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Why Steven Spielberg Played Dungeons & Dragons Before Filming E.T.

Anyone who's ever seen E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial can tell you that not only is the film one of the most heartwarming (and highest grossing) of all time, but it's also a pretty realistic depiction of sibling relationships. The main character's older brother teases him, while the baby of the family (played by an adorable Drew Barrymore) is the sweet and sensitive one.

So, how does one prepare to capture such true-to-life adolescence? With game night, apparently.

In a 1986 interview for Orange Coast Magazine, actor Robert MacNaughton, who played older brother Michael in E.T., opened up about director Steven Spielberg's methods. After learning during MacNaughton's audition that he was a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, Spielberg arranged for all the younger actors to play D&D together prior to the start of filming. He hoped the cast and crew would feel as if they were family during the making of the film.

MacNaughton mentioned this again during an interview with Yahoo! News in 2017, in which he explained that they played at the home of Harrison Ford as part of the audition process.

"One of the auditions was at Harrison Ford's house because he and Melissa Mathison, who wrote the script, were together, and his kids Ben and Willard played Dungeons & Dragons," MacNaughton recalled. "So one of the auditions was at Harrison Ford's house with all of us playing Dungeons & Dragons. So it was always a part of the whole, of the script, an integral part."

Dungeons & Dragons was almost in the beginning and end of E.T.

Fans of the film may recall that, in the beginning of the movie, Michael and his friends are playing a game that seems to pretty similar to D&D; the characters mention "melee points" and "death spells," and seem to be acting out an adventure with the help of a "game master." However, it very pointedly was not intended to be a direct D&D reference because the production couldn't secure permission to use the game's trademarked elements, MacNaughton explained in 2017. If they had, the ending of the film may have turned out much differently.

"In fact, the last scene in the movie wasn't supposed to be the scene that ends up in the movie," the actor revealed. "The last scene was going to be all of us playing Dungeons & Dragons again, except this time, Elliott's the dungeon master. Because he was the one that found E.T., he sort of got in with the group. And so that was supposed to be the final scene, it was in the script and everything, and then they would pan up to the roof and you'd see the communicator and it's still working — in other words, Elliott is still in touch with E.T. But after they did the score, the music, and they saw what they had with the spaceship taking off and everything [laughs] — how can you follow that? I mean, it was a wise choice."

Considering how many people are regularly moved to tears by the film's iconic goodbye scene, we'd say Spielberg definitely made the right call.