Forty years after the two go head-to-head in cinemas, ET the alien star Henry Thomas remembers beating John Carpenter’s The thing At the register. Aided by Steven Spielberg on a script by Melissa Mathison, the 1982 family sci-fi film revolved around a young boy named Elliott as he discovers and befriends the titular alien and tries to figure out a way to get him home. Led by Henry Thomas, ET the alien was a huge success upon release, receiving critical acclaim and becoming the highest-grossing film at the time.
On the other hand, John Carpenter’s The thing was an adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.’s sci-fi horror novella about a group of American researchers in Antarctica who encounter the titular shape-shifting alien and develop paranoia as they struggle to determine who is human and who is a thing. With a cast that included Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley and Keith David, the film initially debuted to largely negative reviews from critics, who found its gory effects both repulsive and impressive. The thing would later become a cult classic, largely regarded as one of Carpenter’s best yet alongside the original Halloweenthough it didn’t fare well at the box office, raking in just over $19 million against its $15 million production budget.
While speaking exclusively with screen frenzy to discuss the upcoming 40th anniversary of the film’s 4K re-release, ET the alien star Henry Thomas reflected on the film competing with John Carpenter’s The thing At the register. The star expressed his feelings that Universal released both at the same time out of concern that one would not perform well, which was eventually proved right when Spielberg’s classic became a hit. Check out what Thomas shared below:
I think the studio wasn’t quite sure how the public would react to a benevolent alien because we’d only seen evil aliens, those were the successful aliens, were the bad ones. So Universal released ET and John Carpenter’s The Thing at the same time, I guess to hedge their bets a bit. Because if the audience didn’t like the nice alien, they could go see the mean alien, but The Thing, which is a fantastic movie, suffered a lot, because the audience walked the path of compassion. I think the studios were kind of surprised, but The Thing got a release in ’83, which saved it a bit. But wow, a great time for movie.
Why ET exceeded all expectations at release
Despite being considered a classic today, ET the alien memorable had a hard time getting off the ground in development, with Spielberg initially seeing it as a spiritual success to Close Encounters of the Third Kind to prevent Columbia Pictures from producing a sequel without him. Spielberg would later transform the project into the more family-friendly adventure crowd that has come to love for the past 40 years, which initially put Columbia off, as they saw a lack of financial promise in his pitch. The filmmaker would convince MCA head Sid Sheinberg to buy the script from Columbia for $1 million, leading to Universal production ET the alien.
As Thomas pointed out, even Universal doubted ET the alien‘s box office chances, with the studio ultimately proved wrong when Spielberg’s film grossed nearly $795 million and was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Meanwhile, while it may not have reached the heights of its alien counterpart, John Carpenter’s The thing would eventually be considered a classic in its own right, launching a multimedia franchise with the 2011 prequel, a video game and its upcoming remake produced by Blumhouse Productions. Audiences can celebrate the 40th anniversaries of both films with ET the alien and The thing streaming on peacock now.
Next: Every Unmade Steven Spielberg Sci-Fi Movie (And Why They Didn’t Happen)