E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is perhaps Steven Spielberg's signature fantasy film. It was the biggest blockbuster of 1982note the same year Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Blade Runner, TRON, The Secret Of NIMH, The Last Unicorn and The Dark Crystal were released and, in fact, The Eighties as a whole. John Williams' score, flying bicycles, and an Ugly Cute alien hero are just the tip of the iceberg here.A group of aliens are in a forest on Earth, not far from a suburb, exploring and collecting plant samples. They are forced to leave in a hurry when alien-seeking scientists arrive on the scene, and one of them is not on the ship when it takes off...Down in that suburb live Elliott, his older brother Michael, and his little sister Gertrude, the products of a broken home with an overworked mom named Mary (the dad is absent). Over the course of a few days, lonely Elliott encounters the stranded alien and lures it to his house with Reese's Pieces, offering it shelter and naming it E.T.E.T. learns English — if only a few words — through the kids and especially television, and finally is able to tell them what he wants: to "phone home." Elliott helps him rig up a telephone-like device from such things as a Speak-and-Spell to attempt to transmit a message to his planet. But as they wait for a response, E.T. gradually sickens — as does Elliott, because the alien has developed a psychic bond with him. The government scientists catch up with E.T., and soon all seems lost for the poor little guy. It will take The Power of Love and a daring escape to set things right...For information on the infamous video game adaptation, go here.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial provides examples of:
Actually Pretty Funny: Mary fails to contain her laughter when reprimanding her son Elliott for calling Michael "penis breath".
Big "NO!"/Please Don't Leave Me: When Michael wakes up and sees the flower that E.T. has revived begin to die again, he shouts out a Big "NO!", which is cued up in synch to Elliott's scream of "E.T., DON'T GOOOO!!!", right before E.T. flatlines.
Bizarre Alien Biology: Background dialogue from the doctors (see Cast the Expert) indicates that E.T.'s DNA uses six bases instead of four. (This could explain why he got sick: he became malnourished from eating Earth food.)
Bowdlerise: For the 2002 George Lucas Altered Version, the guns of the cops at the end of the film were digitally replaced by CGI walkie-talkies (Spielberg, now a father himself, felt the shotguns could have been too frightening for his children) and "terrorist" changed to "hippie" (referring to Michael's Halloween costume). When the film eventually was released on DVD, the initial run saw both the 2002 release and the original theatrical cut packaged together in one set.
Some sources say it was Drew Barrymore who asked for the guns to be edited out.
The change was mocked mercilessly by many, but perhaps most infamously by South Park in the episode "Free Hat" (which showed us what would have happened if this change had also been applied to Saving Private Ryan). After the episode aired, Spielberg himself later admitted that editing E.T. was a mistake and vowed never to do such a thing again.
The Halloween costume has its own problems: it's rather more of a stretch that Mary would have a problem with him dressing as a hippie, and the costume looks even less like a hippie than it did a terrorist.
Years later Spielberg admitted it was a mistake and restored the shotguns along with the 1982 version in the Blu Ray release.
Cast the Expert: The doctors are real doctors. The commentary mentions that this was because actors wouldn't quite speak as if they had been using the proper terms for years because, well, they hadn't been.
Didn't See That Coming: In a Real Life example, when Spielberg's people from Amblin Productions tried to interest Mars - the creators of the M&M candy - in product placement, high-placed Mars executives supposedly either felt that they could not adjust their marketing budget appropriately, or believed that the desired mass audiences would not want to watch a picture about a boy befriending a frightening alien puppet, so a Mars product would not be associated with an underwhelming film. Whatever the reason, Hershey was thus approached about their new Reese's Pieces candy instead; they were interested, they could adjust their budget, and...
Gadgeteer Genius: E.T., surprisingly, considering he's a botanist: He builds a wind-operated emergency beacon, transmitting in his own language, out of common household items (and a Speak and Spell). What's more, his ship hears his transmission and comes back for him!
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Michael says "son of a bitch" at one point when he's driving the van. It's said so quietly that you have to have the subtitles turned on to catch it the first time around.
