The ’80s Movie That Most Inspired Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’

Stranger Things - Netflix
Stranger Things | Netflix

The ’80s influenced Netflix series Stranger Things has become the surprise hit of the summer with its clever blend of horror, adventure, sci-fi, and a healthy dose of nostalgia. Created by twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, the pair is on record saying that ’80s films have heavily influenced the series.

The decade’s imprint is evident in everything from tone to visual homage. Here are 12 movies from the ’80s whose influence flows through the veins of Stranger Things.

12. Alien (1979) & 11. Aliens (1986)

Sigourney Weaver in Alien
Alien | 20th Century Fox

Okay, so Ridley Scott’s Alien missed out on the ’80s by one year, but you could also mention James Cameron’s action sequel, Aliens in the same breath when it comes to influence. The Duffer Brothers have consistently mentioned the Alien films and the work of H.R. Giger as key inspirations for the look of some of the Stranger Things‘ key elements. Whether it’s the production design of the portals to the Upside Down that resemble the interior of Alien‘s ship or the design of the monster itself, the DNA of Alien runs deep in the series.

“What we were trying to do with our monster is, first of all, we wanted it to be a dude in a suit, which limits you but in a good way,” Ross Duffer told The Daily Beast. “We wanted it to have a simplicity to it.”

Scott has mentioned throughout the years that the limitation of having a person in a suit playing the alien meant he was forced to find creative ways to shoot it in order maintain tension and not reveal too much. In fact, one of the scenes cut from Alien — an infamous moment where the alien “crabwalks” — is a wonderful example of how silly the alien could have looked if it wasn’t shot in interesting ways.

10. The Thing (1982)

The Thing - 1982 - creature
The Thing | Universal Pictures

The Duffer Brothers have consistently pointed to John Carpenter as a director they looked to specifically when it came to practical monster effects. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the duo explained.

It has always been something of a lifelong dream to create a monster and bring it to life on-screen. Not in the computer, but for real. To build it. Like so many filmmakers our age and older, we grew up on genre films that existed before computer graphics. There was something about the effects being so tangible in those films that made them especially terrifying to us when we were kids. We’re specifically thinking about Ridley Scott’s Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. So from very early on we knew we wanted to build an animatronic monster.

And when it comes to practical, animatronic effects, there’s little doubt that The Thing represents some of the best of the best. But in the process of making Stranger Things, the Duffers also grew to appreciate the films they had grown up with. “But what we realized — and it really made us admire those guys who did The Thing and Alien and whatever — is that doing practical is really hard,” they told The Daily Beast.

9. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

A Nightmare On Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street | New Line Cinema

The image above from A Nightmare on Elm Street bears striking similarities to the silhouette of the Stranger Things‘ monster in the scenes in which hands reach through an elastic-like wall. Based on this and other similarities, A Nightmare on Elm Street definitely seems to have been utilized stylistically for the series. And don’t forget the scene in which Nancy and Jonathan attempt to lure the inter-dimensional monster to a booby-trapped house — or the entire idea of an altered, dream-like world for that matter.

8. The Goonies (1985)

The Goonies
The Goonies | Warner Bros.

It’s impossible not to see the similarities between The Goonies and Stranger Things. Not only does the film revolve around a group of young kids going on an adventure together, but it also involves contrasting age groups that give audiences insight into very different social situations. Additionally, Stranger Things‘ Barb appears to be styled directly after The Goonies Stef down to the specific glasses.

7. Akira (1988)

Akira | Toho

The landmark Japanese animated film Akira, was clearly on the radar when it came to Eleven and her psychic powers. Like Eleven, Akira‘s Tetsuo possesses powerful psychic powers that make him the target of government officials hell-bent on either controlling him or killing him. The scene when Tetsuo escapes from the hospital looks very visually similar to a scene in Stranger Things when Eleven kills two guards with her powers — except for the fact that Akira is way bloodier.

6. Scanners (1981)

Scanners | Avco-Embassy Pictures

Another ’80s classic that deals with telekinetic powers, David Cronenberg’s Scanners tells the story of a renegade scanner — the name given to those with telepathic and telekinetic powers — who wages war against a company looking to weaponize people with his abilities. Besides the fact that Stranger Things‘ Eleven is similarly pursued by agents attempting to use her powers, many shots of her using her abilities appear influenced by similar scenes in Scanners.

5. Firestarter (1984)

Drew Barrymore
Firestarter | Universal Pictures

Firestarter, based on a Stephen King novel of the same name, might actually be the most direct homage at play in Stranger Things. The book and film revolves around a young girl named Charlie who develops pyrokinesis leading a secret government agency to control her — oh, and her father who also possesses the ability gets nosebleeds when he uses the power.

4. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)

Eliot Throws the Ball Back Instead of Running for Some Reason
E.T. the Extra Terrestrial | Universal Pictures

This one goes without saying. Kids, bikes, dark sheds, shadowy government agencies — E.T. the Extra Terrestrial is clearly at the epicenter of everything that Stranger Things aspires to be. But the Duffer Brothers have also spoken at length about trying to go beyond Spielberg’s classic film, specifically when it comes to tone.

“Really dark Amblin [the production company behind E.T.] was our original pitch. We wanted to push things further than say E.T., so it didn’t feel completely safe,” Matt told Variety in response to Stranger Things’ violence. “I think it’s also the Stephen King thing, he doesn’t mind killing people. He has children die. It’s important to us that even though it’s a show with four kids in lead roles that it wasn’t a show designed specifically for kids.”

3. Stand by Me (1986)

Stand by Me
Stand by Me | Columbia Pictures

If it’s not clear enough how much of Stand by Me flows through Stranger Things, how about this: Producers used scenes from the film to cast the series’ young actors. “We just had the pilot script and we had so little material that we were actually having them audition with scenes from Stand by Me,” Matt told The Daily Beast. “And then we found four kids that we just fell in love with. Some of them matched the characters in the script and some of them didn’t, really.”

Aside from the obvious parallels of a group of children facing a harsh world, the Duffer Brothers also mention danger as an essential part of Stranger Things derived from Stand by Me. “When you’re looking back at Stand by Me, the stakes feel very real,” he said, before adding, “the kids never feel completely safe, even though there is an element of fun and you love those boys.”

2. Red Dawn (1984)

Red Dawn
Red Dawn | MGM/UA Entertainment Co.

Stranger Things‘ ’80s-inspired sense of nostalgia got the bulk of attention when it comes to style, but one of the main reasons for the film’s 1983-setting is so that it can align with the reawakening of Cold War tensions in the early ’80s. With the Soviet Union and the Cold War looming in the background of Stranger Things, chances are good that John Milius’s Red Dawn came into play on the drawing board.

The film revolves around the scenario that the Soviet Union invades the United States, leading a group of high school friends to resist occupation using guerrilla warfare.

1. Poltergeist (1982)

Poltergeist | MGM/UA Entertainment Co.

Poltergeist is not only directly mentioned in Stranger Things’ first episode, but there are also clear parallels in the content of the series itself. The most visible homage is when the government agency attaches a steel cable to someone going into the Upside Down. This bears similarities to a scene in Poltergeist, in which the mother uses a rope to enter a ghostly portal to get her daughter back.

Additionally, the scenes in Stranger Things where you can hear Will’s staticky voice through the wall are extremely similar to the Poltergeist scene where the daughter speaks through a staticky television.

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