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Film / E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

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"E.T. phone home."

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a 1982 Science Fiction film directed by Steven Spielberg. By the end of its initial theatrical run (which ran from early June of 1982 into early June of 1983), it had unseated Star Wars as the highest-grossing film of all time, and adjusted for inflation it currently stands as the 7th highest-grossing film of all time. John Williams' score, flying bicycles, and an Ugly Cute alien hero are just the tip of the iceberg here. The film became so iconic that Spielberg started using the flying bicycle scene as logo for Amblin Entertainment.

A group of aliens is 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 lives Elliott, his older brother Michael, and his little sister Gertrude (played by a very young Drew Barrymore), 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 (led by a No Name Given character played by Peter Coyote) 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...


C. Thomas Howell appears as Tyler, one of Michael's three friends.

In 2019, Xfinity released a four minute ad in which ET returns and catches up with a now adult Elliot, again played by Henry Thomas who stated doing a full feature film sequel likely wouldn't work, but this was the perfect way to follow up on the story. Spielberg agreed, and named the ad an official part of the film's canon.note 

For information on the infamous video game adaptation, go here.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Mary fails to keep from laughing at Elliott's calling Michael "penis breath!" for a few moments before she regains her composure enough to tell him "Sit down."
  • Aliens Love Human Food: Elliott leaves a trail of Reese's Pieces for E.T. The alien loves the candy and follows the trail.
  • All There in the Manual: In The Book of the Film by William Kotzwinkle, E.T. is given more of a backstory. He's a ten million year old member of a low-grade Hive Mind, essentially a sentient drone: In some ways his intelligence is very simple and childlike, in others, very sophisticated, as befitting field crew. When he is cut off from his group mind, his body, not equipped to handle isolation, begins to break down, hastened by Earth's very high gravity. His telepathic bond with Elliott slows the process, but also makes him an accidental Power Parasite, draining Elliott. When his ship gets in range, he automatically reconnects with the network, which immediately halts the decay and heals him.
  • Always with You: "I'll be... right here."
  • Anger Born of Worry: When Elliot returns after being missing for one night, his mother's first reaction is shouting at him but she quickly regains a motherly attitude.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: A platonic example, Elliott when he thinks E.T. is dead.
  • Arc Words: "I'll be right here."
  • Armies Are Evil: Averted. They're mostly just a bit obnoxiously obstructive, and (considering all the rubberneckers gathering at the scene) have some reason to be.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In the van during the Chase Scene.
    Michael: I'm gonna crash and we're all gonna die and they'll never give me my license!
  • Batman in My Basement: Pretty much the plot of the entire film: the kids keep E.T. hidden in the house while E.T. finds a way to contact his planet so he can go home.
  • Behind the Black: During the climactic bicycle Chase Scene when Tyler triumphantly announces that they've lost their pursuers, a large group of agents rushes in from right off camera on either side.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Parodied by Elliott, who is subliminally reenacting The Quiet Man. Interspersed with actual footage (which E.T. is watching on TV) for bonus points. note 
  • Big "NO!"/Please, Don't Leave Me: Michael when he finds ET in the woods and near death, then when he 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.
  • Big, Stupid Doodoo-Head: Subverted when Eliot angrily calls Michael "penis breath." It sounds like something a ten-year-old would say, but when you think about it, he's calling Michael a cocksucker.
  • Bizarre Beverage Use: While Playing Sick, Elliott uses a can of cola to pretend to throw up on the phone.
  • *Bleep*-dammit!: When Michael returns home during Elliot and E.T.'s first day together and looks into the fridge, he sings to himself, "Nothin' but health shit..." The "shit" is silenced out in the 20th-anniversary version, but every other utterance of the word was left untouched.
  • Bookends: The story starts and ends with E.T. in the woods with his spaceship.
  • Bowdlerise: For the 2002 special edition, 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 a line spoken by Mary commenting about Michael's Halloween costume had the word "terrorist" changed to "hippie" (The line had previously been changed to a far more ambiguous "you're not going dressed up like that" on the 1988 video release and television broadcasts). 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.
  • Building is Welding: Lots of welding is shown when Elliot's home is turned into a high-security zone by the government.
  • Cassandra Truth: No one believes Elliot that he saw an alien in the cornfield.
