The origin of E.T. lies within Steven Spielberg's abandoned science-fiction horror thriller "Night Skies", which was to be directed by cartoonist Ron Cobb and written by John Sayles, with special effects by Rick Baker. Spielberg eventually dropped the evil aliens and had only a good alien in the final film.
Most of the full-body puppetry was performed by a 2' 10 tall stuntman, but the scenes in the kitchen were done using a 10-year old boy who was born without legs but was an expert on walking on his hands.
The highest grossing film of 1982. It became the most successful movie in film history until Steven Spielberg beat that record with Jurassic Park (1993). In a strange coincidence, the next film to snatch that title was Titanic (1997), only for James Cameron to also outdistance himself with Avatar (2009).
The end of the film was one of the most significant musical experiences for composer John Williams. After several attempts were made to match the score to the film, Steven Spielberg took the film off the screen and encouraged Williams to conduct the orchestra the way he would at a concert. He did, and Spielberg slightly re-edited the film to match the music, which is unusual since normally the music would be edited to match the film. The result was Williams winning the 1982 Academy Award for Best Original Score.
The filmmakers had requested that M&M's be used to lure E.T., instead of Reese's Pieces. The Mars company had denied their request and so Reese's Pieces were used instead. As a direct result, Reese's Pieces sales skyrocketed. Because of this, more and more companies began requesting that their products be used in movies - a common practice which was done previously with the James Bond film franchise (the end credits of a Bond film prior to 1982 have had their end credits when contributing companies had their product used in a feature film). Thus, product placement was born.
At one point during filming, Drew Barrymore was consistently forgetting her lines, annoying Steven Spielberg to the point where he actually yelled at her. He later found out that she had reported to work with a very high fever. Feeling guilty, he hugged her and apologized repeatedly as she cried and cried. He then sent her home - with a note from her director.
E.T.'s voice was provided by Pat Welsh, an elderly woman who lived in Marin County, California. Welsh smoked two packets of cigarettes a day, which gave her voice a quality that sound effects creator Ben Burtt liked. She spent nine-and-a-half hours recording her part, and was paid $380 by Burtt for her services. Burtt also recorded 16 other people and various animals to create E.T.'s "voice". These included Spielberg; Debra Winger; Burtt's sleeping wife, who had a cold; a burp from his USC film professor; as well as raccoons, sea otters and horses.
Steven Spielberg's original concept was for a much darker movie in which a family was terrorized in their house by aliens. When Spielberg decided to go with a more benevolent alien, the family-in-jeopardy concept was recycled as Poltergeist (1982).
The young actors (Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, and Robert MacNaughton) found the ET puppet's eyes too far apart to comfortably look ET in the eye when they had to act with it. The actors solved the problem themselves by selecting a single eye to look at for every scene.
Steven Spielberg asked Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones to contribute a song for the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Story Book Album. Spielberg was so pleased with their song "Someone in the Dark" that he asked them to make the entire album, which, in spite of the size of the task, they agreed to do. This boxed set included an LP, a book to read along with it and a poster of E.T. and Jackson. Epic Records allowed Jackson to record the album for MCA Records on the conditions that it not be released until after Christmas of 1982 so as to not compete with 'Thriller' and that "Someone in the Dark" not be released as a single. Both of the conditions were breached by MCA Records; they released the storybook in November 1982 and gave promo copies of "Someone In the Dark" to radio stations. MCA Records were forced to withdraw the album and were prohibited from releasing "Someone In the Dark" as a single after court action was taken by Epic against them in a $2 million lawsuit, which MCA settled by paying Epic chief Walter Yetnikoff $500,000. Jones claims neither he nor Jackson received a dime for making the record, in spite of the large cash settlement involved and its considerable success: The audio book earned Jackson a Grammy Award in 1984 for Best Recording for Children. Upon collecting the award, and taking home a record eight Grammys from an unprecedented twelve nominations, the singer stated that of all the awards had gotten that night, he was "most proud of this one".
Steven Spielberg worked simultaneously on both this film and Poltergeist (1982) in 1982 (which was directed by Tobe Hooper but produced by Spielberg), and both were made to complement each other. "E.T." represented suburban dreams, and "Poltergeist" represented suburban nightmares.
Corey Feldman was originally scheduled for a role in E.T., but over the course of a script re-write, his part was eliminated. Steven Spielberg felt bad about the decision and promised Feldman a part in his next planned production which turned out to be Gremlins (1984).
