History, Legacy & Showmanship
Thursday, 16 November 2017 15:16

Still Watching the Skies: Remembering “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” on its 40th Anniversary

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Close Encounters helps demonstrate perhaps better than any other why Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest American filmmakers.” — Spielberg biographer Joseph McBride

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 40th anniversary of the release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Steven Spielberg’s legendary science-fiction film starring Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary, an electrical lineman who obsesses over the sighting, physical evidence and, ultimately, contact with a UFO.

The film, which also starred Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon and Francois Truffaut, was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning for Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography (and also receiving a special achievement award for sound effects editing). [Read on here...]

One of the most popular and acclaimed films of the 1970s, Close Encounters opened 40 years ago this week, and for the occasion The Bits features a compilation of statistics, trivia and box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context; passages from vintage film reviews; a reference/historical listing of the movie’s first-run theatrical engagements; and, finally, an interview segment with an esteemed group of Spielberg historians and associates.

Richard Dreyfuss and Steven Spielberg on the set of CE3K



  • 0 = Number of sequels
  • 1 = Rank among Columbia’s all-time top-earning movies at close of original run
  • 1 = Rank among top-earning movies during first weekend of wide release (Week #5)
  • 1 = Rank on list of top-earning films of Columbia’s 1977 slate
  • 1 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1977-78 (winter)
  • 2 = Number of Academy Awards (one competitive + one special achievement)
  • 2 = Number of theaters showing movie during opening week
  • 2 = Rank among top-earning science-fiction films of 1977
  • 2 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1977 (legacy)
  • 5 = Box-office rank among films directed by Spielberg (adjusted for inflation)
  • 5 = Number of years Columbia’s top-earning film
  • 6 = All-time box-office peak chart position
  • 8 = Number of Academy Award nominations
  • 8 = Rank among top-earning movies of the 1970s
  • 31 = Number of weeks of longest-running engagement (in a single-screen theater)
  • 36 = Number of 70mm prints
  • 37 = Number of months between theatrical release and home-video release
  • 42 = Number of weeks of longest-running engagement (in a multiplex)
  • 75 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing films (adjusted for inflation)
  • 135 = Number of Dolby Stereo engagements during first run*
  • 285 = Number of theaters showing movie during first weekend of wide release (12/16-18)
  • $29.95 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release (videodiscs)
  • $79.95 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release (VHS & Beta)
  • $182,962 = Opening-weekend box-office gross** (two theaters)
  • $1.1 million = Box-office gross during NY & LA exclusives (11/16-12/13)
  • $1.5 million = Production cost of Special Edition revisions
  • $3.1 million = Box-office gross (2017 re-release)
  • $5.4 million = Box-office gross during first weekend of wide release (12/16-18)
  • $5.9 million = Box-office rental (Special Edition)
  • $15.7 million = Box-office gross (Special Edition re-release)
  • $19.5 million = Production cost
  • $77.6 million = Box-office rental*** (original release)
  • $79.4 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $83.5 million = Box-office rental*** (original + Special Edition)
  • $116.4 million = Box-office gross*** (original release)
  • $132.1 million = Box-office gross*** (1977 + 1980)
  • $135.2 million = Box-office gross (1977 + 1980 + 2017 + repertory)
  • $171.7 million = Box-office gross*** (international)
  • $306.9 million = Box-office gross*** (worldwide)
  • $333.6 million = Box-office rental (adjusted for inflation)
  • $523.8 million = Box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
  • $649.6 million = Box-office gross (international, adjusted for inflation)
  • $1.2 billion = Box-office gross (worldwide, adjusted for inflation)

*Film industry record
**Cinerama Dome and Ziegfeld house record
***Columbia Pictures record

A scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind



Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a magical mystery tour for a generation of movie lovers who grew up on those 1950s creature features about visitors from outer space. Steven Spielberg, the Hollywood wunderkind who directed Jaws is an admitted member of that generation, and his extravagantly expensive new movie is his attempt to give credibility and respectability to a popular genre.” — George Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“It is an awesome, spectacular work, not without flaws, but certain to take its place with George Lucas’ Star Wars as the most discussed science-fiction film since 2001: A Space Odyssey. In particular, the last 35 or 40 minutes of Close Encounters is as awesome, chilling, spellbinding an experience as I’ve ever had in a movie theater.” — John L. Wasserman, San Francisco Chronicle

“The Spielberg of Jaws continues to be a director (and now a writer) of effects rather than characters or relationships. When the script lets Trumbull and his associate Merlins and a platoon of the world’s best cinematographers strut their stuff and the Superdome-sized saucers wheel and hover and turn, it is zowie time at the Bijou…. John Williams’ music is crucial, and once again he seems to work as effectively when big things are required as anyone now writing. There is a good deal of sustained and tremulous tone — the quivering hum we have come to accept as the sound wave of the future, here bridging into the majesty of Handel’s Messiah Revisited (not literally, of course). It is powerful and hugely contributory.” — Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times

