What We Almost Got Instead:
Back when Spielberg first started work on E.T. in 1980, the movie was called Night Skies and, appropriately, told a much darker story about murderous aliens that could kill with a single touch of their bony death-fingers.
This summer, they're coming ... to give you the finger!
The script for Night Skies was written by John Sayles, who came up with a straight-up horror tale in which a suburban family was being terrorized in their home by evil aliens who wanted them dead. Spielberg loved the idea and immediately went into pre-production, but midway through sort of changed his mind about the dark tone of the film. Perhaps he wanted to do something more positive with the whole concept of aliens after Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or maybe he sensed that there was something amiss about a movie that could be summarized as "the attack of the killer finger-bangers from space."
It was definitely the first one, though, because Spielberg loved Sayles' initial idea so much that he eventually took it, replaced the word "alien" with "ghost," and reworked it into the screenplay for Poltergeist.
"Hey, I got a call from my son. Is he still here?"
Spielberg even claimed that the two movies were meant to be sides of the same home-invading coin. Poltergeist was about "suburban evil," while E.T. was about "suburban good" -- one was paranormal, the other extraterrestrial, but both dealt with scared middle-class people making contact with something they didn't understand, but which didn't speak Spanish this time.
One element of Night Skies did survive Spielberg's rewrites, though: the part about a good alien named Buddy befriending an autistic child. With a few changes, that blossomed into the plot of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which bizarrely came thiiiis close to showing E.T.'s pals trying to finger a bunch of kids to death.
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.