Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my general thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. This week’s film is #24 on the list: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).
Steven Spielberg has 5 films on the AFI list, making him the list’s most represented director, but of his films included, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is the most surprising. It’s arguably his most heartwarming film, which makes it emblematic of his sentimental style, but beyond setting the benchmark for ‘80s nostalgia, it’s not a remarkable film. That notion may pierce the hearts of those who hold it in high regard as a childhood classic, but revisiting it as an adult reveals the flaws and jagged edges that memory often smooths over. The first hour is mostly magical and enchanting, but there’s a reason that all the classic scenes and lines come from the first half: the final third really isn’t great. Once E.T. gets captured, the film takes a sharp downturn and only manages to recover during the genuinely moving finale.
Does It Belong on the List?
It earns its place in the hearts of those who grew up with it, but it doesn’t earn its spot on the list of the greatest American films of all time. I’m surprised that E.T. is the Spielberg sci-fi film that made it to the list over Close Encounters which tends to get more acclaim, but my personal favorite is A.I. Artificial Intelligence.