It's interesting to note that this movie has held the distinction of being the one of the highest grossing movies of all time - up until Jurassic Park was released, at any rate. But still, for a seemingly simple and almost niche science flick, it managed to go farther than most folks could have ever expected.
Is it because we like aliens? Do we just like movies with precocious kids? Or maybe bicycles are just better than Radio Flyers or something?
Whatever the reason, I'm sure that E.T. means many things to different people. So allow me to weigh in a bit with my perspective.
Synopsis: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a science fiction movie directed by Steven Spielberg with a screenplay by Melissa Mathison. It had received numerous nominations including 9 Academy Awards and managed to win 4 Oscars, namely for Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Visual Effects. The movie has earned many other awards outside the Oscars and consistently ranks on various listings for top movies of all time.
A group of aliens are gathering plant samples here on Earth when US governments appear, scaring them off. The aliens mostly manage to escape the authorities save for one who accidentally gets left behind. Stranded on Earth, the alien now has to find a way to survive. The alien eventually crosses paths with 10 year old Elliott (Henry Thomas), who's a rather lonely kid trying to fit in with his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and his friends with little success.
He eventually realizes something is hiding in their tool shed, but is unable to see exactly what by the time he runs over. This cat and mouse game continues for a bit until Elliott manages to lure the alien out with some candy. Elliott then makes excuses in order to spend more time with the alien in secret, with only his younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore) knowing about his new alien friend.
I think one of the key things about the movie's lasting memory for a lot of us is how it's told from the perspective of Elliott and the other kids for the most part. Far too many movies would limit us to seeing the aliens from a more adult perspective for a movie with such a serious tone. Those movies that do take the younger perspective also resort to more slapstick and comedy like some sort of a live-action cartoon. This time around we have the kids as being the protagonists in a very real world with some serious concerns - after all they do ultimately work towards keeping the alien secret from the authorities while trying to find him a way home.
Another key point is just how alien they decided to make E.T. There is little that seems actually threatening by this little guy but at the same time there's no mistaking that he's not just a guy in a suit. The complex E.T. puppet was all old and wrinkly and in now ways "cute" in a traditional sense. And yet given how the movie was put together, we all end up feeling sympathy for this little alien orphan and thus are won over by the charm more or less "implied" by the scenes. The combination of the puppeteers movements and John Williams' brilliant score helped make the movie such an emotional experience.
This is not a flashy science fiction movie about an alien invasion or overwhelming government control and oppression. Instead we have a story that is elegant in its simplicity - a tale that is truly just about a boy making a new friend, even though he's a being from another planet. It's a lovely contrast to how all the adults panic when faced with alien life and yet the kids manage to make friends.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a science fiction movie that managed to create a magical experience for many viewers, young and old alike. It still stands the test of time given it's not just about the effects but really the strength of the story and the young actors involved. And that all factors in to why it remains to be such a powerful part of our movie history. So I'm glad to rate this movie as a solid 5 flying bicycles out of a possible 5.