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'Stranger Things': 7 family-friendly movies that influenced Netflix's hit show
Drew Barrymore and the title character of "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982), one of the 1980s Steven Spielberg films that served as an inspiration for the Netflix hit show "Stranger Things." - photo by Jeff Peterson
To say that Stranger Things has a lot of 1980s pop culture references would be a massive understatement.

From the John Carpenter-esque synthesizer soundtrack to the glowing red font used for the title (which would look perfectly at home on pretty much any vintage Stephen King paperback), virtually every detail of Netflixs smash-hit sci-fi/horror series is dripping with nostalgic 80s references.

The fact that it doesnt collapse under the weight of all the movies, books, TV shows and comics that it pays homage to is, frankly, a major achievement in its own right.

And even more remarkable? The fact that although "Stranger Things" has been Frankenstein-ed together from so many sources, it is still somehow good enough to stand alongside the best of them.

With all nine episodes of Season 2 becoming available on Netflix this Friday, Oct. 27, just in time for Halloween, now might be the perfect opportunity to brush up on some of Stranger Things influences either before or after binging on the new season.

An exhaustive list of all the movies referenced in the first season alone would go on forever and include a lot of very R-rated fare stuff like The Thing, Scanners, It, Carrie, even Akira. To start out, though, here are a few key movies suitable for most ages that any Stranger Things fan has to know in order to fully appreciate the creepy world of Hawkins, Indiana and the Upside Down.

(Warning for anyone who hasnt watched Season 1: Potential spoilers abound.)

E.T.: The Extraterrestrial

Broad similarities between Stranger Things and E.T. arent hard to spot. Both feature stories of a nerdy kid befriending a strange, super-powered entity, moving her/it into his house (unbeknownst to said kids parents) and having to escape from sinister government agents dressed in Hazmat suits.

Beyond that basic premise, though, the first season of Stranger Things is jam-packed with tons of nods to Steven Spielbergs 1982 classic, including, for instance, Elevens blonde wig which, lets be honest, she wears a lot better than E.T. ever did and a scene in which she explores Mikes house while nobodys home that feels almost identical to a similar one in E.T.

And then, of course, theres the blatant product placement (Eggo Waffles vs. Reeses Pieces).

All of this culminates with a chase thats basically the inverse of the iconic bicycle scene in E.T. instead of jumping over the white van headed straight for Mike and the gang, Eleven uses her powers to flip the van over them.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

While Mike and Elevens story draws on one Steven Spielberg-directed alien movie, Joyces (Winona Ryder) search for her missing son is more influenced by Spielbergs earlier crack at extraterrestrials, 1977s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Specifically, the ways in which her obsession manifests i.e. stringing up Christmas lights all around her house and painting the alphabet on her wall like a giant Ouija board mirror Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and his mashed potato models of Devils Tower National Monument. Viewed from the outside, both characters cant help but seem crazy to everyone else until, that is, theyre suddenly the only ones who seem to know whats going on.

The Last Starfighter"

The plot of this 1984 cult movie about a video game junkie whos recruited to save an alien race thanks to his unparalleled gaming skills captures one of the ultimate geek fantasies: that all those hours spent on something everyone tells you is a waste of time will, someday, prove invaluable. The same idea pops up in Stranger Things. This time, it's Mike and his friends knowledge of pop culture touchstones like Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars, etc., that help them wrap their heads around and ultimately face off against the new threats that many of the adults in the series are unable to cope with.

Stand By Me

Although this list features a disproportionately high number of Spielberg movies, Stephen Kings influence on Stranger Things is equally pronounced. So much so that the author himself tweeted that watching the series was like watching Steve Kings Greatest Hits, and then adding, I mean that in a good way.

A coming-of-age story about four 12-year-olds hunting for the body of a missing boy in the woods near their homes, 1986s Stand By Me, based on Kings novella The Body, is just one clear source of inspiration from Kings vast bibliography:

One scene from Stranger Things, in particular, showing Eleven, Mike, Dustin and Lucas trekking along train tracks, is a clear visual reference to Stand By Me.

(Note: "Stand By Me" is rated R by the MPAA., however, lists it as suitable for ages 14 and above.)

The Goonies

Another movie about a group of kids on an adventure, this Spielberg-produced, Richard Donner-directed classic is another obvious source of inspiration, especially in the way the younger, nerdy kids in both movies have to team up with the older, cooler siblings to try to save their towns from destruction. Barb from Stranger Things is even a dead ringer (no pun intended) for Martha Plimptons Stef in Goonies.

And one more reason The Goonies is necessary viewing for Stranger Things fans is that its star, Sean Astin, is one of a few new cast members in Stranger Things Season 2.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Although this is one of the 80s staples that features the least in the Stranger Things universe, Mike and his friends are Star Wars fans, as any right-minded 80s kid would have been, and one important detail is brought up on multiple occasions. Namely, when Dustin suspects that Eleven might be withholding important information from the group, he calls her Lando geek shorthand for someone who has betrayed the trust of others, referencing Lando Calrissians betrayal of Han and Leia in Empire.

Of course, for anyone who had seen Return of the Jedi, which came out in 1983 (the same year in which Stranger Things is set), Lando does redeem himself, foreshadowing Elevens own character arc in a pretty clever way.


Yep, one more movie Spielberg had a hand in, this time as producer (and possibly, if some accounts are to be believed, as de facto director, too).

This 1982 horror classic, which began its life as an early draft for what would eventually become E.T., follows a family terrorized by ghosts after moving into a new house. The similarities to Stranger Things, however, become far more apparent in the third act when the spirits living in the house abduct the youngest daughter, sucking her into another dimension where a demon known as The Beast refuses to let her go, forcing her mother to go in after her.

Bonus: Ghostbusters

Ivan Reitmans horror-comedy masterpiece doesnt pop up anywhere in Stranger Things, season 1 for a very simple reason: In the world of the series, it hadnt been released yet. But it is going to feature in the second season, which takes place almost a year later in 1984 the same year Ghostbusters came out. So for anyone who hasnt already seen it, now is definitely a good time.
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