10 Worst Business Decisions Ever Made

E.T. Could Have Been Eating M&Ms
E.T. might have been following a trail of M&Ms rather than Reese's Pieces if Mars had taken up Univeral's original offer. Universal/Getty Images

A movie named "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" doesn't exactly scream "box office gold." Maybe that's what Mars candy executives were thinking back in 1980 when they passed on Universal Studios' offer to feature M&Ms in their new alien flick. Sure, Steven Spielberg was directing — he already received Oscar nominations for both "Jaws" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" — but his latest film "1941" had been a flop. Worse, Universal wouldn't show Mars a script. Thanks, but no thanks.

As the story goes, Steven Spielberg's son was a fan of Reese's Pieces, a new chocolate-covered peanut butter candy released by Hershey in 1980. Sales were sluggish, so Hershey CEO Jack Dowd decided to take a risk on this movie about a boy and his alien buddy. He signed a deal with Universal to spend $1 million promoting "E.T." in return for the right to use the "E.T." name and characters on its products [source: Brenner].

Released in 1982, "E.T." won four Oscars and remains the ninth highest-grossing film in U.S. box office history [source: Box Office Mojo]. Within two weeks of release, sales of Reese's Pieces had tripled; distributors scrambled to keep up with the flood of demand [source: Brenner]. Hershey's bet proved to be an act of marketing genius and left Mars executives crying in their M&Ms.