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12 movies that inspired Stranger Things (and where to watch them)
Stranger Things on Netflix is full of references to classic movies, which means there are tons of movies like Stranger Things to check out if you’re a fan of the show. Now that we’ve reached the final season of the popular streaming series, let’s go back and look at some of the movies that inspired Stranger Things.
Stranger Things, created by the Duffer Brothers, sees a group of kids in small-town Indiana fighting demonic forces of evil in the nostalgia-tinged 1980s. One of the youngsters has mysterious powers and fights baddies to protect her friends while evading shadowy government agents. Be warned that you’ll encounter a whole lot of Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, as is only fair when dealing with Stranger Things references.
So, read on for our list of some of the best movies that inspired Stranger Things. And if you haven’t watched it yet, you can check out the Netflix show by hitting the link below.
Movies like Stranger Things
Firestarter is among the most often cited movies like Stranger Things, mainly due to parallels with Eleven and the U.S. government in the Netflix show. A couple who submitted to mysterious experiments find that their daughter has developed the ability to start fires with her mind. Now, they have to deal with the danger she poses while protecting her from an agency known as The Shop. You can currently watch the 2022 remake on Peacock.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
One of the most obvious blueprints for Stranger Things, E.T. sees a bunch of midwestern kids playing Dungeons & Dragons, riding their bikes, and evading government baddies to protect their friend, an alien accidentally left behind on Earth and in need of help getting home. This Steven Spielberg classic, streaming on Peacock, includes iconic scenes overtly recreated within season 1 of Stranger Things.
The Thing (1982)
Paranoia runs deep in Stranger Things. So do nasty monsters and other big bads. That makes it a great fit with John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece The Thing, not to mention Will’s The Thing poster featured onscreen. In Antarctica, a group of scientists is terrorized by an alien life form that can assume the form of different living organisms, meaning it could be anywhere — and look like anyone — in this sci-fi horror classic.
See also: The best movies on Peacock
A haunted house landmark from director Tobe Hooper and producer Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist has its fingerprints all over Stranger Things. The Freeling family is terrorized by a mysterious spirit in their home. While the first signs of the supernatural are benign and even playful, the events become increasingly sinister until the Freelings’ youngest daughter goes missing and they have to find out what the poltergeist has done with her.
The 1990 miniseries adapted from Stephen King’s best-seller includes a child who disappears and a group of kids looking for answers as they face off against a supernatural foe in their midwestern town. It offers some pretty straightforward parallels to Stranger Things. The 2017 adaptation of also It brings us full circle, making the references go both ways by casting Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard as one of the main kids, a year after the first season of Stranger Things.
Jaws may seem like an odd inclusion among movies like Stranger Things, but the series does draw from Spielberg’s classic shark film a fair bit. The Duffer Brothers have said they drew inspiration from the shark in how they depicted the Demogorgon in season 1. And Mayor Larry Kline in Stranger Things 3 bears some similarities to Amityville Mayor Larry Vaughn. One of the most rewarding parallels is in the depiction of an overworked Sherrif who wants what’s best and keeps butting up against higher-ups with ulterior motives. Hopper is, in many ways, a classic hero like Jaws’ Martin Brody, though a little rougher around the edges.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind, besides being among Steven Spielberg’s best films, is a frequently-cited inspiration for Stranger Things. A group of people are determined to investigate UFOs when they become convinced that intelligent life exists in the universe, and it may have come to Earth. Will’s visions of the Mind-Flayer in Stranger Things season 2 draw on iconic imagery from the film, and the recurring tropes of parents and adults behaving strangely as they obsess over the supernatural has links to Richard Dreyfus’s Roy Neary, determined to make contact at any cost.
The Goonies (1985)
The quintessential nerdy-boys-on-an-adventure film of the 80s, The Goonies is a pretty obvious choice here. A group of kids desperate to stop developers from destroying their neighborhood find a pirate treasure map. Determined to find the loot, they make their way through an underground cavern, facing deadly foes and obstacles on the way.
Stand By Me (1986)
The friendships at the heart of Stranger Things also echo those featured in Stand By Me, another movie like Stranger Things based on a Stephen King novel. Four friends embark on an adventure that will change their lives and the nature of their friendships forever. Hearing about a body near railroad tracks in 1950s Oregon, the boys head out, hoping to catch a glimpse.
In Stranger Things 2, the boys dress up as Ghostbusters for Halloween. It’s a natural choice for 80s nerds, but it also reflects a lot of the show’s themes and tone. Namely, Stranger Things draws on the blend of comedy and supernatural horror that drives Ghostbusters. In New York, out-of-work scientists decide to become Ghostbusters, fighting paranormal forces for a fee and stopping an apocalyptic event in the city, becoming heroes in the process.
The Shining (1980)
The Shining is a movie that clearly inspired Stranger Things on a few levels. Eleven’s journey grappling with her abilities can be traced back at least partially to Danny Torrance and his “Shining” abilities. We also see Joyce Byers seemingly losing her mind as she searches for Will in season 1, taking an axe to her home, much as Jack Torrance does while attacking his family. Stranger Things subverts The Shining’s exploration of the horrors of a spouse or parent turning violent by showing us that Joyce is acting to protect her family, but the imagery adds a haunting disconnect that links back to Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant 1980 film.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
A Nightmare on Elm Street and its iconic killer Freddie Krueger must have inspired the Duffer Brothers in some ways. Why else would they cast Krueger actor Robert Englund as a similarly haunted figure blamed for murders years ago? There are some major differences, of course, but A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels explore the stories of kids trying to defeat a monster, Krueger, who kills them in their dreams, where they’re most vulnerable. The youth-centric horror is perfectly in line with Stranger Things.
Those are just some of the movies that inspired Stranger Things, if you’d like to go back and check out the references behind some of the series’ most memorable plotlines and images. There’s a long way to go before Stranger Things 5 hits your screen, so you’ve got plenty of time to watch!
What are your favorite movies like Stranger Things? Did we miss any you’d like to see on the list? Let us know in the comments.