22 Facts You May Not Know About 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial'

by IMDb-Editors | last updated - 11 months ago

In honor of the anniversary of one of the highest-grossing and most beloved movies of all time, we have compiled some choice tidbits about 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,' Steven Spielberg's timeless classic about a small boy, a gentle alien, and their heartwarming friendship. — Bret Federigan and Sara Bibel

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Pat Welsh in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

They've Got the Look

The inspiration for E.T.'s unmistakable look comes from some unlikely sources. Steven Spielberg engaged special effects guru Carlos Rambaldi to help come up with a look that was influenced by the photographs of Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, and Carl Sandburg. For additional inspiration, he studied the faces of a 5-day-old baby and a pug dog.

Drew Barrymore, Henry Thomas, and Robert MacNaughton in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Working Title

During production, Steven Spielberg used the working title A Boy's Life for the film because he wanted to keep the central premise of E.T. a secret.

Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Enter ... Then Exit Indiana

Harrison Ford filmed a cameo role as Elliot's school principal, but the scene was cut.

Drew Barrymore and Dee Wallace in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)


In order to connect audiences with Elliot and E.T., director Steven Spielberg shot the movie mostly from the eye-level of a child. For the first half of the movie, the adults, with the exception of Elliot and Gertie's mother, played by Dee Wallace, are never seen from the waist up.

Henry Thomas and Pat Welsh in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

First Things First

To help his young child actors, Steven Spielberg decided to shoot the movie in roughly chronological order. He explained that the continuity would help the kids know "emotionally where they had been the day before." He said, "Every day was a surprise -- until, finally, when E.T. began to die [the three child actors] really believed this was happening to their lives." The final, emotional farewell scene is as genuine as it looks.

Henry Thomas and Pat Welsh in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Three's Company

Puppetry was used to bring E.T. to life on the screen, requiring the talents of three actors in scenes where the alien moves. Tamara De Treaux and Pat Bilon, both about 3-feet tall, spent most of the time in the full-body suit, while 12-year-old Matthew De Meritt took over in scenes where E.T. walked. De Meritt was born without legs but was an expert at walking on his hands. Steven Spielberg insisted that these puppeteers not be too much of a presence on the set so as to heighten the illusion for his child actors that the alien was real.

Steven Spielberg in Jurassic Park (1993)

Grossed Out

After it was released June 11, 1982, the movie became the highest-grossing film of all time, bested 11 years later by another Spielberg film, Jurassic Park, which was released on the same date. (Maybe Spielberg should release all of his movies on June 11.) Adjusted for ticket price inflation, E.T. ranks fourth in all-time highest United States box office gross.

Henry Thomas, Robert MacNaughton, and Pat Welsh in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Intergalactic Crossover

An E.T.-like species makes an appearance in The Phantom Menace, as one of the senators in the galactic senate scene. This may help to explain the scene in E.T. in which E.T. sees a kid dressed as Yoda while trick-or-treating and is compelled to utter, "Phone home! Phone home!"

Debra Winger in Cannery Row (1982)

Finding E.T.'s Voice

Pat Welsh, an elderly woman from Marin County, Calif., provided the voice of E.T. Sound effects creator Ben Burtt found that her gravelly voice, coarsened by nearly two packs of cigarettes a day, was perfect for the part. Welsh earned $380 for her nine-and-a-half hours of recording work. Early on in the process, Burtt relied on the voices of 16 other people and various animals to create the voice of E.T. Among this group were Debra Winger as well as raccoons, sea otters, and horses.

Drew Barrymore and Steven Spielberg in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Drew the Punk Rock Drummer

Drew Barrymore, 6 at the time, was the first of the three kids to be cast. The actress confessed that she lied about being in a rock 'n' roll band in her interviews with Steven Spielberg during his casting sessions for Poltergeist. She claimed she was the drummer and the punk rock band was called the Purple People Eaters. Although she didn't land a role in that movie, she and her sizable imagination made a big enough of an impression with the director for him to call her back for the role of Gertie in E.T.. Juliette Lewis also auditioned for the role.

Steven Spielberg and Henry Thomas in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Crying His Heart Out

In what has become Hollywood lore, Henry Thomas endured quite a whirlwind to secure finally the part of Elliot. Just 10 years old at the time, Thomas appeared at his initial audition brandishing a bullwhip, since he was a big fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Although he failed to impress in some of his early readings for the role, he wowed the director during an improvised scene where he was asked to pretend to hide an alien friend from a government agent. Thinking about the day that his dog died, Thomas produced real tears during this portion of the audition and moved Steven Spielberg to tears. The director is heard exclaiming on the now famous audition tape, "OK, kid. You got the job!"

