Even those handfuls of people who’ve never seen E.T. are familiar with the story of how Mars Inc. famously refused to let the filmmakers use M&Ms candies in the movie — reportedly because the company found the creature too ugly and potentially upsetting to kids — forcing them to make a deal with Hershey’s to feature their Reese’s Pieces (which boosted company profits by an incredible 65%). Less well known is that Columbia Pictures passed on an opportunity to make E.T.
The studio was given a look at an early draft of the screenplay, at that point called E.T. and Me; its marketing department determined that it had limited audience appeal and, after spending almost $1 million in development, consigned the property into that black hole Hollywood calls “turnaround.” Spielberg found a warmer reception with Universal, with whom he had a one-picture obligation: in exchange for 5% of net profits (and the studio covering development costs), E.T. became a Universal movie. A former Columbia exec said its small stake in the movie ended up making more money than any of its pictures released that year.(MORE: Five Ways to Know You’re Watching a Spielberg Movie)