Close Encounters lacks the warmth and humanity of George Lucas’s Star Wars.” — A.D. Murphy, Variety

“Just as one is beginning to wonder if the unidentified flying objects (UFOs) in question might not be crucial pieces of the plot that have flown the theater, the close of Close Encounters of the Third Kind makes its mighty entrance. And at that point a film that has been traveling in ellipses for two hours soars into a wondrous orbit.” — Desmond Ryan, Philadelphia Inquirer

“[I]t looks like another movie is about to make its impact upon the world. The Exorcist generated scattered ’devil possessions’; Jaws frightened people from swimming in salt water; and Close Encounters threatens to trigger UFO fever.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

“Steven Spielberg’s giant, spectacular Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the best — the most elaborate — 1950’s science fiction movie ever made, a work that borrows its narrative shape and its concerns from those earlier films, but enhances them with what looks like the latest developments in movie and space technology.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times

“It deserves an historic place in movie entertainment.” — Jack Kroll, Newsweek

Close Encounters is a film that elevates cinema to its proper place in the artistic world — an art for everyman.” — Scott Sherry, The Columbus Dispatch

“Despite a wonderful performance by Richard Dreyfuss as the power plant lineman who is haunted by a vision from the beings from another world, he does not generate the kind of gee-whiz enthusiasm one got from seeing Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia beating out the dastardly Darth Vader. With no one to root for other than a woman driven to finding her little son who has been taken into the skies by the aliens, Close Encounters has the spectacle, but not the human warmth. And that is, I think, the ingredient that is the true key to spectacular box office success.” — Michael Janusonis, The Providence Journal

“The final 30 minutes — the ’payoff’ — is as exhilarating, as warm and imaginative, as anything put on film since the Munchkins surrounded Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Getting there, however, is not always half the fun.” — Richard Dodds, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune

“One of the year’s 10 best films!” — Frank Rich, Time

Close Encounters is a marvelous movie — an eye-widening, ear filling adventure that lifts your spirits and sends you home with a great feeling that lasts for hours.” — Clyde Gilmour, Toronto Star

Close Encounters is oddly slack, even sloppy in its storytelling structure. And though he is a cinematic virtuoso with an instinctive feel for his audience’s ganglia, Spielberg is hardly a polished artist of thorough consistency. If he has an astonishing command of the thrilling uses to which non-human forces may be put, that is about the extent of his mastery of his medium. It’s not just that Spielberg’s concerns are more those of entertainer than artist, a bias eminently forgivable. It’s that even his entertainer’s instincts are annoyingly uneven.” — Tom Dowling, The Washington Star

“[Close Encounters is] not so much a film as an event in the history of faith…the movement of science-fiction as vicarious religion and the movement of the Film generation meet, unify and blaze.” — Stanley Kauffmann, The New Republic

Close Encounters of the Third Kind solidifies the grip of a comparatively new sensibility on Hollywood moviemaking: the sensibility of the visual, emotional, technologically-sophisticated filmmaker. Unfortunately, the success of such filmmakers may hasten the already-predicted demise of the small budget film, the literate script and the human character. If, as seems possible now, Close Encounters achieves the status of Jaws and Star Wars, the success it invites comparison with, Hollywood may inundate us with bizarre escapist fare which will make the disaster film look like cinema verite.” — Bruce McCabe, The Boston Globe

Close Encounters may not be that big a smash. It leaves a great deal for audiences to figure out for themselves and moviegoers in the mass are not exactly thinking types.” — Corbin Patrick, The Indianapolis Star

“Puts all former movie spectacle to shame — sci-fi or otherwise — not least because it retains a gentle affirmation of benevolent life and does not sacrifice humor to very real awesomeness.” — Don Morrison, The Minneapolis Star

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a terrific movie, with every possibility of equaling the box office popularity of Star Wars.” — Arthur Knight, The Hollywood Reporter

“Spielberg may or may not be America’s most gifted young director, but he’s definitely our most knowledgeable showman. He knows an audience will forgive any amount of exposition when rewarded with a dazzling conclusion. Close Encounters of the Third Kind moves at a deceptively leisurely pace, with the middle segment wrapped in governmental red tape, but the final 30 minutes, spotlighting a mother spaceship which resembles a glorified reproduction of the old Palace Theater chandelier, are possibly the most wondrous ever put on film.” — Philip Wuntch, The Dallas Morning News

“Steven Spielberg’s much-hyped picture about UFOs has a chaotic narrative and a belated, if extended, payoff.” — Susan Stark, Detroit Free Press

“[Close Encounters] is such an awesome, exalting experience that it reduces most commentary to so much chatter. It’s tempting to say that it’s the film of the year, perhaps of the decade, and leave it at that.” — John Hartl, The Seattle Times

A scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind

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