18 Things You Never Knew About Steven Spielberg's 'E.T.'
Admit it: "E.T." made you cry. It still does.
If you didn't find yourself misting up at certain points late in "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," you either have a heart of stone or have been away from Earth for the past 35 years, since the film's release on June 11, 1982. After all, "E.T." was, for many years, the biggest film on the planet, the one that cemented Steven Spielberg's reputation as a chronicler of childhood and a crafter of populist art. It also made a star out of Drew Barrymore, launched the careers of several other young stars, and had the world saying, "E.T. phone home" in a funny voice until the novelty ran out.
35 years later, you probably remember the film vividly, but the story of how it got made may remain a mystery to you. So hop in your time machine, pop some Reese's Pieces, and read on for the interstellar secrets of "E.T."
1. "E.T." and "Poltergeist" famously originated as separate subplots in Spielberg's "Night Skies" idea. The plot about a friendly alien visitor was in turn inspired by Spielberg's own childhood trauma, the divorce of his parents. He recalled his own boyhood desire for an imaginary pal, "a friend who could be the brother I never had and a father that I didn't feel I had anymore."
2. While Spielberg was in Tunisia directing Harrison Ford in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," he met Ford's girlfriend, Melissa Mathison. When the filmmaker learned she was one of the screenwriters of the classic boy-and-his-horse movie "The Black Stallion," he knew she'd be the right writer to develop his "E.T." idea into a full screenplay. She tried to convince him he was wrong, but he wore her down over time. Back home in California, the two worked up the screenplay in just eight weeks.
3. Wearing an Indiana Jones costume, Henry Thomas, then nine, nailed his audition to play Elliott by crying on command. He summoned up the tears by recalling how his chihuahua had been mauled to death by a neighbor's dog.
4. Columbia Pictures turned down the chance to make "E.T.," dismissing the project as "a wimpy Walt Disney movie."
5. Five-year-old Drew Barrymore proved to Spielberg she was imaginative enough to play Gertie by telling the director a tall tale, that she was the leader of a punk band.
6. Future "Baywatch" babe Erika Eleniak made her film debut as the tall classmate Elliot kisses during the frog sequence.
7. A year before he starred as Ponyboy in "The Outsiders," C. Thomas Howell made his film debut in "E.T." as Mike's friend Tyler.
8. In a story that's become a famous case study in product placement, M&M/Mars turned down the chance for M&Ms to be the candy Elliott uses to gain E.T.'s trust. Legend has it that M&M/Mars said "no" because the company thought the little alien was so ugly that he'd scare children, but the specific reason for the rejection has been lost to history. But Hershey was willing to pony up $1 million in advertising featuring E.T. in order to popularize a relatively new candy product. So it was Reese's Pieces instead that saw the stranded space traveler send sales soaring astronomically, by as much as 300 percent.
9. Puppeteer Carlo Rambaldi, who'd designed the aliens for Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," re-teamed with the director to create E.T. The designer based the creature's face on those of such wizened sages as Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein, and Ernest Hemingway.
10. The alien seen in the film is actually several E.T.s, including four animatronic heads and one set of prosthetic hands, all used for close-ups, and a full costume worn by three different actors. Two were adult dwarfs, and the third was Matthew DeMeritt, a 12-year-old boy born without legs. He walked on his hands, so scenes displaying E.T.'s distinctive waddle or occasional stumble were his.
11. Like Elliott, the young Thomas was a "Star Wars" fan, so he was less than impressed the first time he saw his squat intergalactic co-star. "When I saw this alien with the weird feet and the telescopic neck, I was like, 'What the hell is this? Where is my lightsaber?'" he recalled 30 years later. "But I guess I got a flying bicycle, so I can't complain."
12. In a deleted scene, Harrison Ford would have been seen as Elliott's elementary school principal, scolding the boy for drinking, then flummoxed into silence by E.T. showing up and demonstrating his ability to levitate objects with his mind.
13. "E.T." cost a mere $10.5 million to make. It returned $359 million in North American theaters during its initial run and $619 million worldwide.
14. It held the record as the biggest moneymaker of all time for a decade, until the release of Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" in 1993.
15. The movie was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture. It lost to "Gandhi," though even "Gandhi" director (and future "Jurassic Park" star) Richard Attenborough said he thought "E.T." deserved to win. It won four prizes, for John Williams' instrumental score, for sound mixing and sound effects editing, and for visual effects.
16. For the movie's 20th anniversary, Spielberg notoriously edited the lawmen's guns out of the final chase and replaced them digitally with walkie-talkies. As he explained in 2011, "I was overly sensitive to some of the criticism 'E.T.' got from parent groups when it was first released in '82 having to do with Elliott saying 'penis breath' or the guns."
17. He restored the original rifle footage for the 30th anniversary Blu-ray release, saying of the revision, "It was okay. for a while, but I realized what I had done was I had robbed people who loved 'E.T.' of their memories of 'E.T.'"
18. Thomas, who says not a day goes by when someone doesn't say to him, "E.T. phone home," noted in 2012 that, "if the film had been made in present-day Hollywood, it would have been at least a trilogy," says Henry. "But I think a sequel would have cheapened it. What would happen? E.T. would come back? Or Elliot would go on vacation with him? It could be like an intergalactic reunion with Elliott and E.T. at a beach resort." He added that he'd even return to play Elliott if Spielberg ever asked. "I don't think Spielberg will touch it, although I'd love to see Elliott and E.T. sitting at the end of the bar: 'How's it been for you man? Good man, another beer?'"