  • Chase Scene: The kids on the bikes are chased around town by police cars.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Michael is seen early on testing his driving skills with the family car. With questionable results. But Crisis Makes Perfect.
    • E.T. being able to make Elliot's bike fly comes in handy when trying to avoid the FBI.
    • For that matter all of Michael's biker friends find their skills useful during the Chase Scene.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Mary is reading the trope naming section of Peter Pan to daughter Gertie at one point, foreshadowing E.T.'s recovery in the climax.
    • Also, that seems to be the principle behind the flying bikes, as seen when Elliot and Michael's buddies all take flight on their bikes to evade the feds.
  • Corner of Woe: While E.T. is dying on the operating table, Michael retreats into the walk-in closet upstairs and assumes this pose.
  • Covering for the Noise: When Elliot doesn't want Keys to notice that E.T. is still alive in the cooler box, he starts crying to cover up E.T.'s bubbling inside.
  • Delayed Reaction: After E.T. died Elliot walks past the pot in which the flowers suddenly start to revive. It takes a moment for him to realize what is happening.
  • Dilating Door: The Spheroid Dropship has those as seen in the final shot of E.T. watching his friends as the ship prepares for departure.
  • Disappeared Dad: "He's in Mexico with Sally."
  • Disney Death: The title character appears to have died from an illness but comes Back from the Dead as the spaceship nears.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": E.T. is an extraterrestrial.
  • Dramatic Alien VTOL: When E.T. finally goes home.
  • Dramatic Drop: You'd probably drop your coffee too if you found your ailing son and a dying alien laid out on the floor of your bathroom.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: A girl in class screams when Elliot puts a frog on her shoes.
  • Everytown, America: While the town Elliot live in is never mentioned, he points to Northern California on a map when showing E.T. where they live. (The actual house is in the L.A. neighborhood of Sunland-Tujunga at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.)
  • Exposed Extraterrestrials: When Gertie hasn't dressed him up in women's clothes and Michael and Elliot haven't thrown a white bed sheet over him, E.T. waddles around naked. Justified, since E.T. clearly has nothing of note between his legs.
  • The Faceless: With the exception of Elliot's mother, the audience doesn't see the faces of any adults until the final third of the movie, playing up the film's perspective from a child's POV.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Mary fails several, even when Gertie blithely disregards her promise to Elliot and Michael to keep quiet and tries to introduce E.T. to her mother. To drive home how absent-minded and distracted by her daily grind she is, Mary even fails to draw any conclusions upon getting a call from Elliot's school about his Alcohol-Induced Idiocy in class that day, asking whether they're sure they've got the right Elliot while she's sniffing an empty beer can E.T. left on the floor.
  • Flat Character: None of Michael's friends get any type of characterization, or even that much screen-time.
  • Flatline: The fact that the life forces of E.T. and Elliot have been linked is indicated by electrocardiograms. As E.T. slowly dies, the link breaks and Elliot's own life signs get better while E.T.'s dive towards a flatline.
  • Forgot to Mind Their Head: When Elliot shares the good news about E.T.'s revival with his brother, the latter jumps in the air and bumps his head on the ceiling of the provisional lock.
  • For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself: Not quite; E.T.'s one of the rare exceptions who can't go as himself. He needs a formless ghost sheet.
  • Free the Frogs: A drunk-by-proxy Elliot disrupts the frog dissection in his science class.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • Very near the beginning of the film as the camera shows some of the specimens E.T.'s people have collected in their ship, one of them looks something like a big tree with a man's face on it. As the camera pans past him, if you're watching closely (you may have to use the CAV Laserdisc frame by frame function or run it a couple of times to catch this), you can see his lips move as he lets out an audible sigh!
    • A lot of background details give educated adults a Genius Bonus or Parental Bonus. For instance, overheard snippets of conversation Mary has on the phone suggest she's waiting for someone named "Jerry" on Halloween (who stands her up, however, which is why she's muttering invectives through the wand she's carrying in her teeth as she gets in her car to go find her children). The doctors' dialogue while they're trying and failing to save E.T. is real medical talk and indicates they have some credible working theories on what the problem is, and a number of people are shown carrying away sealed containers presumably containing just about every item that came in contact with E.T. and might have his DNA on it and loading it into vans to be taken to government labs for analysis. A glance around the quarantined room (particularly after everybody steps out to give Elliot some time to make his farewells to E.T.) shows a camera mounted on a tripod pointed at the hospital beds; somebody had the sense to be getting a record of everything happening during what's basically America's First Contact with an extraterrestrial.
