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The kids of 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial' - where are they now?

Most know what Drew Barrymore's been up to since appearing in E.T., but how about co-stars Henry Thomas and Robert MacNaughton?

By Gina Salamone
ET looking out window with Henry Thomas in a scene from the film 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial', 1982.

"He came to me," Elliott tells a government agent in explaining that E.T. chose him to first show himself to after landing on Earth — and it's a good thing the alien did. Had the title character in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial not revealed himself to the 10-year-old boy in his suburban California yard, he may have died in the hands of government scientists and never made it back to his home planet.

It was the bond between Elliott (Henry Thomas) and E.T. — and the innocence of the kids who were protecting the little alien — that made the Universal Pictures sci-fi classic so endearing. Those kids also include Elliott's adorable little sister, Gertie, played by the now uber-famous Drew Barrymore, and his big brother Michael, portrayed by Robert MacNaughton, as well as several of Michael's friends.

RELATED: The kids of 'Jurassic Park' and 'Jurassic World' — Where are they now?

Now, more than four decades after Steven Spielberg's 1982 sci-fi hit touched down in theaters, those kids are all grown up. It was the first or second film role for all three of the main child actors, who each went on to star in other projects after the blockbuster, with some sticking it out in the biz longer than others. At least one of them suffered a troubled childhood, but rebounded in a big way. 

E.T. soared past Star Wars at the box office, becoming the highest-grossing film at the time, and holding that honor until Spielberg's Jurassic Park roared into theaters 11 years later. The movie earned nine Oscar nominations, going on to win Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound and Best Sound Editing. 

These are the kids that helped bring the beloved film to life, what they were up to in the years that followed, and where they are now.

Henry Thomas as Elliott Taylor

(L-R) Henry Thomas in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982); Henry Thomas

Along with E.T., Elliott was the heart and soul of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The pair experiences the same feelings and emotions after they meet: when E.T. guzzles some beer back at the boy's home, Elliott burps in class; when E.T. drunkenly bangs his head into a kitchen cabinet, Elliott gets a headache; and when E.T. is dying, Elliott also initially gets sick. 

Director Spielberg also had a quick connection with the actor who played Elliott, famously casting Henry Thomas during his improvised audition, in which the child cried when Spielberg asked him to react to a NASA rep showing up at his door to take a "creature"/his best friend away. "Well, it was great," Thomas told SYFY WIRE last October. "The lead-up was pretty nerve-wracking, but famously, he told me I got the job before I left the audition. So I knew that I had it, which was a very unique and wonderful feeling."

It was Thomas' second film role, following the 1981 drama Raggedy Man, in which he played one of Sissy Spacek's character's young sons. But it was after the massive success of E.T. that his career really took off. He told SYFY WIRE last fall that because he grew up in Texas, agents were reluctant to represent him since he didn't live in Los Angeles. Then, after E.T. remained number one at the box office for two weeks, "my phone started ringing the second week and all of the agents that I had met with were all calling me up, saying, 'It's okay, you can live in Texas, we'll sign you.' Things changed pretty much overnight."

He has steadily appeared in film and TV roles since then, including roles in the films Cloak & Dagger, Fire in the Sky, Legends of the Fall, Suicide Kings, Gangs of New York, Dear John, and Doctor Sleep. On the small screen, he's been in series including Moby Dick, Betrayal, Stargirl, and The Haunting of Hill House, for which he won a Saturn Award in 2019 for Best Actor in Streaming Presentation.

Thomas suffered a setback in 2019 when he was arrested in Oregon and charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants after being found passed out in his Prius. A police report said that that cops found an empty bottle of marijuana tincture on the driver’s side of the actor's car, according to The Oregonian. He reportedly refused a field sobriety test, threatened to sue one of the officers involved, and allegedly later told her he was an actor, adding, “I played the kid in E.T."

Despite the misstep, Thomas, now 51, continues to act. He appeared in last year's Sam & Kate, a movie that also starred Spacek and Dustin Hoffman, and he's scheduled to be in The Fall of the House of Usher, an upcoming Netflix horror miniseries based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story of the same name and the writer's other works.