Though many have suggested that the film contains elements of Christian allegory, director Steven Spielberg says any parallels are strictly coincidental. Furthermore, Spielberg adds that if he ever made a Christian allegory, his mother, a devout Jew would probably never forgive him.
In mid 2009, the home featured in the film, located in the Tujunga Canyon was saved from immolation in the treacherous Station Fire. The owner of the residence said the scorched hill behind the house "looks like the surface of the moon," but that the structure itself incurred no damage in the wildfire, which up to that time had burned over 127,000 acres and claimed 62 homes.
The doctors and nurses that work on E.T. are all real emergency room technicians. They were told to treat E.T. the same way they would treat a real patient so that their dialogue and actions would seem real.
Elvis Costello was asked by Q music magazine March 2008 if he was paid handsomely for the use of 'Accidents Will Happen' of which two lines were sung by Michael (Robert MacNaughton) when he is looking in the fridge. He replied: "No, I don't think they offered any money. We had no way of knowing it was going to be so huge so there was the chance we'd given it for nothing and they'd use it for some big production number. Haha! But you really have to paying attention to notice."
Steven Spielberg is reported to have spent $100,000 digitally removing guns from the 20th Anniversary re-release of the movie in 2002. He regretted using the scene and said he would remove it if he ever re-issued the film.
John Sayles wrote a semi-sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) called 'Night Skies', about a group of hostile aliens that come to Earth and lay siege to an isolated farmhouse where a terrified family has barricaded itself inside. Spielberg decided not to go ahead with the rather dark project, but a subplot about the relationship between the lone good alien and an autistic boy inspired him to redevelop the concept as 'E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial".
World-renowned Indian director Satyajit Ray claimed that this film plagiarized a script he wrote in 1967 entitled "The Alien." After Ray wrote the script, he sought the help of science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke in having the script produce in the United States. Clarke introduced Ray to his friend Mike Wilson, who helped promote the film to Columbia Pictures. Columbia signed on to the project and sought to cast Marlon Brando and Peter Sellers in the lead roles. However, a series of events led to the project being canceled. First, when Ray went to copyright his script, he was surprised to find that the script had already been copyrighted by Wilson as a co-written work, the authors being officially credited as "Mike Wilson and Satyajit Ray," in that order. According to Ray, Wilson's only contribution to the script was his suggestion of the word "broad" instead of "chick" at one place in the script. Later, Brando dropped out of the project and, although an attempt was made to bring James Coburn in his place, Ray said he was disillusioned with Hollywood machinations and returned to Calcutta. The project was abandoned at that time and, although Columbia was interested in reviving the project in the 1970s and 1980s, nothing came of it. When "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" was released in 1982, many, including Arthur C. Clarke, saw striking similarities in the film to Ray's earlier script. Ray said that Steven Spielberg's movie "would not have been possible without my script of 'The Alien' being available throughout America in mimeographed copies." Spielberg denied this by saying, "I was a kid in high school when this script was circulating in Hollywood." (Spielberg actually graduated high school in 1965 and released his first film in 1968.)
This script was being developed at Columbia at the same time as another script about an alien visitation. The studio did not want to make both, so the head of the studio had to choose which film to make; he decided to let ET go and make Starman (1984). ET was then made by Universal Pictures.
E.T. provided the inspiration for Neil Diamond's song "Heartlight" but no mention is ever made of the movie in the lyrics. The songwriters paid the studio a nominal sum for use of ideas from the movie.
Rick Baker was originally commissioned to create aliens for a film called Night Skies (one of E.T.'s working titles), but after Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Steven Spielberg changed the film's concept to involve only one alien, and to be less horror, more Disney-like.
James Taylor wrote a song intended for use in the movie called "Song For You Far Away". The song was ultimately not used in the movie. However, it was eventually recorded in 1985 for release on his 'That's Why I'm Here' album.
It's never mentioned where exactly Elliott and his family live, but based on the license plates and the spot Elliott points to on the map when he's showing it to E.T., it appears to be somewhere in northeastern California, near Lake Tahoe.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Steven Spielberg shot the film in chronological order to invoke a real response from the actors (mainly the children) when E.T. departed at the end. All emotional responses from that last scene are real.
Steven Spielberg and Melissa Mathison came up with the concept of a sequel called "Nocturnal Fears", where Elliott and his friends are kidnapped by aliens and E.T. would help them out. E.T.'s name would be Zreck, and his species was at war with the other aliens.