  • Full Moon Silhouette: The Trope Codifier in the scene where ET makes Elliot's bike fly. The image of the bike silhouetted against the moon became the logo of Steven Spielberg's production company Amblin Entertainment.
  • Futile Hand Reach: Elliot trying to reach E.T. from his operating table.
  • Gigantic Moon: As part of the Full Moon Silhouette scene.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Gertie has these, as does at least one girl at Elliot's school.
  • Hand Gagging: Michael has to cover Gertie's mouth with his hand in order to shut her up after their first encounter with E.T.
  • Hazmat Suit: All the scientists wear these to study E.T.
  • Hero Stole My Bike: Michael and Elliot hijack the van that was supposed to transport the body of E.T. away.
  • Hope Spot: After being able to elude the cop cars, one of Michael's friends (Tyler) cheers "We made it!" only for a couple of dozen FBI agents to burst back onto the scene.
  • 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.
  • In Space, Everyone Can See Your Face: The hazmat suit Keys is wearing features lights that illuminate his face.
  • Interrogation by Vandalism: A variant. Elliot and Michael threaten to destroy Gertie's doll if she talked to anyone about E.T.
  • Invisible to Adults: To keep Gertie from telling their mother (Mary) about E.T., Elliot claims E.T. is this. She doesn't believe him, but Mary spends a lot of the movie proving him right.
  • The Joy of First Flight: When E.T. and Elliot go on a bike ride and E.T. causes them to go over a cliff at which point they start flying. Elliot is at first yelling for them not to go too high, but soon after relaxes and begins to enjoy himself, culminating in the iconic shot of them flying across the moon, and all of it set to John William's unforgettable score.
  • Kids Are Cruel: When Elliott is mad that nobody believes him he goes out of his way to let his mom know that their dad is with his girlfriend in Mexico. This drives her to tears and Mike to a near Rage-Breaking Point.
  • Kids Driving Cars: Michael goes to drive the van with E.T. inside. There was some Chekhov's Skill dropped earlier about him being able(ish) to drive the family car backwards but the van was a whole different beast.
  • Kissing Under the Influence: Elliot, psychically drunk on E.T.'s beer, kisses the pretty girl in his science class.
  • Logo Joke: The Universal logo in the theatrical release is shown backwards, likely to represent the plot of E.T. getting left behind on Earth.
  • Longing Look: The blond girl in Elliot's class seems to have a crush on him as she keeps sending longing looks his way.
  • Lost in the Maize: Elliot's first encounter with E.T. is during a Jump Scare moment at night in a cornfield by the house involving a Scary Flashlight Face of the alien.
  • Meaningful Background Event: The pretty classmate Elliot swings back into the room in order to steal a kiss is clearly already pretty interested in him earlier at the bus stop, and seems a bit sorry to see him go when the teacher hauls him away.
  • Meaningful Echo: Because E.T. parrots what others say, there is a good deal of these by the end, such as "I'll be right here."
  • Midair Motion Shot: The famous bike scene.
  • Mirror Scare: When Elliot appears behind the fridge door after his night out in the woods. It's played for surprise more than shock.
  • Missing Child: Elliot goes off into the woods to help E.T. and stays the night, causing his mother to report him missing.
  • Mood Motif: When the government agents are on screen, the music shifts to a much scarier tone.
  • Mood Whiplash: You'll be hard pressed to find a movie where you go from laughing to crying so much in such a short period of time.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: E.T. hides amongst toys to avoid detection.
  • No Antagonist: The government agents tracking down ET can be intimidating but they are actually very benign compared to most examples. They act in what they feel is best for the situation, treating the family with respect once they finally arrive and the main agent empathetically calls ET a miracle, and even allows Elliot time to say goodbye when he has "died". The main drive of the movie is getting ET back with his own people and the agents may get in the way due to not having all the information.
  • "No Peeking!" Request: Elliott tells his brother Michael to close his eyes before showing him the eponymous alien.
