Skip to content

Steven Spielberg Regrets Editing Guns Out of "E.T." Amid Backlash

A controversial version of the film was released for its 20th anniversary in 2002.

Viewers will never stop loving the 1982 hit E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial—and passionate fans will never forget the changes that were made to the film 20 years after its release. In 2002, for the 20th anniversary of the movie, director Steven Spielberg made some edits to the originally released film, including adding scenes, changing a little bit of dialogue, incorporating CGI, and—most infamously—digitally removing guns from the hands of characters. Now, Spielberg says he regrets these decisions.

There is a scene in the original cut of E.T. in which authorities pursue E.T. and the children while wielding guns. In the 2002 version, which was released in theaters and for home viewing, the guns are replaced with walkie talkies.

Read on to find out how Spielberg feels about the edit now and to learn more about why he made the change in the first place.

READ THIS NEXT: 7 Oscar-Winning Movies That Are Offensive by Today's Standards.

Spielberg says changing E.T. was "a mistake."

"That was a mistake," the 76-year-old director said at the TIME100 Summit on April 25 of removing the guns. "I never should have done that, because E.T. is a product of its era. No film should be revised based on the lenses we now are, either voluntarily, or being forced to peer through."

Spielberg went on to explain that he felt it was the right choice at the time, because children were involved in the scene. "E.T. was a film that I was sensitive to the fact that the federal agents were approaching kids with their firearms exposed, and I thought I would change the guns into walkie talkies," he said. "Years had gone by and I have changed my own views."

He's against movies being re-edited to fit modern sensibilities.

Steven Spielberg at the TIME100 Summit
TIME / YouTube

Spielberg went on to say that he shouldn't have edited his movie, and that he'd caution others not to edit their work, either.

"I should have never messed with the archive of my own work, and I don't recommend anybody really do that," he said. "All our movies are a kind of measuring, sort of a signpost of where we were when we made them, and what the world was like and what the world was receiving when we got those stories out there. So I really regret having done that."

He was then asked if this view applies to all artistic works. TIME executive chairman Edward Felsenthal brought up the language in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory being altered for new editions as an example.

"Nobody should ever attempt to take the chocolate out of Willy Wonka. Ever," Spielberg joked in response. He added,"For me, it is sacrosanct. It's our history. It's our cultural heritage … I do not believe in censorship in that way."

For more celebrity news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

He has said he was swayed by outside influences.

Spielberg didn't only recently come to regret the 2002 E.T. re-release cut. Yahoo! reported that at an anniversary screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 2011, Spielberg addressed the backlash from fans of the movie. Yahoo! notes that the original E.T. did receive criticism from parents groups for the inclusion of guns and other content, which the director hinted may have impacted his decision.

"For myself, I tried [changing a film] once and lived to regret it," he said. "Not because of fan outrage, but because I was disappointed in myself. I got overly sensitive to [some of the reaction] to E.T., and I thought if technology evolved, [I might go in and change some things]…it was OK for a while, but I realized what I had done was I had robbed people who loved E.T. of their memories of E.T."

The following year, a 30th anniversary edition of E.T. was released that featured the original edit.

The 20th anniversary version was different in other ways.

Morphing the agents' guns into walkie talkies wasn't the only noticeable edit Spielberg made for the 2002 edition. As Entertainment Weekly reported at the time, changes were digitally made to E.T.'s face to make the alien look more realistic.

Also, a line in which the main characters' mother (Dee Wallace) tells son Michael (Robert MacNaughton), "You are not going as a terrorist!" in regards to his Halloween costume was changed to "You are not going as a hippie!" This change was made in light of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Additionally, two deleted scenes were added to the movie, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
Filed Under