‘ET the Extra-Terrestrial’ turns 40: star Henry Thomas reflects on the film


As “ET the Extra-Terrestrial” celebrates its 40th anniversary, Henry Thomas, who played Elliott in the film, is reflecting on the film and his fame.

Thomas spoke to CNN earlier this week as the updated 4K Ultra HD version of the film was released. Includes 45 minutes of new bonus footage from the Steven Spielberg-directed classic.

At first, Thomas said he didn’t understand the little alien who came to live in Elliott’s house.

“I remember as a kid, you know, I was really into ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Indiana Jones,'” Thomas recalled. “They gave me a script and I read it and I thought, there’s no laser fighting? No starships, no battles, no battles?’

“But it works. It kind of works,” he said.

Until he actually saw ET, Thomas said “this guy with a finger that can heal” was a silly concept. That changed when production began, the actor said, because Spielberg made everything believable.

“He was able to talk to you and make you feel like a peer and not like you’re just talking down, which is important when you’re a kid,” Thomas said. “Especially when you’re a kid in an adult world, in an adult job.”

Although Thomas hasn’t seen “ET” in 20 years (he said he couldn’t see himself on the screen), he understands why the movie has endured.

“It speaks to our universal human compassion,” he said. “And we all have that. We all have the nurturer inside us, don’t we? So I think that speaks to that. It brings us back to being young.”

Thomas said he’s still recognized as the “ET” guy, but he doesn’t mind. It was more difficult when he was a child, a shock to the system when strangers from all over the world started saying hello.

Henry Thomas in 2019.

“Suddenly, I was no longer anonymous. And that was a strange feeling in the boy”, recalled Thomas. “There was a book called ‘Never Talk to Strangers’, and it was all about don’t talk to strangers, don’t talk to strange people you don’t know, and if you don’t know your parents or your family, don’t talk to them, and then everyone to me they speak.”

After getting over the shock of the initial fame, she found that her relationship with “ET” and the film’s director has been wonderful.

“I think if it was a bad movie that was universally condemned, we wouldn’t be talking about it now 40 years later,” Thomas said. “But people also, when they know me, associate me with this great character, this handsome and rebellious young man, and that’s a big thing.”

Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas in it

In addition to never-before-seen footage from the film, other bonus features in the new release include a retrospective of “40 Years of ET the Extra-Terrestrial,” along with “TCM Classic Film Festival: An Evening.” with Steven Spielberg.” There are also cast and crew interviews and a talk with composer John Williams about the film’s famous score. (TCM and CNN are both part of Warner Bros. Discovery.)

Thomas said he recognizes how special “ET” is.

“It’s a rare and unique thing to be involved in, and I appreciate it so much more now that I know how rare it is to be successful in this industry,” he said. “Most films go away in a couple of years and no one remembers them. This stuck around.”