  • Obvious Stunt Double: During the bike chase, as this image shows, 10-year old Elliot's stunt double is a full-grown man. Having the teenagers' stunt doubles as taller-than-average men did not make this much less obvious.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The scientists attempting to scramble back into the moving van, as Elliott pulls out the last peg from an attached walkway.
    • Then there's Tyler's little Hope Spot moment:
      Tyler: "We made it!" *agents attack* (softly) "Oh, shit!"
  • One Head Taller: Played for Laughs; Elliott has to climb on top of a classmate crawling after his escaped frog to kiss the girl.
  • Overly Long Scream: Elliott when he sees E.T. in the cornfield.
  • Parental Fashion Veto: (bowdlerization taken from its 20th Anniversary Edition): "You're not going out dressed like that! You look like a hippie!"
  • Phrase Catcher: "Shut up, Greg!"
  • Playing Sick: Elliot fakes a fever, going so far as to hold a thermometer to a light bulb, in order to spend the day with E.T. In an extra scene in the extended version, he also pretends to throw up over the phone.
  • Power Walk: The government agents do this as they head for Elliot's home.
  • Prank Injuries: Michael's Halloween costume includes a gag item simulating something sharp stuck through his head. ET appears concerned that he's been genuinely injured.
  • 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.
    • Speak and Spell also gained additional admiration thanks to this film.
    • The 20th Anniversary Edition also had several more products conveniently edited into it in various places. (Originally, a lot of the products in the refrigerator in Elliot's home had to be turned backward to conceal their brand names since the products' makers hadn't paid to be plugged.)
  • Pull the I.V.: After stabilizing, Elliot rips the IV from his body and head in a rage.
  • Reaction Shot: Reaction shots of the boys' faces when they land their bikes coming down from the sky.
  • Reactive Continuous Scream: When Gertie walks into the bedroom and first sees ET, the continuous screaming starts — especially funny given the sound of ET's scream and his expression.
  • Recurring Camera Shot: The iconic shot of Elliot's bike flying across the moon is actually repeated later as the gang is going to meet E.T.'s ship, the bikes shown flying across the setting sun, though this shot is considerably less known.
  • Repeat Cut: Spielberg uses this effect for repeated shots of Elliott screaming his head off after his first face-to-face encounter with E.T.
  • Rule of Cool: Having Elliot find ET in a cornfield added a lot of drama and tension to the scene. However all the daytime shots of the house clearly show there is no cornfield in their backyard.
  • Rule of Drama: When they finally close off the house, the government agents can't simply walk in and announce their presence via megaphone to remain calm as they enter. No, they have to silently come in the doors and stand at the windows holding out their arms menacingly.
  • Scully Box: Played for Laughs in-universe. When Elliot gets intoxicated by E.T.'s Psychic Link, he kisses a female classmate. Since she's much taller than him, he stands on top of a tripped classmate to kiss her.
  • Shipper on Deck: The reason Elliot reenacted the kiss scene from The Quiet Man, was because E.T. was telepathically influencing him while watching that movie.
  • Shirtless Scene: Elliot while being operated on to the scene where he informs Michael that E.T. is alive.
  • Shout-Out:
    • 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.
      • E.T.'s species is canonically present in the Star Wars universe during the events of The Phantom Menace courtesy of a Shout-Out in the other direction, so it's entirely possible he *does* know Yoda, or at least another Yodan.
      • Michael does a mocking impression of Yoda in the scene where Elliot reveal to him E.T.
      • Also, when the government agents invade Elliot's house, the astronauts get a well-known breath.
      • And Elliott has an action figure of Greedo.
    • There's also a shout-out to that other Star-thing:
      "Well, can't he just beam up?"
      This Is Reality, Greg!
    • Mary reading Peter Pan to Gertie.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Several times, including Michael being a Big Brother Bully, Elliot calling him "penis breath", the boys threatening to steal Gertie's doll and Elliot calling Gertie a "twerp".
  • Sinister Surveillance: This movie lays this trope on pretty thick with close-ups of an agent's eye and a couple of Empathy Doll Shots in a number of scenes showing the government's agents listening in on Elliot and Michael, and later searching through their house for E.T. This creepiness builds to a crescendo when they finally reveal themselves by gathering together and moving in for what's basically a full-scale home invasion.
