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Barrymore recounted in her 1991 autobiography, Little Girl Lost, early memories of her abusive father, who left the family when Barrymore was six months old.
After her film debut with a small role in Altered States (1980), she played Gertie in E. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), directed by Steven Spielberg.
He felt that she had the right imagination for her role after she impressed him with a story that she led a punk rock band.
The film received positive reviews and Barrymore was nominated for a Young Artist Award for Best Leading Young Actress.
She starred alongside Jeff Bridges and Alice Krige in the 1989 romantic comedy See You in the Morning.