Elliott: *fed up that nobody believes him about E.T.* IT'S NOTHING LIKE THAT, PENIS BREATH!
Humans Are Morons: Averted. Not only do humans heal him and help send him home but there are many moments in which E.T. seems less intelligent than humans, despite coming from a more advanced race, such as when he becomes fascinated with a can of pencils, only to run screaming when they tip over.
Meaningful Echo: Because E.T. parrots what others say, there are a good deal of these by the end, such as "I'll be right here."
Messianic Archetype: E.T., right down to the resurrection and the Michaelangelo touching of fingers between man and the Divine. So blatant was the parable it was spoofed on The Simpsons:
Rev. Lovejoy: I remember another gentle visitor from the heavens, he came in peace and then died, only to come back to life, and his name was... E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial. (cries) I loved that little guy.
Even more blatant in an episode of Animaniacs, where the Warners are helping Michaelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel. For the centerpiece, they paint E.T. and Elliot in place of God and Adam.
Spielberg himself has said he never intended the film to be interpreted as a religious fable, and has himself joked about it. Notably, the aforementioned Animaiacs was produced by Spielberg.
No Name Given / Only Known by Their Nickname: The scientist tracking E.T. begins the film as a nameless, faceless figure distinguished by the bunch of keys hanging from his belt; later in the film, when he becomes a more sympathetic figure, his face is shown, but his name is never revealed. In the end credits he is listed as "Keys".
Oh Crap: The scientist attempting to scramble back into the moving van, as Elliott pulls out the last peg of an attached walkway.
Plot Hole: As the MAD parody asked, why couldn't E.T. heal himself with his own finger when he fell ill, or fly to escape the scientists at the beginning?
Pretty sure one's healing powers can't heal one's own Death by Despair. No good reason for him not flying himself, though.
Considering that stuff he healed started dying when he did, it doesn't seem to be able to heal anything past his own health. Ergo, he'd just making himself as healthy as himself, and do nothing.
Product Placement: Perhaps the definitive example of the trope in the just-introduced Reese's Pieces, which saw a successful launch in large part thanks to this film.
While M&M/Mars kicked themselves for turning down the offer to use M&Ms. Oops.
Reasonable Authority Figure: The police and government agents are the villains of the film, but even then they are very reasonable, never actively trying to harm the children when they find out and even giving Elliott time to grieve after ET dies. This is particularly true of Keys, who gently talks to Elliott to try and figure out what's wrong with E.T., while telling him that E.T.'s presence on Earth is a miracle.
The Rival: The Thing was this to E.T., one of the reasons it didn't get any notice until a decade later, was because many people watching E.T. didn't like the idea of an evil alien.
Two to buddy George Lucas' Star Wars franchise: Elliott shows E.T. some of his action figures, and one of the trick-or-treaters is dressed as Yoda. (Notably, E.T. appears to recognize Yoda. Perhaps he's just happy to see someone who isn't freakishly tall and smooth-skinned, but then...) John Williams even sneaks "Yoda's Theme" from The Empire Strikes Back into the score at that moment.
Also, when the government agents invade Elliot's house, the astronauts get a well known breath.
Came full circle when members of E.T.'s species appeared in the Galactic Senate in The Phantom Menace.
And in the Expanded Universe, we have the E.T. Species senator funding an extra-galactic botanical expedition...
And in Revenge of the Sith, Yoda's departure from Kashyyk looks much like ET's departure from Earth.
Sistine Steal: One that Animaniacs hilariously brought full circle in one short: The Warner siblings help Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel and the result is that Elliott and E.T. are depicted upon it. And the Pope looked just like Spielberg. He liked it too.
Unintentional Period Piece: Averted nicely unlike a lot of 80s movies. You can tell it was filmed in the 1980s due to the cars, the TV, and the family owning an Atari2600 but it doesn't stick out like other examples. Many of the pop culture references they make like Star Wars or The Twilight Zone are still known by today's audiences.