    Mary: This is my home!
  • Sistine Steal: Michelangelo beat Spielberg to the "touch fingers with a magical being" shot by a few centuries, but that didn't stop the image lifted from the Sistine Chapel from appearing front and center in the movie's DVD cover and several posters.
  • Spheroid Dropship: The alien ship.
  • Spin-Off/Expanded Universe:
    • There was a pair of novels published which expanded upon E.T.'s race, who are master botanists and develop their technology from plants.
    • The E.T. Adventure ride at Universal Studios, which has its own page.
  • Staggered Zoom: Onto Elliott's face as they approach the police barricade, before cutting to one agent pulling out his shotgun, then back to Elliot as he braces himself for the worst, right before E.T. makes all the bicycles fly.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: Both Elliott and E.T. get laid down on operating tables when they are sick and the house is quarantined. Unfortunately, E.T. doesn't last very long... or appear to, at least
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Only in the extended version. When Elliott goes to the forest at Halloween and his mother asks where he is.
    Gertie: Anyways, why would Elliott go to the forest? Why would he do such a thing?
  • Swiss Cheese Security: The US government manages to get their hands on an alien lifeform, yet two kids are able to hijack the van with the priceless load inside. Admittedly this is a fast-moving situation where they are probably more concerned with keeping people out.
  • Synchronization: E.T. and Elliot share a psychic bond. As Michael puts it, "Elliot feels [E.T.]'s feelings."
  • Tastes Like Friendship: Elliot makes friends with the alien by offering it Reese's Pieces. Interestingly enough, this led to Reese's Pieces sales rising as much as 65% in 1982.
  • Techno Babble: The doctors' talk around Elliot and E.T. on the operation tables.
  • They Would Cut You Up: Elliot is understandably afraid that something like this will happen to E.T. if any grownups find out about him. He doesn't even trust his mother. And the government is indeed looking for him, but we never do find out what they had in mind because he's terminally ill when they find him and curing his condition becomes priority #1.
    • And then when that fails, this turns into Alien Autopsy, as Elliot assumes this is what they plan to do with his body and tells Keys as much. Keys doesn't try to deny it, though events afterward render any questions as to whether that was indeed what they were planning another moot point. (From the background dialogue, the doctors indicated all the equipment they'd used on E.T. was being sent to a lab for analysis, though, so their plans to do an autopsy on E.T. are a near-certainty as well.)
  • This Is Reality: Elliot's response when Greg asks if E.T. could just "beam up".
  • Toy Disguise: The title character hides in a closet containing several large stuffed animals. It works. Fortunately for him, the children present are already aware of The Masquerade.
  • Uranus Is Showing:
    Tyler: Where's he from? Uranus? Get it? Your anus?
    Greg: He doesn't get it, Ty.
    Tyler: Get it, YOUR? ANUS?
  • Vader Breath: The men in their hazmat suits invading the house are breathing like this.
  • Van in Black: The government forces use a black van with surveillance equipment to find E.T.
  • Vertigo Effect: Used one third in, for a shot from the hill onto the valley where the family lives. The implication is that the government investigation team is slowly circling in on them.
  • Wham Line: A bit of one when the doctors notice E.T. and Elliot's psychic link being severed as Elliot's vitals recover while E.T.'s head for total cardiac arrest.
    Nurse: The boy's coming back. We're losing E.T..
  • Weapon for Intimidation: Those guns, which Elliot's mother Mary is understandably upset to see the government agents waving around while chasing her kids.
    Mary: No guns! They're children!
    • Then when Elliot approaches the roadblock at the end of the movie, spotting one agent pulling out his shotgun, Elliot fears the worst and closes his eyes, praying for a miracle. E.T. senses his fear and intervenes.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: Elliot is the hero who can do no wrong, just wanting to help ET; his family are also obviously the good guys by association with him. The government agents and scientists, while they are eventually revealed to be doing commendable work for a worthy cause, are more than a bit creepy and overbearing about it, and spend most of their time in rather sinister shadowy settings.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: It's suggested E.T. sees Halloween this way.
  • You Can Talk?: Gertie is pretty amazed when E.T. shows he's learned English.

"I'll be right here..."

Alternative Title(s): ET