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SYFY WIRE E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Screen-Used Animatronic Head from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Nets Big Money at Auction

The magic of E.T. continues to endure more than four decades after the film's release.

By Josh Weiss

You know the magic of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is still strong a little over four decades after its release when the slightly decomposing head of the movie's titular alien visitor nabs a small fortune at auction. Okay, that sounded a little macabre. Let's try again...

Animatronic head from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial nabs $635,000 at auction

An animatronic E.T. head used during the production of Steven Spielberg's coming-of-age sci-fi classic (the film is available to rent and/or own from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) recently sold for a whopping $635,000 in a bidding war hosted by California-based auction house, Julien's Auctions. The lot — which was initially estimated to bring in between $800,000 to $1 million — also included a DVD of the movie, just to sweeten the deal a little. Because if you're going to drop a load of cash on an immortal piece of cinema history, you might as well get a slightly outmoded form of home entertainment for your troubles.

RELATED: E.T. Production Designer Talks Finding "The Ordinary on the Edge of the Extraordinary"

Requiring a small army of operators to bring it to life, the highly sophisticated E.T. animatronic was developed by Italian special effects wizard, Carlo Rambaldi, whose work on the project nabbed him his third Oscar win at the 55th Academy Awards. When Spielberg learned that Rambaldi had passed away in 2015 at the age of 86, the director fondly memorialized the man as "E.T.’s Geppetto."

Carlo Rambaldi touches one of his E.T. puppets.

While speaking with author Laurent Bouzereau for Spielberg: The First Ten Years (now on sale from Insight Editions), Spielberg recalled how he asked Rambaldi to give E.T. the "sad" and "wizened" look of three historical icons: Albert Einstein, Carl Sandburg, and Ernest Hemingway.

"Carlo worked in clay for many weeks. I have actual video footage of E.T. in different stages of development spinning around on a small turntable," states the legendary filmmaker in the book. "I would light him from different angles to try to see how the skin, the cheekbones, his very thick, almost simian brow caught light in relation to his eyes. Carlo did several versions; I stood over him and worked with him. I’m not an artist, so I didn’t touch the clay, but I would say, 'Too scary, too cute, too Disney, too sweet.' Finally, this creature did emerge from clay after a few weeks that became E.T."

RELATED: Got a couple million bucks to spare? The original E.T. model could be yours

The young actors, particularly Drew Barrymore, became so attached to the lifelike puppet, that Spielberg refused to shatter the illusion. 

"[Carlo] captured a soul in this little rubber being that he made," Dee Wallace told SYFY WIRE when we caught up with her over Zoom in honor of the E.T.'s 40th anniversary two summers ago. "At first, E.T. was put away in a corner and then we found Drew over there, talking to him. So then Steven had two or three guys appointed to run E.T. all the time and keep him somewhat alive. So Drew... because at that age, reality and fantasy are very overlapping, and she would just be over there, talking to E.T."

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is now available to rent or purchase from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Looking for more Spielberg-related action? Head on over to Peacock for the Back to the Future trilogy, Balto, Jurassic World Dominion: Extended Version, and Steven Spielberg: The Fable Man!