Random Ephemera

10 Sources of Inspiration for Stranger Things

Netflix has a hit with Stranger Things, a nostalgic homage to the '80s that seems to have won over legions of fans in a short eight-episode first season. It's almost impossible to look at the show without being warmly reminded of the sources its writers drew inspiration from. It has me dusting off old "Dungeons and Dragons" materials, and thinking back to my early adolescence. This trip back to the early '80s also had me making a mental list of the books and movies that Stranger Things borrowed from so well. Here are ten of those that still hold up.

10. John Hughes Films

A lot of the appeal of Stranger Things is in the strong cast of young actors involved. It's rare to see adolescent characters played so well, and in this show there are two sets; the nerdy trio of boys, El, and their missing friend Will are all convincing, seemingly straight out of a decades-old Spielberg film. The older teen characters are also played by a talented group of young actors and actresses, but the tone is slightly different with them...They feel like escapees from a rather grim John Hughes movie. Nancy seems inspired by the type of teenage girl protagonist that Hughes featured in films like Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles: the not-so-cool girl who has a shot with the in crowd before figuring out that it's not all that great. Her best friend, Barb, is a standout as the loyal friend who doesn't mind being awkward as long as she's not left behind. Those were the types of characters that Hughes excelled at creating, and there's a whole bunch of his influence on the teen characters in Stranger Things.

9. E.T. The Extraterrestrial

The character "11," or "El" for short, is beautifully played by Millie Bobby Brown, and there are a lot of layers to her performance. The character draws a lot of inspiration from the alien featured in Spielberg's 1982 blockbuster E.T. The Extraterrestrial. After being found by the boys, she is hidden in the home of one them to avoid being discovered by the evil government agency that's after her. There are a ton of other nods to the film too; the very first episode begins with the boys playing D&D just as in E.T., and the shots of them riding their bikes through the woods look as if they could have been taken straight from the film.

8. Firestarter

Stephen King's 1980 book Firestarter also is a huge inspiration for Stranger Things. The tale, about a young girl with powerful pyrotechnic psychic powers being used by a shadowy government agency that wishes to weaponize her superhuman abilities, closely resembles much of the Netflix series' story line.

7. The Body/Stand By Me

Stephen King's novella The Body was published in 1982, before being made into a film adaptation called Stand By Me in 1986. The story, about four childhood friends who embark on a quest to find the body of a dead boy, has certain similarities to the quest of the boys in Stranger Things who are searching for their missing friend.

6. The Goonies

I think any fan of 1985's The Goonies would find familiar story elements in Stranger Things. Both involve groups of kids who are pursuing adventures without many adults figuring out anything is afoot. The Goonies is much lighter in tone, but both it and Stranger Things tap into a reality of childhood that all kids instinctively know but adults seem to forget — that there's a lot more going on in the lives of kids than their parents will probably ever find out about.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.