E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

E.T. phone home!

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is perhaps Steven Spielberg's signature fantasy film. It was the biggest blockbuster of 1982 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 adaption, go here.

Tropes used in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial include:

Michael: I'm gonna crash and we're all gonna die and they'll never give me my license!

  • Batman in My Basement
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Parodied Trope 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.
  • Bowdlerise: For the 2002 special edition re-release of the film, 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.
  • A Boy and His X: A boy and his marooned alien botanist.
  • But Now I Must Go: "I'll be... right here."
  • Chekhov's Gun: E.T. being able to make Elliot's bike fly.
  • 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.
  • Coy Girlish Flirt Pose: Elliot is a deceptively good ladies' man.
  • Disappeared Dad: "He's in Mexico with Sally."
  • Disney Death: E.T.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": E.T. is an extraterrestrial.
  • Dramatic Alien VTOL: When E.T. finally goes home.
  • Drop What You Are Doing
  • Dungeons and Dragons: This is what the kids were playing when Elliott wanders outside and discovers E.T.
  • Exposed Extraterrestrials
  • Everytown, America
  • Evil Detecting Dog: Played with. When Elliot's dog Harvey first meets E.T., he's initially just barking at him. The barking scared E.T. briefly, but they are later shown to get along during E.T.'s trek around the kitchen. When E.T. has to leave, the last one to see him off is the dog.
  • 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.
  • For Halloween I Am Going as Myself: Not quite; E.T.'s one of the rare examples who can't go as himself. He needs a formless ghost sheet.
  • Foreshadowing: When Elliot realizes he's hungry as well as E.T., that was the first hint of their empathic bond.
    • When Elliot is walking with Michael to the School Bus Stop, a girl in a red dress is repeatedly trying to get Elliot's attention. Later on under E.T.'s drunken influence, Elliot kisses the same girl after causing mayhem when freeing the frogs.
  • Free the Frogs
  • Full-Moon Silhouette: The Ur Example.
  • 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.
    • Also:

Elliott: *fed up that nobody believes him about E.T.* IT'S NOTHING LIKE THAT, PENIS BREATH!

    • (Considering what "penis breath" is implying).
  • Healing Hands: E.T.'s famous finger.
  • Heart Light: E.T. is probably the Trope Codifier.
  • Hope Spot: After being able to elude the cop cars, one of Michael's friends 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.
  • Large Ham: Elliot has his moments where you can take him seriously, but other times you know he's chewing the scenery. When E.T. is still alive, he puts on a fake cry to make it look like he's still grieving and when he sees the flowers he turns the water works up to devastating levels.
  • 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.

    • Spielberg himself has said he never intended the film to be interpreted as a religious fable, and has himself joked about it.
  • Mind Over Matter: One of E.T.'s talents.
  • Mood Motif
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: E.T. hides himself amongst toys to avoid detection.
  • Never Trust a Trailer
  • 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.
  • One Head Taller: Played for Laughs; Elliott has to climb on top of a fallen classmate to kiss the girl.
  • Parental Substitute
  • Phrase Catcher: "Shut up, Greg!"
  • Playing Sick
  • Plot Hole: As the Mad Magazine 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.
  • 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 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 telling him that E.T.'s presence on Earth is a miracle.
  • 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.
      • 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.
    • There's also a shout-out to that other Star-thing:

"Well, can't he just beam up?"

    • There was also a shout out to Raiders of the Lost Ark. When Elliot is freeing the frogs, there's a brief shot of one trying to out run a rolling jar, similar to when Indy outrunning the boulder.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: When Elliott goes to the forest at Halloween, and his mother asks where he is. Gert: "Anyways, why would Elliott go to the forest? Why would he do such a thing?"
  • Synchronization
  • Tastes Like Friendship: Reese's Pieces.
  • They Would Cut You Up: When E.T. dies and is put in a portable freezer. Keys tells Elliot they have to take him away. Elliot flat out tells him, he knows they are gonna do this to him. Keys doesn't confirm or deny it, but let's Elliot see E.T. one last time.
  • This Is Reality
  • 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?"