Steven Spielberg and George Lucas: Classy and Creative Record Breakers

Records are made to be broken, but it is only natural to not want your records to be broken by somebody else. It is impressive to see someone handle having their record broken with class. I came across a chain of gestures that demonstrate that tremendous class from none other than Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, originally released in 1982, is the highest-grossing film in the U.S. from the ’80s. It now only currently ranks at #92 on the all-time list, but if you adjust for inflation and count tickets sold (instead of dollars) it actually ranks #4 with over 140 million tickets sold (behind only Gone With the Wind [1939], Star Wars [1977] and The Sound of Music [1965]).

We have to go back into the late ’70s to get the full story. Back in the summer of 1975, Steven Spielberg released the film Jaws which became the prototype for the summer blockbuster. Jaws only took 78 days to become the highest-grossing film in the U.S. passing The Godfather [1972]. Jaws held the record for two years until George Lucas’ Star Wars surpassed it just six months after its release in 1977. After Star Wars passed Jaws, the always classy Spielberg placed the following ad in the December 2, 1977 issue of Variety to congratulate Lucas…

Spielberg had a little extra motivation to celebrate his friend’s success. After visiting the set of the Spielberg-directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Lucas was sure Close Encounters would outperform the yet-to-be-released Star Wars at the box office. Spielberg disagreed, and felt Lucas’ Star Wars would be the bigger hit. With each Lucas and Spielberg confident that the other’s film would be the bigger hit, Lucas proposed they trade 2.5% of the profit on each other’s films. Spielberg took the trade, and still receives 2.5% of the profits from Star Wars. The two also worked together on 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark which was directed by Spielberg with Lucas co-producing and co-writing the story as well.

Then six years later, in the summer of 1983, Spielberg released E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial which became another blockbuster. The magical film amazingly passed Star Wars to take over the record for highest-grossing film in the U.S. The also classy and creative Lucas returned the favor when he placed the following ad to similarly congratulate Spielberg on the accomplishment…

Within E.T., Spielberg also paid a small tribute to his friend Lucas when a child is seen dressed up like Yoda in the trick-or-treating scene.

Many people don’t even realize that Lucas returned this favor as well in 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. If you look closely, E.T. himself or at least some of his planet’s species are representatives at the Republic Senate hearing on Coruscant.

Before beginning to release the prequel trilogy in 1999, George Lucas released “Special Edition” versions of the original trilogy beginning in 1997. Following this re-release in 1997, Star Wars briefly reclaimed the U.S. record passing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Spielberg passed the crown back to Lucas again with this congratulations ad…

In December of 1997, James Cameron released Titanic in theaters to much success and notoriety. It remained the #1 grossing film in North America for a still record 15 consecutive weeks on its way to becoming the highest grossing film of all-time both in the U.S. and worldwide in 1998. Though his record was not broken this time by his friend Spielberg, George Lucas still extended his congratulations to Cameron in this fun ad…

Cameron would break his own record in 2010 with his 2009 film Avatar which remained the highest-grossing film in the U.S. until 2019 when Avengers: Endgame dethroned it with $2.8 billion. It was nice to see James Cameron remember the previous gestures by Lucas and Spielberg publishing his own congratulatory ads as Avengers: Endgame passed both Titanic and ultimately Avatar for the top spot.

To put this all in a little perspective though, if you adjust for inflation and base it strictly on tickets sold, Avatar only ranks #15 all-time in the U.S., Titanic ranks #5 and Avengers: Endgame only ranks #16. None have been seen in U.S. theaters more than E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. And yep, it is a proud product of the ’80s. And yep, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (and even Jim Cameron) are some classy and creative record-breaking geniuses.

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About OldSchool80s 23 Articles
Old School Tim has an adoring devotion to the awesome '80s decade. He loves to relive and share that nostalgia on a regular basis. The Kickin' it Old School blog site has been retired, but you can still get daily doses of '80s goodness on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and anywhere else they let him.