John Alvin created some of the most iconic movie art of all-time. His legendary work includes posters for the Original Star Wars Trilogy, Blade Runner, Batman (1989) and several Disney movies like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. For me, I am of course most interested in John’s numerous contributions to the filmography of Steve Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment. He created posters for Amblin films like The Goonies, Gremlins, Cape Fear and Arachnophobia. Alvin also has an impressive list of Spielberg directed films he worked on, including Empire of the Sun and Jurassic Park.
John was asked to work on the iconic E.T. the Extra Terrestrial poster for Steven Spielberg. Alvin passed away in 2008, but his tremendous body of work lives on. I had the honor of speaking to his wife, Andrea Alvin, about his work on the poster art for E.T.
How long did John work on the E.T. poster?
It’s hard for me to tell you in actual time. Before the film was completely shot, he did several paintings that were used for a large fold out ad in the trades. One of those paintings was developed into the advance poster with the ship coming through the clouds. Later he began working on the main campaign. He did many graphite sketches, starting with title treatments and rough concept sketches. The original title was” ET the Extra Terrestrial.” I have several of those drawings as well as many different sketches of the two hands. When the concept of the two hands from Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel was decided on, he did at least two finished paintings from that idea. All together, it was probably several months.
Do you remember, or did John share with you, his motivations or goals for the poster?
The word on the street was that this was going to be a “BIG” movie. He wanted to do a great job, but he approached all of his jobs with that goal.
Do you remember some of the challenges he faced while putting E.T. together?
The biggest challenge was the secrecy involved with the project. Spielberg wouldn’t allow the creature to be shown in the art, and John wasn’t allowed to see any pictures. When he needed to see the arm and hand for his painting, the studio provided him with a rubbery prosthetic of the E.T. arm. It was pretty sad. Eventually they had the special effects people provide him with a drawing he could work from.
What did John think of the final film? Did you guys ever talk about the movie?
John loved the movie. We all did. We took our daughter and saw it multiple times.
Did things change for John at all when E.T. released and it was a huge hit?
John always said it was the “big one” that didn’t get away. He was extremely proud to have created one of the most iconic movie posters of all time. The art was everywhere, and it was very exciting at first. It was on bath towels, key rings and everywhere we looked…but he did not get residuals for the art. This made it very obvious that everyone was making money on John’s art except him. That was disappointing, but he was off on other projects. We did buy the beach towels though. It was pretty funny to sit on his art.
What do you personally think of the poster? How do you view it compared to all the other amazing things John created in his career?
It has had the most impact of any of his posters. Because it plays off Michelangelo’s universally known and loved image, it has become intertwined with that picture in our collective psyches. If I say John created the E.T. poster and put my two fingers together, people’s eyes light up in recognition. That is a pretty unique reaction for a movie poster. Because of that, I believe it is probably his most successful poster.