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E.T. 2: Nocturnal Fears - Will It Ever Happen?

In 1982's "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" — which became the top-grossing movie of all time during its initial theatrical run — an empathetic, kind, and curious alien is abandoned in the woods behind a suburban subdivision. Soon, he meets lonely children Elliott (Henry Thomas) and Gertie (Drew Barrymore). They form deep bonds with E.T., to the point that after the government tries to confiscate the alien, the kids whisk him to safety. The film climaxes as they soar across the night sky, bearing E.T. back to his shipmates. It's one of filmdom's most powerful moments.

Before he departs, sweet and bug-eyed E.T. promises his crying human friends that he'll "be right here." But for years, he's actually been nowhere to be found — not out in space on some distant planet, and certainly not starring in any sequel or follow-up film. A hit beyond hits and virtually universally beloved, a sequel to "E.T." once seemed like a foregone conclusion. And yet the movie still stands alone, forever un-sequelized. Here's why a worked-up and proposed successor, "E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears," never got made.

Why hasn't an E.T. sequel happened yet?

One fundamental reason why there's never been a proper sequel to "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" is that the film's director, Steven Spielberg, harbors a wariness of sequels. In a career stretching back 50 years and positively stuffed with mega-blockbusters, Spielberg has gotten on board with relatively few continuations: It boils down to three "Raiders of the Lost Ark" sequels featuring Indiana Jones, and "The Lost World: Jurassic Park." Even with those, he's got some regrets. "My sequels aren't as good as my originals because I go onto every sequel I've made and I'm too confident," Spielberg told The New York Times.

At an American Film Institute Event (via IGN), Spielberg went further, explaining that he thinks sequels are just too risky from a filmmaking standpoint. "Sequels can be very dangerous because they compromise your truth as an artist," he said. "I think a sequel to 'E.T.' would do nothing but rob the original of its virginity. People only remember the latest episode, while the pilot tarnishes." Basically, he just wants to preserve the legacy of "E.T.," which means he will probably never gear up for "E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears."

What cast members have said about an E.T. sequel

The first and most viable "E.T." sequel option, "E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears," takes place not long after the events of the first film. As such, characters Elliott and Gertie figure prominently in the plot. Had the movie commenced filming in the mid-1980s, actors Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore would likely have reprised their roles. But Steven Spielberg's reluctance to make the sequel quickly and effectively doomed it. Nobody knows this better than Thomas and Barrymore — but that doesn't mean they don't understand where he's coming from.

"There certainly was a lot of talk in the early days and throughout the '80s about there potentially being a sequel. But it was always shot down pretty early by Spielberg," Thomas told CinemaBlend in 2022. "I think that he just regards this as a classic, and a standalone film." Barrymore similarly shot down the idea of "E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears" and any other potential "E.T." sequel. "Steven Spielberg became like a father to me, and I remember sitting in his house one day and he said to me, 'I will never make a sequel to this movie,'" Barrymore told E! News (via Yahoo!). "And I really understood were he was coming from — something so beautiful and contained."

‌What could be explored in an E.T. sequel?

In the 2010s, Steven Spielberg and "E.T." screenwriter Melissa Mathison's story treatment for "E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears" leaked onto the internet. Dated July 17, 1982 (about a month into the theatrical release of "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial"), the 10-page narrative outline indicates that the sequel would have been an extraordinarily different movie than its warm and moving predecessor, as a dark, sci-fi-horror flick with lots of violence and very little screen-time for a certain lovable alien.

The treatment for "E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears" reveals that E.T.'s real name is Zrek. Early on, an evil contingent of his species hears his distress call. They descend on Earth — specifically, near Elliott and Gertie's neighborhood — conduct several gruesome experiments, and mutilate animals. The kids show up to greet the aliens, thinking their beloved E.T. has returned. He hasn't, and these new invaders promptly torture Elliott. He utilizes his telepathic link to summon Zrek, who, at the end of the treatment, comes back to Earth, saves Elliott, and leaves again.

Who would star in an E.T. sequel?

As the "E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears" treatment explains, the film would be set shortly after the first movie, meaning Elliott and Gertie are still young kids. If the movie were to be filmed today without any alteration, current 40-somethings Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore would need to be replaced by new child actors. But if they were to reprise the roles that made them famous and were foundational to one of the most popular movies of all time, producers would have to commission a new script with a new story, in which Elliott and Gertie are adults.

Elliott and Gertie aren't the only characters who would need some tweaking. E.T. himself came to life through technology and the work of multiple performers in the original movie, not all of whom are still available. Pat Welsh provided the basis of the alien's voice, while Michael Patrick Bilon wore the E.T. costume. Winger is still around in Hollywood, working occasionally, while "E.T." producers would need a new actor to play E.T. live: Bilon died in 1983, just months after the release of "E.T."

Other E.T. sequels exist, just not in the form of film

William Kotzwinkle wrote "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial Storybook," a literary adaptation of the movie and the bestselling work of prose fiction of 1982. Three years later, he published a standalone "E.T." sequel of his own creation. In "E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet," the titular creature — tens of thousands of years old, and able to travel through dimensions, not just space — returns to his home planet to study the plant specimens he collected on Earth. Teased and ostracized for loving Earth and humans too much, E.T. gets sad and sets out to find a new ship to head back to the green planet. He's worried about Elliott; their psychic link indicates the boy is having a tough time with puberty.

This isn't the only non-cinematic "E.T." sequel out there. A compact "E.T." reunion forms the basis of "A Holiday Reunion," a 2019 commercial for Comcast's Xfinity TV service. Filmed like a movie, the four-minute ad shows E.T. surprising a now-grown Elliott (played by Henry Thomas) and meeting his old friend's children.