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.
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.
Stranger Things' plot concerns a mother who learns to communicate with her missing son in a very unconventional, paranormal fashion, and that is very similar to Poltergeist's ghosts communicating via television static with that film's character of the young daughter.
This was another interesting homage I didn't place at first, although I thought something was there right under my radar. Stranger Things has a police chief named Hopper, who's a former big-city cop who has taken a job out in the sticks. The truck he drives around in even resembled the one Chief Brody drove in Jaws.
3. The Evil Dead
There are a couple of exterior shots of Joyce Byer's home that are obvious references to the super-creepy cabin in Sam Raimi's epic film about undead horrors, and her eldest son even has the movie poster prominently displayed on his wall.
2. The Thing (and a Whole Lot of John Carpenter Stuff)
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Another movie poster featured on a wall is that of John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing. That film might be one of the best horror movies of the 1980s, and it's a clever tip of the hat to a master of the genre. There are other threads running through Stranger Things that seem to suggest Carpenter's work. The music and opening credits look and sound as if they came straight out of one of his films, and there's even a fistfight in an alley that echoes one in 1988's They Live.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street
A large part of the plot revolves around El, and as the story develops, she is called to psychically enter a world occupied by a monster, and has to rely on people from the outside to bring her back to reality in time. This mirrors the plot of 1984's A Nightmare On Elm Street, in which Freddy Krueger kills teenagers in their dreams, and only waking them up in time will save them. It's another subtle detail that helps craft the world of Stranger Things.