Peter Coyote, Henry Thomas, and Robert Murphy in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Just What the Doctor Ordered

Steven Spielberg's desire to create authentic conditions on set extend into the famous scenes where E.T. is overseen by medical staff. The director hired real-life doctors and nurses, instructing them to treat the alien as they would any real patient in an emergency room.

Pat Welsh in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Pretty Sweet Deal

If it hadn't been for some overthinking on the part of candy executives, viewers would have seen E.T. eat M&Ms instead of Reese's Pieces. The filmmakers had approached Mars Inc. about using M&Ms in the scenes where E.T. is lured out of hiding by Elliott, but the company refused, reportedly believing that the creature's odd appearance might be disturbing to children. Spurned, producers then turned their attention to Hershey's and their new product, Reese's Pieces. Despite not reading the script, a Hershey's vice president agreed to a deal that allowed the use of the movie and its related images to promote the candy. The memorable product placement opportunity helped to lift company profits by 65 percent.

Richard Attenborough poses backstage after winning 'Best Director' and 'Best Picture' for 'Gandhi' at the 55th Academy Awards at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, Calif.

Snubbed at the Oscars

E.T. was nominated for nine Academy Awards in a year that saw Gandhi and Tootsie garner 11 and 10 nominations each. While E.T. snagged four awards, none were in the major categories. Gandhi director Richard Attenborough, who was that year's Best Director winner, confessed, "I was certain that not only would E.T. win but that it should win. It was inventive, powerful, [and] wonderful. I make more mundane movies."

Michael Jackson in Bad 25 (2012)

Kindred Spirits

Michael Jackson was a huge E.T. fan. In fact, he owned one of the E.T. puppets. Steven Spielberg asked Jackson and Quincy Jones to create a companion audiobook for the movie, with the singer narrating the tale of E.T. During recording sessions, he became so upset by E.T.'s death that he wept. The album was both a commercial and critical success, earning Jackson a Grammy in 1984 for Best Recording for Children.

Explaining his connection to the character of E.T., Jackson remarked in an interview: "He's in a strange place and wants to be accepted – which is a situation that I have found myself in many times when traveling from city to city all over the world. He gives love and wants love in return, which is me. And he has that superpower which lets him lift off and fly whenever he wants to get away from things on Earth, and I can identify with that. He and I are alike in many ways."

Erika Eleniak in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Lifeguard in the Making

The winsome blonde girl that Elliot kisses in class is Erika Eleniak, who would later go on to star in "Baywatch." The movie that E.T. watches at the very same time is The Quiet Man, in which John Wayne kisses Maureen O'Hara.

Steven Spielberg in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Lonely Desert

Steven Spielberg first came up with the idea for the movie while filming Raiders of the Lost Ark in Tunisia. He explained to People magazine, "I was kind of lonely at the time. My girlfriend [Kathleen Carey at the time] was back in Los Angeles. I remember saying to myself, 'What I really need is a friend I can talk to -- somebody who can give me all the answers.'" It was not long after that he and Melissa Mathison, Harrison Ford's then girlfriend, began working on the script. She completed her first draft in eight weeks.

Shelley Long and Henry Winkler in Night Shift (1982)

Thanks But No Thanks

Shelley Long was the producers' first choice to play Elliot's mother, a role that ultimately went to Dee Wallace. Long had to pass on the opportunity since she was already signed on to star in 1982's Night Shift.

Henry Thomas and Pat Welsh in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Over the Moon

The famous image of E.T. in the basket of Elliot's bicycle, both silhouetted against a full moon, became the logo of Amblin Entertainment, the production company co-founded by Steven Spielberg and producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall. Clearly, that specific shot and the success and importance of the movie continue to be very important to Spielberg. Amblin Entertainment's upcoming projects include Ready Player One and a Jurrasic World sequel.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Friendly Suggestion

The iconic closet scene where E.T. is dressed as one of Elliott's stuffed toys came at the suggestion of Steven Spielberg's friend Robert Zemeckis.

Corey Feldman as Pete Fountaine in 'Gremlins'

Next Time, I Promise

Corey Feldman was intended to have a role in the movie, although his part was eventually cut from the script during the course of numerous rewrites. Feeling bad about what happened, Spielberg saw to it that Feldman landed a role in his next planned production, 1984's Gremlins.

Drew Barrymore and Pat Welsh in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Animal, Mineral ... or Vegetable?

In case you are wondering about the gender of E.T., Steven Spielberg unequivocally stated in an interview that the alien was neither male nor female and instead a plant-like creature.