Then 34-year-old director Steven Spielberg reportedly drew on his own experiences as an unusually imaginative, often-lonely child of divorce for his science-fiction classic E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which is released on this day in 1982.
For Spielberg, E.T. marked a return to territory he had first visited with the classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), in which Richard Dreyfuss plays a man who comes face to face with a fearsome alien force that eventually proves to be human-friendly. With E.T., Spielberg would create an even more appealing vision of alien life, in the form of a diminutive creature with wrinkled skin and a glowing belly. Spielberg worked closely with the screenwriter, Melissa Mathison (future wife of Harrison Ford, the star of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones films) to capture on film the story of the wise, kind and cuddly alien botanist who is stranded on Earth and needs the help of a sensitive little boy, Elliott (Henry Thomas) to get back home. Elliott and his siblings, played by Robert MacNaughton and a seven-year-old Drew Barrymore, hide E.T. (as the alien dubs himself) in a closet to keep him out of sight from prying adults, including their mother, who is distracted by her painful separation from her husband. Before long, a special link develops between E.T. and Elliott, who will eventually risk his own safety to return E.T. to his planet.
From the time that E.T. had its first showing, on closing night at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, the film’s buzz was overwhelmingly positive. Richard Corliss raved in TIME magazine: “[E.T.] is a perfectly poised mixture of sweet comedy and ten-speed melodrama, of death and resurrection, of a friendship so pure and powerful it seems like an idealized love.” TIME also included the fictional alien in its list of candidates for Man of the Year–the first film character to receive that honor. Nominated in nine categories at the 1983 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, the film won four Oscars, for Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score and Best Sound.
E.T. had stupendous success at the box office, eventually raking in some $435 million (it was re-released in 1985 and a special 20th-anniversary edition was issued in 2002). As of 2008, it stood at No. 5 on the list of the highest-earning films of all time.