The Dark Story Behind The Canceled Sequel To 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial'
Steven Spielberg is Hollywood royalty. He's given us some of the greatest films of all time and has been presented with the Academy Award for Best Director more than once. While many of his creations are now ubiquitous, one of his lesser-known endeavors was the never-made sequel to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
There are a lot of popular '80s movies with canceled sequels, but this one is perhaps the highest -profile example of a beloved franchise getting shelved after one entry. Even though the original was a smash success, it's probably for the best that the sequel never came out.
Based on an early treatment of the film, E.T. 2 was slated to be much darker than the original, and the idea of a dark E.T. movie just doesn't sit well (even though the first film did have an admittedly bleak ending). Worse still, E.T.'s "real name" is a major reveal in the sequel. Why did anyone think that was a good idea?
Here's the story of the E.T. sequel that could have been and why we're all better off without it.
Steven Spielberg Is Known For Shunning SequelsPhoto: Universal Pictures / Amazon
By the time he made E.T. in 1982, Spielberg had already experienced meteoric success with Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Universal tried desperately to get Spielberg to make a sequel to Jaws, but he just wouldn't do it.
Rejected, Universal decided to crank out three Jaws sequels without him, all of which were critically panned. Perhaps Spielberg had this in mind when Columbia Pictures came to him requesting a sequel to Close Encounters, because instead of turning them down outright, he offered to create a tonally similar film that wasn't tied to any existing intellectual properties.
"Night Skies" Was To Be A Spiritual Successor To "Close Encounters"Photo: Columbia Pictures / Amazon
In lieu of making a sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg pitched Columbia Pictures a film that was to combine "the terror of Jaws with the extraterrestrial sci-fi of Close Encounters."
This movie was initially to be called Watch the Skies but was later retitled Night Skies. It was based on the Kelly-Hopkinsville alien encounter that took place in Kentucky in 1955. Night Skies was never actually filmed, but it served as the inspiration for a different Spielberg film: E.T. the Extraterrestrial.
"E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" Was A Massive Hit
In 1981, Steven Spielberg filmed E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial on a budget of just $10.5 million. When it was released the following summer, E.T. surpassed Star Wars to become the highest-grossing film of all time, a record it held for 11 years.
By 1983, the film was nominated for nine Academy Awards and ended up winning four. While E.T. was up for Best Picture, that particular award ended up going to Richard Attenborough's Gandhi. Given the movie's mega-success and Spielberg's nearly flawless track record, it should come as no surprise that talks of a sequel quickly began.
The Sequel Was Titled "E.T. 2: Nocturnal Fears"
With a name like "Nocturnal Fears" it's amazing that the idea for an E.T. sequel ever made it out of the pitch room. Fortunately, a traditional script was never actually produced for E.T. 2: Nocturnal Fears because the 10-page treatment Melissa Mathison and Steven Spielberg put together was already too much.
As the name suggests, the sequel to the sweet, family-friendly film was indeed a horror movie. Well, the way it's described in the treatment makes it sound an awful lot like a horror movie.
The Treatment For "Nocturnal Fears" Was Written By The Writer Of The Original FilmPhoto: WP:NFCC#4 / Wikimedia Commons / Fair Use
Melissa Mathison had a long, impressive career up until she passed in 2015. One of the brightest minds in children's cinema, she wrote the film adaptations of The Black Stallion, The Indian in the Cupboard, and The BFG. Most famously, Mathison penned the original screenplay for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
One might think that the perversion of a beloved story could only be the work of two very different writers. On the contrary, both Mathison and Spielberg were heavily involved in the production of the sequel treatment, making the dark, edgy tonal shift even more befuddling.
"Nocturnal Fears" Would Have Introduced More Of E.T.'s People To Earth
The crux of the sequel's story is that yet another alien ship arrives on Earth after picking up on a distress call from one of their people. "These creatures are an albino fraction (mutation) of the same civilization E.T. belongs to. The two separate groups have been at war for decades!" reads the treatment.
Worse still, these aliens are carnivorous, hostile, and capable of producing a "hypnotic hum" that paralyzes people. This is likely how they've managed to capture the various alien species that are kept imprisoned on their ship.