E.T. Star Reflects On Beating John Carpenter’s The Thing At Box Office

Forty years after the two went head-to-head at cinemas, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial star Henry Thomas recalls beating John Carpenter’s The Thing at the box office. Helmed by Steven Spielberg on a script from Melissa Mathison, the 1982 family sci-fi film revolved around a young boy named Elliott as he discovers and befriends the titular alien being and tries to find a way to get him home. Led by Henry Thomas, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was a smash hit upon release, scoring widespread critical acclaim and becoming the highest-grossing film at the time.


On the flip side, 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 come across the titular shapeshifting alien being and paranoia ensues as they struggle to determine who is human and who is a Thing. With a cast featuring 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 considered one of Carpenter’s best to date alongside the original Halloween, though it wouldn’t fare well at the box office, bringing in just over $19 million against its $15 million production budget.

Related: The Death Scene That Was Too Expensive for John Carpenter’s The Thing

While speaking exclusively with Screen Rant to discuss the film’s upcoming 40th anniversary 4K re-release, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial star Henry Thomas reflected on the film competing with John Carpenter’s The Thing at the box office. The star expressed his feelings that Universal released both at the same time out of concern one wouldn’t perform well, ultimately proven right when Spielberg’s classic became a hit. See what Thomas shared below:

I think the studio wasn’t quite sure how the audience would react to a benevolent alien, because we’d only seen malevolent aliens, those were the successful aliens, were the bad ones. So, Universal released E.T. and John Carpenter’s The Thing at the same time, I think to kind of hedge their bets. Because if audiences didn’t like the nice alien, they could go see the mean alien, but The Thing, which is a fantastic film, suffered greatly, because audiences went the route of compassion. I think the studios were kind of amazed, but The Thing got a release in ’83, which kind of saved it a little bit. But wow, an amazing time for film.

Why E.T. Surpassed All Of Its Expectations At Release

Despite being considered a classic today, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial memorably had a difficult time getting off the ground in development, with Spielberg initially conceiving it as a spiritual success to Close Encounters of the Third Kind in order to keep Columbia Pictures from producing a sequel without him. Spielberg would later transform the project into the more family-friendly adventure audiences have come to love over 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 producing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

As noted by Thomas, even Universal were doubtful of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial‘s box office chances, with the studio ultimately being proven wrong when Spielberg’s film brought in nearly $795 million and was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Meanwhile, though it may not have reached the heights of its alien counterpart, John Carpenter’s The Thing would eventually become considered a classic in its own right, launching a multimedia franchise that includes the 2011 prequel, a video game, and the upcoming remake produced by Blumhouse Productions. Audiences can celebrate both film’s 40th anniversaries with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and The Thing streaming on Peacock now.

Next: Every Unmade Steven Spielberg Sci-Fi Movie (& Why They Didn’t Happen)

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