Today! Because it’s okay, mom, we’ll check it out –
E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)
Directed by Steven Spielberg (x11)
Starring Henry Thomas (x2), Dee Wallace, Drew Barrymore (x2), Peter Coyote, Robert MacNaughton, C. Thomas Howell, Erika Eleniak (x2), K.C. Martel, Sean Frye
I enjoy box office records, much like some sports purists live and die with baseball statistics. A small group of us have participated in this box office pool for well over a decade, which added a new fun wrinkle to things, but I’ve followed these numbers for a long, long time. The Scranton Times used to run a weekend Top Ten gross section, which was the only way for me to track this until I subscribed to Entertainment Weekly around 1993. And it would be another five or six years until I got full exposure to this data on the internet, in the form of Box Office Mojo, which I would guess is my fourth or fifth most frequently visited website to this day (alongside the Recent Deaths section of Wikipedia, IMDB, Instagram, and maybe Yahoo Sports, in that order). And for all the formative years of my box office interest, E.T. was the top film. From 1983 to 1997, it was the highest grossing movie ever, unadjusted, and is still in the top twenty, as of this writing. Adjusted, it’s the fourth biggest moneymaker ever, only behind Gone With the Wind (a movie so popular it was one of the top five grossing movies of the years 1939, 1940, 1941, 1947, 1954, 1961, 1967, and 1971), Star Wars, and The Sound of Music.
I remember the charts as a kid, seeing E.T. sitting far ahead of everything, up there at $399 million, for years and years – it seemed insurmountable, unattainable, and gave the movie this added, magical aura for me. Yes, the movie is magnificent, a complete and total sci-fi masterpiece, capping Spielberg’s incredible first decade of big screen directing (with Sugarland Express in ’74, Jaws, Close Encounters, 1941, Raiders, and E.T.), plus it was like $75 million ahead of Star Wars. Star Wars, for Chrissakes! It wasn’t even available on VHS until 1988! I remember the only guaranteed way to see it for the longest time was its broadcast on Thanksgiving! That wily Spielberg was planning to Gone With the Wind it until it made all the box office dough, I suspect!
But because it wasn’t on home video, and rarely aired on television, I didn’t have a ton of familiarity with the movie itself for a while. Had I grown up with it, who knows – E.T. could’ve regularly cracked my personal top ten. Hell, it managed to jump Star Wars here and now, so anything is possible. But it really wasn’t until college, I’d say, that I fully embraced this film. After the Star Wars re-release in ’97 I remember rumors popping up of an E.T. re-release, to see if it could regain the top of the all-time chart (as those were the kind of rumors I paid attention to). Titanic came along and scuttled any possibility of that by spring ’98, but renewed interest in E.T. still was prevalent, and so I got on board. It finally did reach theaters for the 30th anniversary (with some pointless edits of its own, not to be outdone by Lucas’s bullshit), but only dragged its all-time up by another $35 million or so, moving it back into third (having also been passed in the meantime by The Phantom Menace).
As you may have noticed in recent months on this countdown, the focus largely shifted away from the movies themselves into how exactly they connect to me or the manner I interacted with them. This was always the intention, but for the first hundred movies or so I was still working that out. Now we’ve gotten to the point that, because for so long I just associated E.T. with how much money it made, that’s all I’m really talking about. Hey, sorry! But really, like a bunch of recent movies here, what can I possibly say about E.T. that hasn’t been said? I like a lot of really popular movies, I’ve discovered! They’re super popular for a reason, jerks! Get off my back!
I believe I mentioned this elsewhere, but I’d like to reiterate that the other main cinematic list of my life which E.T. nearly topped was my mid-’00 MySpace rundown of the greatest drinking movies in history. Is there another film where a child gets hammered during school and incites a mini riot? Isn’t it crazy that this sequence was allowed in the film?? Classic drunken Elliott!
This is Spielberg’s eleventh movie on the list, following #71 Last Crusade, #66 Temple of Doom, #226 Munich, #294 1941, #69 Close Encounters, #331 Twilight Zone, #109 Hook, #123 Jurassic Park, #61 Lincoln, and #98 A.I. He finally catches Woody Allen for the top spot on the directing side, but both still have films to come – who will find themselves a top the heap next month?? Stay tuned!