Thinking the unthinkable: Is Hollywood really going to make a sequel to ET? † ET: The Alien

lord of the rings cannot be filmed; no one will ever better Sean Connery in the role of James Bond; Top Gun will never have a sequel…many unshakable Hollywood totems of accepted thought have been roughly overthrown by the ravages of time. Could ET be next on the list of movies you never expected to have a sequel, but are getting?

It’s still unlikely, frankly. But you know that the money men in Hollywood have a crush on Top Gun: Maverick’s current global box office of $1 billion. Since the original Top Gun took in less than half the dollars brought in in 1982 by Steven Spielberg’s junior sci-fi bromance in 1986, one can only imagine that a well-curated follow-up could be challenging even for the highest-grossing film of all time mantle (currently owned by Avatar at a whopping $2.847 million).

However, is that a realistic proposition? Henry Thomas, who played 10-year-old Elliott in the original film, suggested this week that it probably should never happen — though he was equally clear it still could.

Show me the money… Tom Cruise at the Seoul premiere of Top Gun: Maverick, his highest-grossing film. Photo: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

“I think it should be left alone, but there has always been talk of a sequel,” Thomas told Slash Film. “It was talked about in the early 80’s because the studio was really pushing for it because of the success it had theatrically. But I do not know. I think it’s really sad that we lost Melissa Mathison, the screenwriter of ET, because if anyone could have made it happen, it would have been her. And that would have been the best kind of passage for a sequel. But I do not know. I think the commercial was the closest thing to a sequel and that’s why Spielberg thought it was good.”

The commercial Thomas refers to is the 2019 Christmas ad, featuring the actor and ET himself, which was used to promote the internet service Xfinity in the US and Sky in the UK. It’s certainly a fun trip down memory lane, even if it breaks very little new ground.

And herein lies the problem for ET: It relies so much on the relationship between the young Elliott and the titular star traveler that we don’t really want to see what happens next. Elliott loves ET, even though he knows next to nothing about him: The couple’s intense, strange-couple connection is so much more powerful when it remains a mystery. The pathos of those final moments of the film where the alien tells the little boy that he will always be with him and then disappears into the cosmos could be completely lost if the story continued.

Looking at other memorable 1982 films, it’s clear why they ended up having more stories to tell, even if their sequels or remakes weren’t always worth it. Conan the Barbarian would always have more bloodthirsty, reckless adventures; Tron’s eerie digital Wonderland had endless permutations; Blade Runner introduced ideas about artificial humanity and the nature of the soul into our big screen lexicon that will still be relevant a century from now.

Steven Spielberg at an ET 40th Anniversary screening in LA, April 2022.
Steven Spielberg at an ET 40th Anniversary screening in LA, April 2022. Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

With ET, the next chapter is not so obvious. Perhaps our hero could visit another human child, or perhaps the sequel could be about the adult Elliott’s journey to ET’s home planet many decades later. But that would be a completely different movie. How can you make a sequel to a movie when the enduring brilliance of the original draws so much on epic feelings and beautiful 80s nostalgia? There’s just no logical next step, no way to strum the same majestic chords on hearts and still move the story forward. Still, as Thomas told Slash Film, “I guarantee you, there are some guys in a really big room that are drooling right now and using their abacus and slide rules to come up with really, really big numbers.”

I remember as a child being so desperate for what happened next that I picked up William Kotzwinkle’s now little-remembered children’s novel ET: The Book of the Green Planet. In it, ET spends much of his time reminiscing about his encounters on Earth, as Elliott begins to experience the trials and tribulations of the early teens, occasionally accompanied by his friend from across the stars via some sort of haphazard interstellar Bluetooth of the soul. .

A classic it’s not, but its existence (along with Thomas’s comments) reminds us that the hunger for more ET will always be palpable…original film.

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