Drew Barrymore as Gertie Taylor

(L-R) Drew Barrymore in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982); Drew Barrymore in 2023

Being the youngest member of the family, Gertie was roughly the same height as E.T. That helped when Elliott and Michael needed to put a sheet over the alien, passing him off as Gertie dressed up as a ghost for Halloween, to sneak him past their mother and out of the house. 

Gertie also shared a hysterical scene with E.T. in which her frazzled mom was unaware the creature was right there in their kitchen and living room, and the little girl ended up teaching him how to talk while watching Sesame Street. Drew Barrymore's impressive performance marked only her second movie role, following 1980's Altered States.

Despite the enormous success she would go on to achieve after E.T., Barrymore's childhood wasn't easy. She came from a long line of actors on the side of her father, John Drew Barrymore, including her grandfather, John Barrymore. She would go on to say in her 1991 autobiography that her dad, who she's said was abusive, left her family when she was just a baby. 

And while she was killing it as a child actor in films like Firestarter, Irreconcilable Differences and Cat's Eye, Barrymore was struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, going to rehab, and eventually, being put in a "psychiatric ward" by her mother when she was just 13. "I was going to clubs and not going to school and stealing my mom's car and, you know, I was out of control," Barrymore said on The Howard Stern Show in 2021.

She eventually got herself back on track and later went on to appear in films like Poison Ivy, Wayne's World 2, Bad Girls, Boys on the Side, Batman Forever, both the 1996 and 2022 versions of Scream, The Wedding Singer, Never Been Kissed, Charlie's Angels, 50 First Dates and He's Just Not That Into You. Since 2020, she's been hosting her own syndicated talk show, The Drew Barrymore Show.

It's clear she still treasures her time filming E.T. and working with its director. Barrymore, now 48, told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month that the most prized item she keeps in her dressing room is a photo of herself with Spielberg on that set. "Not having a dad, not having that kind of relationship with anyone, he was just so good and nurturing and kind,” she told the newspaper. “We still have a really wonderful relationship. I thank him because, had he not chosen me, I think my life would be really different. It’s crazy when you can really trace it back to someone."

Robert MacNaughton as Michael Taylor

Robert Macnaughton in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982); Robert Macnaughton

Robert MacNaughton has managed to remain the most under-the-radar out of the three main child stars of E.T. He was a theater actor before landing the part of the big brother in the film, which was his first movie, and did theater work afterwards. 

He starred as Michael in E.T., the take-charge older sibling who handled things when Elliott was taken to a government facility. Michael helped facilitate E.T.'s escape and return to his home planet. MacNaughton told Yahoo Movies in 2017 that he had actually started the audition process late, as he only scored an audition after being flown out to L.A. to try out for another movie. He didn't score the part he flew out for, but the casting director made a call to the guy casting E.T.

"My first audition was just a meeting with Steven, and it was on the day that President Reagan was shot. ... But one of the things he asked me was, 'What do you like to do?,'" MacNaughton told Yahoo. "I said, 'Well, I ride bikes a lot.' He goes, 'Yeah, that’s in the movie.' And I said, 'I play Dungeons & Dragons.' And he goes, 'That’s in the movie, too.' So it was just I said all the right things, I guess."

After E.T., MacNaughton starred in 1983's I Am the Cheese, adapted from the 1977 novel of the same name. He also appeared in 2015's Frankenstein vs. The Mummy. And he had roles in several TV films and in series like Newhart and Amen. After largely leaving the entertainment industry, he found employment with the U.S. Postal Service.

MacNaughton can thank his E.T. co-star Barrymore for his marriage to actress Bianca Hunter, who he's been wed to since 2012. "We met back in 1985. I was doing a play in New York, and she had watched the movie and she was friends with Drew," MacNaughton told Yahoo Movies. "And she had wanted to meet me a few years earlier, but Drew’s mom said, 'No, you’re too young.' I think I was 16 and she was 13?

"Then I was doing a play in Central Park with Kevin Kline a few years later; I was 18 and she was 15. So she asked Drew’s mom, 'Can you ask Robert’s mom for his number?' And so we talked on the phone and went out on a blind date. But it was just one date and then we didn’t see each other. There was the age difference, and I lived in California, and she lived in New York. So then we didn’t see each other again. And then I got a message on Facebook. And we’re married."

Looking for more family-friendly sci-fi films from director Steven Spielberg? Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park are now streaming on Peacock.