‘ET the Extra-Terrestrial’ at 40: Spielberg’s charming sci-fi classic still offers wonder today

Director Steven Spielberg’s iconic sci-fi fable, “ET the Extra-Terrestrial,” celebrated its 40th anniversary this month and you’d be hard-pressed to name another Hollywood movie that’s more universally beloved than this crowd-pleaser about a stranded alien and a young California boy who rescues and befriends it.

Originally released by Universal Pictures on June 10, 1982, “ET the Extra-Terrestrial” is that rare entertainment commodity appeal spans all ages, genders, and creeds. It speaks to elemental qualities in all of us and resonates in ways that provide a cathartic accessibility to its touching sci-fi story.

Starring Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Robert MacNaughton, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, C. Thomas Howell, Seen Frye, and KC Martell, “ET” was a sensation straight out of the gate with its gentle tale of a friendly creature from outer space and a lonely boy named Elliott who helps him return to his own planet three million light-years away.

Credit: Universal Pictures (Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Budgeted at $10.5 million, “ET” eventually collected a worldwide total of $619 million in its initial theatrical run, eclipsing Spielberg’s friend George Lucas’ sprawling space opera, “Star Wars.” At the time it held the record for the longest continuous theatrical run at one year and also became the highest-grossing film in Hollywood history, and kept that coveted spot for 11 years until a little dinosaur movie from Spielberg called “Jurassic Park” supplanted it in 1993.

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