Steven Spielberg’s ‘E.T.’ Scrapped a Crowd-Pleasing Alternate Ending

Steven Spielberg‘s 1982 movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial made many audience members cry at its ending, with the film topping Star Wars to become the biggest box office hit of all time at that point. However, not only was the ending almost different, but Spielberg also struggled to get the movie made in the first place.

Steven Spielberg and E.T.
Steven Spielberg and E.T. | Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images

Nobody wanted ‘E.T.’ at first 

By 1982, Spielberg had demonstrated what seemed to be a magic touch with movies. Most of his movies weren’t just hits; they were phenomenons. By the time he was developing E.T., he already had Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark under his belt. Only the 1979 comedy 1941 had been a high-profile flop. 

According to Cinemablend, Spielberg originally pitched E.T. to Columbia, for whom he had made Close Encounters. The original concept, called Night Skies, included the alien being hostile, the polar opposite of the tone of Close Encounters. However, after Raiders, Spielberg decided he wanted to make something gentler.

Columbia wasn’t interested in the new version, and it had Spielberg do a new edit of Close Encounters instead. Spielberg ended up taking the movie to what he considered his home studio, Universal, and it reaped the benefits, with the movie grossing $793 million worldwide and playing in theaters for a solid year. 

Why Steven Spielberg changed the ending to ‘E.T.’

RELATED: ‘E.T.’ Sequel: Watch ‘Holiday Reunion’ with Henry Thomas as Elliott All Grown Up on Xfinity

In the movie people know and love, Elliott (Henry Thomas) and friends abscond with E.T. into the woods to take him to his spaceship, eluding government authorities. After a tearful farewell with the kids who took him in and protected him, E.T. boards the ship, and it creates a rainbow as it flies away. The film ends on a close-up of Elliott as John Williams’ Oscar-winning score soars. 

But according to Digital Spy, there was originally also a coda, as explained by Robert MacNaughton, who played Elliott’s older brother, Michael.

“The last scene was going to be all of us playing Dungeons and Dragons again, except this time, Elliott’s the dungeon master. Because he was the one that found ET, he sort of got in with the group,” MacNaughton said. “And so that was supposed to be the final scene, it was in the script and everything, and then they would pan up to the roof and you’d see the communicator and it’s still working. In other words, Elliott is still in touch with ET.”

However, Spielberg decided that was an unnecessary extra beat and cut the scene.

“After they did the score, the music, and they saw what they had with the spaceship taking off and everything — how can you follow that? I mean, it was a wise choice,” MacNaughton said.

Why was there never an ‘E.T.’ sequel? 

Spielberg is certainly no stranger to sequels, having made more Indiana Jones movies and Jurassic Park: The Lost World. However, he remained adamant that E.T. should never have a full-fledged sequel. For years, the closest it got was a sequel novel called E.T. The Book of the Green Planet.

Although a sequel idea was developed, per ScreenRant, Spielberg didn’t move forward because it would “rob the original of its virginity.” Even so, in 2019 a grown-up Elliott (again played by Henry Thomas) reunited with E.T.  via an ad for Comcast, which just happens to own Universal. Sometimes corporate synergy can be charming.