And You Thought It Would Fail: This was going to be just a forgettable kids' movie about a lost alien, until preview audiences got a grip on its true magnificence and spread the word. It soon out-grossed Star Wars and became the top worldwide moneymaker until Jurassic Park.
M&M-Mars certainly thought it would be forgettable. Hershey, on the other hand, gave it a chance. Thus, the film put Reese's Pieces on the candy map.
Award Snub: It was nominated for the Best Picture and Director Oscars, but lost both to Richard Attenborough's Gandhi. Attenborough even stated in his acceptance speech that he believed E.T. should have won, since it was truly the better film. This was at least partly due to a rather sleazy Oscar campaign by Columbia Pictures, where they more or less stated that a vote against the film was a vote against Gandhi himself.
Epileptic Trees: The amusing, innocuous scene where ET recognizes someone in a Yoda costume (or at least mistakes him for a similar-looking species) spawned a thousand online theories about this movie and Star Wars. Taken even further when, to pay Spielberg back, George Lucas put ET's species into a crowd shot in The Phantom Menace.
Harsher in Hindsight: There's a picture of Michael Jackson with E.T. and he narrated an E.T. Storybook Record. In real life, Michael Jackson's skin turned from brown to white and he looked rather sickly before he died, just like E.T. towards the end of the film.
"Does E.T. recognize Yoda? Now that I think about it, his "powers" seem to fit the description of the Force.... Could he have come from a certain galaxy far, far away? Nah...." Seventeen years later, look whose race can be found in that particular galaxy far, far away.
The iconic image of the silhouetted bicycle flying in front of the full moon had been spoofed to there and back.
Narm: The government agents and scientists invading Elliot's home in full NASA spacesuits. Presumably done so the audience knows to associate the scientists with NASA, but it doesn't change how needlessly over-the-top sinister it makes them seem.
Elliott screaming over and over when he sees E.T. in the cornfield. The fact that each scream is shown from a different camera angle adds to the effect.
Narm Charm: Elliott's "I love you" speech right before E.T. gets better may fall into Tastes Like Diabetes, but it's still guaranteed to get the audience crying.
When the scientists show up at Elliot's home in environmental suits. The whistles of the train set in the background don't help.
E.T.'s appearance may be unsettling for younger viewers, even more so when he's dying.
The whole first fifteen minutes or so of the movie are pretty scary, from when the scientists show up at the spacecraft's landing spot to when Elliott explores the backyard and sees ET for the first time and both scream.
Drew Barrymore is Elliott's little sister. She has had the exact same face for over 20 years.
Erika Eleniak, who would later be known as Shauni in Baywatch, in the role of Elliott's classmate on whom he has a crush. Also a mild case of Dawson Casting - a 13-year-old girl playing 10-year-old boy's classmate? Pretty sneaky work there...
"Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: ET doesn't seem to have aged all that well - chiefly because since its release there have been tons of "child + non-human companion" films which repeat most of this film's tropes, so it now seems pretty derivative.
Signature Scene: The scene where Elliott and E.T. fly on a bicycle in front of the full moon.
The red light on a rail in the opening sequence. Its replacement is about the only thing in the 20th Anniversary Edition that never seems to raise any complaints from its critics.
A mild example on the blu-ray. The movie looks great, but in some wide shots (such as when Elliot introduces E.T. to Michael) you can tell it's a guy in a costume. It's apparent because in the next shot it's the expressive E.T. puppet, and the costume has a mask with a blank stare.
They Changed It, Now It Sucks: A response generated by the edits for the 2002 20th Anniversary edition, which included replacing guns with walkie-talkies and changing "terrorist" to "hippie." Mercilessly lampooned in the South Park parody episode "Free Hat." Incidentally, while said episode portrays Steven Spielberg as the diabolical mastermind behind editing Raiders of the Lost Ark, with George Lucas only reluctantly following, in Real Life Spielberg later stated that editing the movie was a mistake and restored the original version for the Blu Ray release.
Ugly Cute: ET himself. Any description of him sounds hideous, but he's obviously not without his charm.
In 1982, a teenager going trick-or-treating as a terrorist would've been stupid and offensive. Post-9/11, it'll more than likely get you arrested. Partly justified if one was escorting his younger siblings like in the film.
On a more lighthearted note, the film came out when Dungeons and Dragons was still a new creation, and thus it hadn't picked up the reputation of being a game for geeky losers. Try to find another instance in media where the game's portrayed being played by rowdy, popular jocks.
If you think about it, Elliot calling his bother "penis breath" is basically a PG-variant of calling him a "faggot" (well, "cocksucker," but the implication is there). Though considering his age, it might just be a straight example of Big Stupid Doo Doo Head.
Visual Effects of Awesome: With the exception of the light rail example, the special effects still hold up nicely over thirty years later.
Also, it's common to assume that if it single-handedly caused the crash, it caused it by simply being that bad of a game. While certainly flawed, it was actually pretty unique in that era for the Atari by being a game with an actual story, setting, and ending, when most other games existing on a single screen and were played as long as you could survive for score. This arguably made the game better than its contemporaries, and certainly made it stand out at the time. The quality of the game itself was far less important than Atari's marketing and mismanagement that included massively overproducing the game, which would have killed it regardless of its quality.
Never Live It Down: Atari's Christmas Rush for the E.T. game soiled their name to the point where it eventually became impossible for them to fully recover their reputation, especially when the Crash allowed Nintendo to swipe their top spot for themselves (the game also affected the movie's reputation as well.)
So Okay, It's Average: Ironically, the game seems to have undergone some sort of inverse Hype Backlash in recent years, with people questioning if the infamous "Worst Game Ever" reputation really holds up, with quite a few younger critics pointing out that while the game might not be "stellar", it is just as hard to declare it truly "awful", as it is actually functional enough to play from start to finish without any major glitches. Same critics also point out that while the gameplay might admittedly be a bit confusing and abstract without having the manual to consult, it is, once the player actually knows what to do, just sort of tedious and boring rather than infuriatingly bad.