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Film / E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

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He's afraid, he's totally alone and he's 3 million lightyears from home.

"E.T. phone home!"

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is perhaps Steven Spielberg's signature film. It was the biggest blockbuster of 1982note  and, in fact, The '80s 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 (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...

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

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

  • Adult Fear: Mary's is justified since at least in her point of view: her son gets sick, misbehaves in school and goes missing on Halloween. She then ends up seeing a creature, that she never thought would exist and that in her mindset may have done something to harm her child. Just as she was about to get her kids away from the house, a bunch of men in strange suits end up trapping her in her own home. Said men tell her that her son might die.
  • 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."
  • All There in the Manual: E.T.'s backstory. He's a 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."
  • 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!
  • Badass Adorable: Elliott successfully lures E.T. into his room with Reese's Pieces, even camping outside to wait for him, despite the real possibility that E.T. might be dangerous. Then at the end, he pulls off the entire escape plan to get E.T. back to his ship.
    • E.T. himself counts. He's Ugly Cute, but has formidable psychic powers.
  • 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 Hope Spot (below) when Tyler says they've lost their pursuers, a large group of agents rushes in from right off camera on either side.
  • Big Brother Bully: Michael before his Character Development.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Big Stupid Doo Doo 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 Alien Biology: Background dialogue from the doctors (see Cast the Expert) indicates that E.T.'s DNA uses six nucleotides instead of four. (This may help explain why he got sick: Earth's food doesn't provide him sufficient nourishment.)
  • *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.
  • 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." 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.
  • A Boy and His X: A boy and his marooned alien botanist.
  • But Now I Must Go: When the space ship finally arrives to take E.T. home.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • 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 that chase.
  • 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.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The original VHS release has a green reel and green gate on the cassette.
  • Coy, Girlish Flirt Pose: Elliot is a deceptively good ladies' man.
  • Disappeared Dad: "He's in Mexico with Sally."
  • Disney Death: The title character.
  • 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.
  • The Empath: E.T. and Elliot share a psychic bond. As Michael puts it, "Elliot feels [E.T.]'s feelings."
  • 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.
  • 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 Tujunga at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.)
  • 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.
  • 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 slow-play button 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 Ur-Example 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.
  • 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:
    • If you look closely in the first scene with any dialogue, that's cigarette smoke floating around the boys. Since Mary obviously wouldn't encourage any teen smoking in her house, the cigarette must have been hers. That she's also got a pack of Coors in her fridge suggests her split with her husband has lately had her taking up some bad habits off-screen.
    • Elliot's rather... inventive insult to Michael, the obscenity of which can only increase the more one analyzes it.
    • 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.
    • Michael and Tyler's swearing, as noted in *Bleep*-dammit! and Oh, Crap!; rather muffled, but audible nonetheless.
    • Exactly what the two guys in the plastic tunnel segment yell at Elliot after the van ditches them we may never know, but it can't have been anything nice.
  • 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.
  • Healing Hands: E.T.'s famous finger.
  • Hero Antagonist: Keys and the rest of the agents may count as this. It's no crime for the Secret Service to investigate a possible alien invader who could be dangerous to humanity. While E.T. is entirely a peaceful creature, they had no way of knowing that from the beginning.
  • Hero of Another Story: Something must have happened to Keys to get him interested in aliens, since he claims he's been waiting for something like E.T. to appear since he was 10. (While his claim that "[E.T.] came to me too" seems unlikely, he might be rationalizing this as being the truth From a Certain Point of View.) He and the rest of the government investigation team are just given very quick (and sinister-looking) scenes where they investigate the remains of E.T.'s and Eliot's shenanigans up until they converge on the house.
  • Heart Light: E.T. is probably the Trope Codifier.
  • Hope Spot: After being able to elude the cop cars, one of Michael's friends (Tyler) cheers "We made it!" only for a couple 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.
  • Innocent Aliens: The title character.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: E.T. has a huge pair of them.
  • 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.
  • Jump Scare: Elliott's encounter with E.T. in the cornfield.
  • Kissing Under the Influence: Elliot, psychically drunk on E.T.'s beer, kisses the pretty girl in his science class.
  • 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 Michelangelo 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.
    • Spielberg himself has said he never intended the film to be interpreted as a religious fable, and has himself joked about it.
  • Midair Motion Shot: The famous bike scene.
  • Missing Child: Elliot goes off into the woods to help the alien 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.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: E.T. hides himself amongst toys to avoid detection.
  • No Biological Sex: Gertie's not so sure whether E.T. is a boy or a girl, while Elliot insists he's a boy. While they all end up going along with Elliot on this, the obvious complete lack of any kind of genitals in all of E.T.'s people makes that a purely arbitrary designation. The books, of course, pretty much confirm this.
  • No Name Given: The scientist (played by Peter Coyote) 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. He's even listed just as "Keys" in the ending credits.
    • E.T. qualifies as well since E.T. is the nickname Elliott gave him. Justified in the fact E.T. knows limited English and we never see him interact with any of his species. (In the sequel novel, The Book of the Green Planet, even after E.T. returns to his home planet the narration always calls him "E.T." His own people are only ever described referring to him as "The Doctor of Botany".)
  • 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 Substitute: Elliott to E.T. Though you could also interpret it as being the other way around.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • Reaction Shot: Reaction shots of the boys' faces when they land their bikes coming down from the sky.
  • 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 E.T. dies. This is particularly true of Keys, who gently talks to Elliott to try and figure out what's wrong with E.T., while declaring to Elliott that E.T.'s presence on Earth is nothing short of a miracle.
  • Recurring Camera Shot: The iconic shot of Elliot's bike flying across the moon is actually repeated later as the gang are 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.
  • The Rival: The Thing was this to E.T., one of the reasons it didn't get any notice until VHS and cable, was because many people watching E.T. didn't like the idea of an evil alien.
  • 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.
  • 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.
      • 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.
  • 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 Micheal that E.T. is alive.
  • 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.
  • Starring Special Effects
  • 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: 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?
  • Synchronization
  • Tastes Like Friendship: Reese's Pieces.
  • Tomboy: Gertie. She wears a baseball cap and for Halloween she likes go as a cowgirl. This doesn't stop her from giving an appropriately ear-splitting high shriek whenever she has cause to scream (since she's, like, six).
  • 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".
  • 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?
  • Verbal Tic: In the film's novelization, E.T. is able to speak much more coherently (rather than only knowing a handful of words), but due to learning English from a Speak-'n-Spell, he usually starts sentences with the command to "Spell..."
  • 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.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: It's suggested E.T. sees Halloween this way.
  • White and Grey Morality: Elliot (especially) is obviously the hero who can do no wrong, even spending a lot of the film dressed in bright white thermal underwear evocative of virginal innocence to drive the point home; 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. Do they have to go menacing our protagonists that way? (For civilians, threatening children with guns would typically get them charged with "felony assault with a deadly weapon" in a court of law, even if the guns weren't actually loaded.)
  • You Can Talk?: Gertie is pretty amazed when E.T. shows he's learned English.

Alternative Title(s): ET