E.T. phoned home 40 years ago: 9 things to know about the beloved film

ORLANDO, Fla. — It was the phone home heard around the world.

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Forty years ago, a long-necked, bug-eyed alien landed on Earth and set our hearts aglow in “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.” The film was officially released 40 years ago last weekend. And decades later, it shows no sign of slowing down.

E.T. spawned several careers, and we continue to see the lovable alien on shirts, toys — even in local theme park attractions.

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As we celebrate 40 years of E.T., here are 9 fun facts about the film and its iconic star.

  • Released on June 11, 1982, “E.T.” raked in nearly $400 million in its initial release, becoming the biggest movie ever at the time. It now ranks 24th, not adjusted for inflation.
  • Drew Barrymore, who was 7 years old at the time, was originally auditioning for “Poltergeist,” another Spielberg film, when she landed the role of Gertie. Henry Thomas, who played Elliott, reportedly made Spielberg cry during his audition. See his audition in the video below:
  • E.T.’s iconic, raspy voice was provided by Pat Welsh, a chain-smoker who reportedly smoked two packs a day. Legend has it she was discovered by sound effects creator Ben Burtt when he overheard her speaking.

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  • If you missed “E.T.” in theaters the first time, don’t worry, you’ll be able to catch it exclusively in IMAX beginning Aug. 12.
  • Since his film debut, E.T. and other aliens of his ilk have apparently still been working. A race of E.T.-looking aliens can be seen in the background of one scene in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” See the clip below:
  • We all know E.T. loves Reese’s Pieces, but Spielberg initially sought permission to use M&M’s. The company declined, but Reese’s agreed, boosting sales of the candy.
  • “E.T.” the film was a huge success — the video game adaptation, not so much. The Atari game is often cited as one of the worst video games ever and is considered to be one of the games that led to the video game crash of 1983. An urban legend that copies of the video game were buried in a New Mexico landfill due to overproduction and returns proved true in 2014.

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  • Here in Orlando, you can fly high with E.T. at Universal Studios. E.T. Adventure recreates the film’s iconic flying bicycle sequence as guests race to get E.T. to his home planet. It opened with the rest of the park in 1990 and remains the only opening-day attraction still in operation. The attraction has become somewhat famous for its artificial forest scene in the queue.
  • If you’re still waiting for a sequel to “E.T.” more than 40 years later, don’t hold your breath. Barrymore, told entertainment news outlets in 2018 that they’re “never going to make a sequel.” That’s not to say the story hasn’t continued. In 2019, Xfinity released a commercial during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, reuniting E.T. with a now-grown-up Elliott, played again by Thomas. Watch the commercial below:

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Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.