Retrospective: 40 Years Since ‘E.T.’ Phoned Home By Jesse Striewski

Long before Stranger Things, are imaginations were captured by a man named Steven Spielberg, and a loveable little guy known simply as “E.T.” The film became an immediate hit, and a staple for every ’80s kid such as myself (what kid back then didn’t want to be able to fly on their bikes with their friends, and after dark at that?!).

Originally released on June 11, 1982 (after premiering at Cannes on May 26), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial follows the story of Elliot (Henry Thomas), a suburban ten-year-old who discovers his newfound friend from another world in his backyard. Along with his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and kid sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), Elliot keeps E.T. a secret from his single mom (Dee Wallace) and government agents hot on the trail, all while bonding with the little fella and incorporating some of his traits.

The film sways from Sci Fi/adventure to drama (with just a hint of horror in the beginning), and broke the record of highest grossing film of all time, knocking Star Wars out of the coveted spot and remaining there until another Steven Spielberg film, Jurassic Park, took the title of number one eleven years later in 1993.

It also spawned countless toys and merchandise, including the ill-fated Atari game, notoriously remembered as one of the worst video games of all time after being rushed for a Christmas 1982 release (to this day it still remains a topic of lore to many). There’s even been theme park rides, such as the original E.T. Adventure ride still operating at Universal Studios Florida to this day.

Copies of the ill-fated Atari 2600 game and an original VHS of E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial from the author’s collection.

In a 2020 interview with the film’s star Dee Wallace, I had to ask her what made the film so endearing after all of these years. Her response was simple enough; “I still cry, I still laugh. As we all know it’s just a magical movie, and has become a part of our consciousness. I never get tired of it, or talking about it – and I can’t say that about all of my movies (laughs). It opens hearts and reminds people of what’s really important, and we just need a lot more of that these days.”

I couldn’t have possibly said it better myself if I tried. All these years later, instead of terrifying, this little green man from another planet still manages to pull at our heart strings. Spielberg has entertained us all and caught lightning in a bottle both before and since its release, yet there’s still just something special about E.T.