25 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial’

Director Steven Spielberg’s iconic sci-fi fable, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, celebrated its 40th anniversary recently and you’d be hard-pressed to find another Hollywood movie that’s more universally beloved. The gentle tale of a friendly creature from outer space and a lonely boy named Elliott who helps him return to his own planet three million light-years away is one of those rare films whose appeal spans all ages, genders, and creeds.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial premiered as the closing film of the Cannes Film Festival on May 26, 1982, and was released by Universal Pictures on June 11, 1982, becoming an immediate blockbuster. The film starred Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Robert MacNaughton, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, C. Thomas Howell, Seen Frye, and K.C Martell.

Behind the scenes of the wildly successful movie is a list of unexpected facts that even you might be surprised to learn. In celebration of the film’s 40th anniversary read on for 25 things that you didn’t know about Spielberg’s iconic 1982 film, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

1. E.T. and King Kong were created by the same person
Carlo Rambaldi, the special effects wizard who brought E.T. to life, won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for his work on the film. The Italian artist crafted other classic movie creatures throughout his career, including King Kong and Alien.

2. Steven Spielberg’s original idea for the film was very different
“Originally my idea for “E.T.” didn’t include an extraterrestrial,” Spielberg noted in the HBO docuseries, Spielberg. “It was going to be about how a divorce affects childhood and how it really kind of traumatizes children. So the overriding theme was going to be about how do you fill the heart of a lonely child, and what extraordinary event would it take to fill Elliott’s heart after losing his dad? It would take something as extraordinary as an extraterrestrial coming into his life.”

3. The woman behind E.T.’s voice was discovered in a camera store
The film’s sound designer overheard a woman in a camera store and knew she had just the right pitch. Her name was Pat Walsh, a Californian housewife who smoked a reported two packs of cigarettes a day, giving her voice that recognizable raspy tone.

4. Stunt BMX bike riders filmed that iconic chase scene
Henry Thomas didn’t do his own stunts. The scene used three professional riders who went uncredited in the final film. They worked for two weeks and had no idea just how important their roles would turn out to be.

5. Henry Thomas had Steven Spielberg in tears during his audition
It can be tricky to cast the lead in any movie ⁠— especially when the actor carrying the film is a 10-year-old boy. In 2012, Thomas told Today that during his audition, he was able to drum up some tears by thinking about his dog that just passed, noting, “I finished my scene, and they were in tears, and Steven says, ‘Kid, you got the job.'”

6. Drew Barrymore got the part after auditioning for another movie
While Steven Spielberg was in pre-production for E.T., he was also working on the 1982 horror classic, Poltergeist. Barrymore tested for the lead role of Carol Anne (which went to Heather O’Rourke). After the audition, Spielberg said Barrymore wasn’t right for the horror movie, but he had another role for her.

7. A huge chunk of the film’s budget went to designing E.T.
The film had a production budget of $10.5 million (roughly $30 million today) — and 10% went to alien creature puppets and related animatronics.

8. There were actors behind some of E.T.’s movements
For the most part, E.T. came to life by way of a puppet, but the crew also crafted a version fit with animatronics. And in a few scenes, real actors (the late Pat Bilon and a then-11-year-old Matthew DeMeritt) donned a rubber E.T. costume.

9. Harrison Ford was cut from the film
Ford, who previously collaborated with Steven Spielberg on Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, had a small role in the film as Elliott’s school principal. However, his scene was left on the cutting room floor.

10. The sequel that never happened reveals E.T.’s name
Not long after the first film came out, Steven Spielberg and writer Melissa Mathison wrote a nine-page treatment for a sequel titled E.T. 2: Nocturnal Fears. The follow-up saw Elliott and his friends get kidnapped by evil aliens, with E.T. returning to save them. The biggest bombshell in the script? E.T.’s name is Zrek.

11. The movie was shot in chronological order
In an effort to capture authentic emotions from the young actors — especially at the end when they say goodbye to E.T. — Steven Spielberg filmed the movie in chronological order.

12. The child actors didn’t take home much money
Henry Thomas recently revealed that he received minimum wage to work on the project. However, he still gets residual checks!

13. Albert Einstein was one of the inspirations for E.T.’s look
The great physicist was one of the key inspirations behind the creatures’ physical inspiration. Carl Sandburg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and author, and The Old Man and the Sea writer Ernest Hemingway were also used as references for creating the wrinkly alien.

14. Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore kept some major props from the set
It’s typical for stars to take home a prop or two when a film wraps. Thomas took home the iconic red sweater worn by his character, Elliott. Barrymore has managed to hold on to the red cowboy hat her character wears in the film. She now keeps it in her daughter’s room as a sweet reminder.

15. Drew Barrymore adlibbed one of her most memorable lines
The first time Barrymore’s character, Gertie, sees E.T., she says, “I don’t like his feet.” Steven Spielberg adored the line so much, which was 6-year-old Barrymore’s genuine reaction to the puppet, he decided to keep it in the film.

16. Corey Feldman was supposed to be in the film
When it came time to shoot, however, Steven Spielberg had a change of heart and pulled him out of the movie. Feeling bad for the last-minute switch up, the director got Cory a job on another one of his films, Gremlins, in 1984.

17. The film originally had a different title
Imagine walking up to a movie theater and requesting one ticket for A Boy’s Life. That’s what moviegoers would have said if the title wasn’t changed during production.

18. An English rock star owns one of the bikes
Musician Tom Meighan, frontman of the UK rock band Kasabian, shelled out nearly $12,000 to purchase one of the original bikes. Another major prop — one of the original E.T. animatronics — found a home on display in an Italian museum, with more of special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi’s work.

19. The film had Reese’s flying off supermarket shelves
In the film, Elliott persuades E.T. to follow him home by laying a trail of Reese’s Pieces. According to Jack Dowd, the former VP for new business development at Hershey Chocolate, sales of Reese’s tripled in the weeks following the movie’s release.

20.The doctors you see in the movie are all real
In order to capture authenticity, Steven Spielberg requested real doctors and nurses be used in the film. To ensure the dialogue was genuine, they were told to treat E.T. like they would a normal “human” patient.

21. There’s a reason you barely ever see adults’ faces
To emphasize that the movie is meant to be from a kid’s point of view (and pay tribute to Warner Bros. cartoonist Tex Avery), Steven Spielberg purposely avoided showing adults’ faces as much as possible, instead filming them largely from the waist down. Even more, most of the movie is shot at a child’s eye level too.

22. The film broke a record by staying in theaters for so long
The movie was released on June 11, 1982 and remained in theaters for over a year — giving it one of the longest theatrical runs in cinema history.

23. Steven Spielberg didn’t want the movie to be released on home video
This was to avoid pirating and preserve the experience of seeing the film on the big screen. However, five years later in 1988, the studio released E.T. on videocassette — and it sold nearly 15 million copies in its first year.

24. The film was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards
While it didn’t win that statue, E.T. did score four Oscar wins: Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Original Music. In total, the blockbuster collected nine Academy Award nominations.

25. The film has also made a ton of money
To date, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has earned over $792 million worldwide. After its initial release, the movie beat out Star Wars to become the highest-grossing movie in history — a title which was held for 11 years, until Steven Spielberg beat his own record with Jurassic Park in 1993.

* Feeling nostalgic? Don’t worry… As part of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial‘s 40th anniversary celebration, Universal Pictures will re-release the film starting on August 12, 2022 in select IMA theatres around the country.

Tags: ET, Steven Spielberg, Things You Didn't Know About

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