action.

The score by John Williams turned the film into an opera

The director said the emotional ending to “ET” was “as close to an opera … as anything I’ve ever done in my life before” due to the musical style of Williams, a longtime Spielberg, and Lucas, a collaborator.

The Atari video game “ET” was legendary bad

The ET video game.
The ET video game came out in 1982.

A game was developed for the Atari 2600 system shortly after the film was released. The processing time for a game was usually several months – but this one was produced in five weeks. noted, “Reviewers from this era found the game confusing, clunky, and difficult to learn, with poor graphics even for the time. Kids obviously had it easier than adults, but people didn’t like falling into pits all the time.”

There could have been a disturbing sequel

Gertie and ET kiss.
Spielberg realized that a sequel to ET would ruin his reputation.
© Universal/Courtesy of Everett / E

Spielberg reunited with screenwriter Mathison for a cover of ET 2: Nocturnal Fears, in which ET would return to Earth amid an alien invasion that was “carnivorous and emitting a ‘hypnotic buzz’ with crippling effects on the surrounding wildlife sent out”. Ultimately, he wisely concluded that this might tarnish the legacy of the original film.

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