The summer of 1982 is often cited as a perfect storm of popcorn cinema. Conan the Barbarian, The Road Warrior, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Star Trek II, The Thing, Poltergeist — a slate of movies that blockbuster buffs still talk about to this day. But as influential as those films continue to be, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial remains the gem of the ’82 run. Mesmerizing audiences of every age, E.T. became the highest grossing film of all time with a worldwide total of $792 million (a total rarely matched by modern blockbusters) and nabbed nine Oscar nominations, including Best Director for Steven Spielberg and Best Picture.
Naturally, there was sequel talk.
Back in the ’80s, Hollywood wasn’t the franchise machine it is today (unless you were a low-budget, highly successful horror flick), but Universal Pictures and Steven Spielberg must have known, even before E.T. graced screens on July 11, 1982, that they had a hit on their hands, as a treatment for a sequel was penned mere days after the original film’s release. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, a copy of the nine-page pitch for E.T.: Nocturnal Fears (dated July 17, 1982) has been readily available for consumption for years. Written by Spielberg and E.T. writer Melissa Mathison, the sequel picked up soon after the end of the first film, Elliot out of school for the summer and dealing with feelings of loneliness in the absence of E.T. His family is closer and reinvigorated after their otherworldly encounter, with Elliot’s Mom divorcing Elliot’s Dad and finding new romance with Dr. Keys (Peter Coyote’s character from the first film). Nocturnal Fears has all the right vibes of a feel-good Speilberg movie… that is, until the evil aliens show up.
Speaking to the American Film Institute, Spielberg explained why E.T. 2 never happened: “Sequels can be very dangerous because they compromise your truth as an artist. I think a sequel to E.T. would do nothing but rob the original of its virginity. People only remember the latest episode, while the pilot tarnishes.” But flipping through the treatment for Nocturnal Fears, it’s clear that Spielberg’s worst fears could have come true. Whereas E.T. hits all the right chords with its portrayal of friendship, love and intergalatic interaction, Nocturnal Fears takes a 180-degree turn that’s closer to his 2005 War of the Worlds. The treatment depicts a second ship descending in the familiar redwood forest, but with slightly more terrifying plans:
“The aliens onboard are EVIL. They have landed on Earth in response to distress signals designating its present coordinates. These aliens are searching for a stranded extraterrestrial named Zrek, who is sending a call for ‘Help.’ The evil creatures are carnivorous. Their leader, Korel, commands his crew to disperse into the forest to acquire food. As the squat aliens leave the gangplank, each one emits a hypnotic hum which has a paralyzing effect on the surrounding wildlife. These creatures are an albino fraction (mutation) of the same civilization E.T. belongs to. The two separate groups have been at war for decades!”
Later in the script, Elliot and his friends are kidnapped and violently interrogated by Korel and his alien mafia, demanding to know the whereabouts of Zrek (aka E.T.). Thankfully, E.T. is aware of the attack and arrives on the scene to save the day. As is evident, the tone of the treatment (despite an abundance of exclamation points) is drastically darker than the first film. Perhaps more incubation time could have lead to a more organic follow-up, but it never happened. At least, not with Spielberg.
In 1985, author William Kotzwinkle followed up his novelization of the E.T. screenplay with an original sequel, E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet. The book takes the action to E.T.’s home planet of Brodo Asogi, where E.T. is finds himself demoted and forbidden to return to Earth on future missions. Longing to reconnect with Elliot, E.T. decides to break the laws of his planet, growing a spaceship out of a turnip with the help of his friend, Botanicus. During his adventure, E.T. also checks in with Elliot through brain wave messages, keeping an eye on his Earth friend as he braves his own alien world: dating. Why didn’t this story ever get made into a movie?
As a time-honored classic, E.T.‘s legacy helped the recognizable alien pop up in various ways over the subsequent decades. In 1990, Universal Studios introduced the E.T. Adventure ride, which put audience members in a bike seat for the film’s big chase scene. E.T. even succumbed to corporate sponsorship, acting as the face of British Telecommunications ’90s-era “Stay in Touch” campaign and making a very special Olympics-themed episode of Nickelodeon’s GUTS. In 1999, E.T. even made a cameo appearance in George Lucas’ Star Wars — Episode I: The Phantom Menace, unleashing a fervor of imagination on the part of Star Wars mythologists (theoretically, E.T.’s inclusion in the SW universe means Earth exists in it too).
Rumors have and continue to pop up that Spielberg may return to the world of E.T. (the most recent being a 2009 National Enquirer report that pegged it as an upcoming Spielberg/Barrymore collaboration), but the wishful thinking is all born from the same thing: a love for the first movie. No one actually wants a sequel, people long for that perfect blend of human drama and sci-fi, a combination rarely emulated in today’s summer movies. Even Spielberg has trouble mustering up his old tricks — reviews of his long-gestating Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull were… less than favorable. There’s always a chance that in the next thirty years, whoever holds the rights to E.T. could see the moneymaking potential in a continuation of the E.T. brand. But as long as Spielberg’s around, the legacy of the original will be preserved. As E.T. might put it, placing a finger to the heart, “I’ll… be… right… here.”
Or maybe this will really happen one day:
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[Photo Credits: Drew Struzan, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox ]