Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, or trapped in a pseudo-realm inside Winona Ryder’s living room wall, you’ve no doubt encountered the buzz surrounding Stranger Things, Netflix’s science fiction-cum-horror show that launched in July 2016.
Stranger Things’ writers, the Duffer Brothers, play on nostalgia, cribbing from the best films, shows, music and motifs from 1980s entertainment. So, from E.T. to Stand By Me, here’s a countdown of some of the iconic references you may have missed.
Read on to discover…
- Which two Spielberg blockbusters were originally intended as one film
- How video games influenced the aesthetic of The Upside Down
- What Joe Pesci has in common with a Demogorgon
1. E.T. (1982)
The Duffer Brothers’ original pitch to Netflix described Stranger Things as ‘dark Amblin’, a reference to Steven Spielberg’s production company. Amblin gave us E.T., so it should come as no surprise that Spielberg’s classic about a friendly alien visitor is all over Stranger Things like white on rice – which, fittingly, is an expression no one has used since the 1980s…
From kids on bikes being chased by faceless government drones to the character of Eleven discovering television and learning the basics of interaction, we’d be hard pushed to list all the E.T. references in the show here. But our favourite (pictured below) gives us a great opportunity to ask ‘who wore it best?’
2. Stephen King
Countless 1980s films feature young girls with telekinetic powers – and most of them were written by Stephen King. Although the psychokinetically-blessed Eleven in Stranger Things has more than a bit of Carrie about her, the show mostly pulls from the plot of Firestarter, King’s novel about a father and daughter with pyrokinetic abilities (that’s fancy arson to you and me) who are on the run from the government.
There’s also a screamingly obvious homage to Stand By Me as the gang journey along some train tracks. More subtly, there’s also a scene where a morgue worker can be seen reading Cujo, King’s novel about a rabid dog. Unsurprisingly, King was pleased as punch at being referenced – so overexcited, in fact, that his Tweet of delight didn’t even make grammatical sense…
3. Video Games
It’s not just films that inspired Stranger Things, or things from the ’80s in fact. When creating The Upside Down, the show’s nefarious parallel dimension, The Duffer Brothers drew heavily on video games. Silent Hill (a creepy alternate dimension that bleeds over into a small town) and The Last Of Us (did anyone else notice the floating spores?) provided inspiration for the aesthetic, proving once and for all that countless hours spent glued to the PlayStation can actually be a valuable investment in your future. Told you, Dad.
4. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Here’s a question: what would you rather have materialise from the walls in your house, Freddy Krueger or a Demogorgon? The answer is probably irrelevant, as no matter which visitor pokes its head through the plaster, you’ll inevitably end up booby-trapping your abode and trying to burn the bugger alive – just as Nancy did in Nightmare on Elm Street, and Nancy and Jonathan do in Stranger Things. Similar booby-trapping is also cunningly employed by Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone (1990), so if you’re ever attacked by a nightmarish monster or Joe Pesci, you now know what to do.
5. Poltergeist (1982)
Fun fact: did you know that E.T. and Poltergeist began as the same film? Steven Spielberg originally had a project called Night Skies in development, before deciding that two stories were better than one. Eventually the plots were split and movie history was made – along with twice as much money. Why is this relevant? Because Poltergeist fans may recognise the scene where a Hawkins Lab technician is sent into The Upside Down attached to a safety line as a direct reference to Diane’s exploration of the paranormal realm in the 1982 classic.
6. Alien (1979)
Having said that, Ridley Scott fans may recognise the scene where a Hawkins Lab technician is sent into The Upside Down attached to a safety line as a direct reference to John Hurt being lowered into the egg hatchery in Alien. Life lesson: don’t ever let anyone winch you anywhere.
7. The Goonies (1985)
What’s the deal with ’80s screen parents? They never seem to know what their kids are up to, whether it’s searching for treasure, hiding an alien in their bedroom or trying to rescue their possibly dead friend from a mythical Dungeons And Dragons creature. There are lots of parallels between The Goonies and Stranger Things, but the post-climax moment when Karen Wheeler navigates a sea of flashing lights to find Mike safely in the back of an ambulance is hugely reminiscent of the worried parents reunited with their kids at the end of Richard Donner’s iconic adventure.
Think you can name more? Watch this incredible video to find all the references in one place: