'Be good': My dad and ET shared last words I'll never forget

The movie poster for Steven Spielberg’s 1975 summer blockbuster “Jaws.”

The summer blockbuster isn’t what it used to be.

Oh, there’s hope. "Inside Out 2” made a nice haul at the box office, and a lot of people will probably go see “Despicable Me 4.” A surprise hit usually pops up somewhere. (Too bad it couldn’t be “Hit Man,” which moved to Netflix in the blink of an eye.)

In 2023, of course, there was the Barbenheimer phenomenon, “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” pushing each other to greater heights. That they were both really good movies was nice, since there’s no real correlation between popularity and quality. That kind of success, in terms of ticket sales and cultural impact, will be hard to repeat, but you never know.

What is a summer movie, anyway?

What is a summer movie, anyway? It doesn’t have to be set in summer, though that helps. It’s more about setting a mood, particularly when you’re younger and summer is a time to reset, take some time off, take a vacation.

The greatest of all time is without question “Jaws,” which was the first true summer blockbuster, setting the tone for all that followed. Unless it’s “Star Wars: Episode IV — a New Hope,” though it was just plain ol’ “Star Wars” back then. Or could it be “Mad Max: Fury Road?” “Raiders of the Lost Ark?” Your mileage may vary, but all of these say “summer” in some way.

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Greatest summer of movies ever

What seems inarguable, however, is that 1982 was the best summer for movies, ever. Here’s just a sampling of what came out that year: “Blade Runner,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Tron,” “Night Shift,” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and John Carpenter’s version of “The Thing.”

Pretty great, huh? But wait, there’s more. That summer kicked off with a one-two punch that was the original Barbenheimer, priming the pump for one of the most-entertaining couple of months of moviegoing, ever. (Of course, it didn’t hurt if you were young and unencumbered and your summer job consisted of painting gas meters for the local utility company. Not exactly a high-pressure gig.)

On June 7, “Poltergeist” came out. You can argue about how heavy a hand Steven Spielberg had in making it all you want (Tobe Hooper is the official director), but who cares? What counts is what you see on the screen — a ridiculously entertaining horror movie that is almost certainly scarier than you remember. It had a creepy trailer (“They’re heeerrre”) and, in a time when pop culture wasn’t so fragmented, it was what people were talking about. That’s the perfect summer-movie recipe.


Because on June 11, just four days later, it got even better. That’s when “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” came out. The movie was huge, eventually becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time (though it would be surpassed by Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” in 1993, and then any number of “Avatar” and Marvel movies). And it was everywhere. The little alien himself was on the cover of Rolling Stone, reading an issue of Variety that has the headline “The spaceman that saved Hollywood.”

'E.T.' is Steven Spielberg's best movie

It’s also Spielberg’s best movie, no matter the season, the perfect marriage of all of his filmmaking strengths. It even plays to what are sometimes his weaknesses, namely his tendency to turn everything into a sentimental story about trying to heal broken families. In this case, a film about the ultimate outsider who comes into the life of a little boy whose parents are divorced, that sensibility is essential.

Disagree on Spielberg's best movie? So does our critic Brian Truitt. See how he ranks all of Spielberg's movies

To trot out a cliché, it spoke to people. It certainly spoke to me. I don’t remember how many times I saw it, but at least one of those times was with my mother. Toward the end of the movie, as E.T. is getting ready to be transported back to wherever he came from, he and Elliot are preparing for the inevitable. Naturally, they’re sad, after all they’ve been through, to part. At one point E.T. says, “Be good.”

The first time I saw it, I gasped. My dad had died about six months before. Those were his last words. They struck me as small but momentous at the time, and this seemed to confirm their wisdom. I wondered how my mother would take it. To say she was not sentimental is an understatement — the church organist, she used to play Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend” at actual funerals, the mourners unaware.

She thought the line was great. Because it was great. Because the movie was great. That summer was great, and the “Poltergeist”-“E.T.” combo was a big part of that. That’s what you want in a summer movie — entertaining in the moment, but a key to memories you’ll never forget.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Summer movies: E.T. and the best year