When Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster film E.T. the Extra Terrestrial hit theaters in 1982, it broke every record for box office revenues. Those records stood still for 11 years (until Jurassic Park in 1993) and cemented E.T. as one of the great movies of a generation. It also paved the way for future Hollywood filmmakers to use Northern California as a backdrop for their films.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past 30 years, E.T. is the story of an alien that gets stuck on earth and befriends a young boy, Elliott, to survive on the foreign planet. Eventually, E.T. is found by NASA scientists who have less than splendid plans to study the alien. Eventually, E.T. escapes the scientists with Elliott and finds his spaceship to finally head home.
Spielberg, with NorCal local Kathleen Kennedy by his side as Executive Producer, used Northern California not only as a backdrop for E.T., but also set the plot of the movie in the area. Much of the movie was filmed in Crescent City in the northwest corner of the state, providing Spielberg with splendid green plants and towering redwoods to illuminate scenes in the film. There’s also a scene in the movie where Elliott explains where they are in the world, specifically pointing to the area just south of Lake Tahoe.
The NorCal connection to E.T. may have come from Kennedy, who was born in Berkeley and grew up in Redding, graduating from Shasta High School. She would go on to produce many of Spielberg’s movies (and eventually take over a little production company called Lucasfilm), including other movies filmed in NorCal like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
The NorCal connection of E.T. went on to inspire other movies filmed in NorCal, like Star Wars Return of the Jedi, Stand By Me, Phenomenon and I Know What You Did Last Summer (here’s a complete list of the Top 25 Movies Filmed in Northern California). Their success filming their movies just north of Hollywood in California has continued as a growing trend among filmmakers.
When we discuss the movies with a strong NorCal connection, you have to point to E.T. the Extra Terrestrial as the one which paved the way for many years to come.