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

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

“E.T… phone… home.”

A 10-year-old boy (Henry Thomas) enlists the help of his younger sister (Drew Barrymore) and older brother (Robert MacNaughton) in preventing their distracted mother (Dee Wallace) from learning about the existence of a short, odd-looking alien longing to go back home.


  • Aliens
  • Friendship
  • Homecoming
  • Science Fiction
  • Steven Spielberg Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “marvelous sci-fi fantasy from Steven Spielberg” — which “broke box-office records and dazzed everyone but your local party-pooper” — features a “title character… designed by Carlo Rambaldi” who “is a sweet little wide-eyed alien” (modeled in part after Rambaldi’s own cat’s ‘innocent eyes’) “with child-like qualities (although we can deduce that he is an adult) and the power to heal and cause dying plants to bloom instantly and objects to fly”.

Peary notes that when the “fragile creature becomes sickly because he longs to return home”:

… the “film becomes a twist on The Wizard of Oz: three youngsters help an adult return to his own world (there’s no place like home).” However, “in truth, this film has far more sympathy and understanding of children than The Wizard of Oz, and it’s a celebration of youth and innocence — significantly, unlike in Oz, these children do not ‘grow up’!” He adds that the “film has suspense, wit, magical special effects, [and] numerous scenes that have etched themselves into memories of moviegoers”:

… and while “Spielberg occasionally manipulates us into shedding tears, the film is genuinely sweet.”

Peary goes on to further describe why E.T. himself is so appealing, noting he’s “a wonderful creation with universal appeal — kids respond to him with such affection because he truly satisfies their need for [an] ‘imaginary playmate’, the ideal friend for all kids (especially those who don’t have two parents always there) who wish their stuffed animals could hug them back”.

He adds that “adults, of course, are also taken with E.T. — when he dons a long robe and waddles through the house, he may remind us of our favorite, quirkiest visiting relative”.

Peary also calls out that the “amazing success of the film” is due to “the performance of Henry Thomas”, who “in a difficult part [as Elliott]… is so appealing that we gladly accept him as our surrogate and allow him to fulfill our dream of meeting the perfect alien”.

In Alternate Oscars, Peary names this movie Best Picture of the Year in place of Gandhi (1982), noting that E.T. “quickly emerged as the only figure in 1982 who would have beaten Gandhi in an international popularity contest”. He writes that while Spielberg — who “made the film when he himself was lonely” — “expected E.T. to be a small picture… it hit a universal nerve” given that “E.T. could be seen as a myth figure… It was a picture made for kids, but it had elements to which adults responded more strongly.” I loved nearly all aspects of E.T. when I saw it as a kid — other than the creepy final sequences with adult scientists in suits taking over Elliott’s house, which scared me:

… and I was curious what my reaction would be like revisiting this flick as an adult.

While I’m less enamored overall by the storyline, I can still appreciate the film’s many charms and special qualities, and especially enjoy the collective effort put in by McNaughton’s “naughty” teenage friends in the final sequence to help E.T. to go back home (this circles back nicely to the opening scene of the teens simply sitting around playing cards, excluding Elliott from their fun).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Many iconic moments
  • Fine special effects
  • Allen Daviau’s cinematography
  • Henry Thomas as Elliott
  • Drew Barrymore’s precocious and still-adorable performance as Gertie
  • Robert McNaughton as Michael
  • Dee Wallace as the kids’ harried mom
  • John Williams’ iconic score

Must See?
Yes, as a cult classic.


(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


2 thoughts on “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

  1. I wasn’t interested in seeing this film at the time and managed to avoid seeing it in its entirety until the DVD era.

    I was wrong, because it’s a wonderful, charming, beautifully crafted family film fully deserving of it’s must see status and a classic that has stood the test of time.

    The big test is do children still watch it not; are they aware of it? Being a secondary school supply (cover) teacher I’d have to say yes; children are all aware of it and still watch it.

  2. Not must-see. I’ll explain.

    At the risk of sounding like some kind of unsentimental Scrooge, I’ll qualify this POV by stating that, all things considered, I’m not in the target audience for this film. There are obviously TONS of people who adore it – and more power to them!

    That said… looking at the film as I would any other film, I don’t find it all that satisfying – even if it’s ultimate aim is that of a feel-good fantasy flick about friendship. (I will allow that it gets points for its message of having compassion for the unfamiliar.)

    I find the film indulgent, often slow-moving – and it could easily be about 15-20 minutes shorter – but it’s stretched for the purpose of… oh, suspense, I guess, though it just feels long. It doesn’t help that the alien – supposedly a member of an advanced race – comes off as largely lethargic.

    During the rewatch, I kept thinking how much I would prefer a story about two young human beings who learn how to be better people through (perhaps) difficulties in their growing relationship… as opposed to (and its empathy ‘subplot’ notwithstanding) one human being who begins a relationship with a not-very-communicative alien who begins to be a little friendly… and then leaves!

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