‘Why did nobody tell me E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial isn’t a kids’ movie?’


While I may have heard the phrase “E.T. phone home” uttered often by many in my 23 years, it wasn’t until recently I learned that in the film, it’s “E.T. home phone.”

This isn’t necessarily a comment on the Mandela effect – my conviction that the popular quote was correct was not from a distorted memory of my own, rather, one that had never been able to take root in the first place.

Yes, that’s correct. I had never seen Steven Spielberg‘s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, what is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. Until now, when its 40th anniversary prompted me to open Stan and settle in for what I assumed would be a wholesome kids’ movie.


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I really thought E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was a children’s film, and I was very wrong. (Universal Pictures)

Let me sum this up in three words: I was wrong.

Drew Barrymore‘s sweet, cherubic face and a wrinkly little alien that somewhat reminds me of my dog had hoodwinked me into an emotional experience I thought would be quite relaxing.

The first clue should have been the fact that the film not housed in the ‘Family’ section on Stan, rather, it’s more easily found in the ‘Sci-Fi’ section, which is home to the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road, Blade Runner and Transformers.

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Actually, the first clue should have been that Spielberg, the man behind Super 8 – another thriller/action/adventure-type sci-fi film masquerading as a friendly ensemble narrative – and Schindler’s List, was the director.

Stream E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial on Stan.

Drew Barrymore in E.T.
A young Drew Barrymore in E.T. made me think the film would be nothing but wholesome. (Universal Pictures)

It was, I am sad to say, the scene when Elliott starts to exhibit signs of intoxication at school – because E.T. is at home drinking beer and watching television – that sparked a little niggle at the back of my brain that this movie wasn’t quite what it seems.

What child-focused film would imply they were drunk at school? I’m not a prude, necessarily, but even in Encanto and Up, both films I cried my way through that also held some complex themes, did not portray a child off their rocker on alcohol.

Children’s cinema, while it may be made for small people, doesn’t assume its audience is of a small mind – and while E.T. is not a child-specific movie, I do wonder what they would get out of it other than an enjoyment of the aged special effects.

Would they understand that second to the goons of government, the crippling monotony of suburbia is the main villain? Or is it the constraints of societal expectations regarding traditional families?

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E.T. the Extraterrestrial 80s movie essentials
‘I was a sobbing mess by the end of the film, but the tears were bittersweet, and they weren’t for E.T. nor his departure.’ (Universal Pictures)

While they may not fully understand the sociopolitical implications of an alien lifeforce landing in the United States, that doesn’t mean there aren’t themes that can’t be enjoyed or that don’t resonate across all ages and times.

Being othered, loving the other, seeing yourself in the other, remembering the other – those are universal experiences that are continuously commemorated for a reason.

At the heart of the film is the theme of growing up, and evidenced by Michael’s evolution of being Elliott’s tormentor to becoming his protector – something Spielberg has previously said mirrors his experience of going from teasing his sisters to safeguarding them in the aftermath of their parents’ divorce.

I was a sobbing mess by the end of the film, but the tears were bittersweet, and they weren’t for E.T. nor his departure.

Named for an alien it may be, but the film, at its core, is a commentary on what it is to be human, and it’s not surprising that as a result, it’s still resonating with viewers four decades after its premiere at Cannes Film Festival.

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Nine Entertainment Co (the publisher of this website) owns and operates the streaming service Stan.

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The cast of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 40 years on: Then and now

The cast of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 40 years on: Then and now

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