The Mandatory Guide To Every Movie Referenced In ‘Stranger Things’ By The Duffer Brothers
Stranger Things is a perfect blend of every adventure movie we loved as kids, except in the Duffer Brothers’ version of suburban growing pains, imminent interdimensional evil lurks around every corner. And then around that corner lies a never-ending onslaught of sinister Russian scientists, psychotic mullet-donning bullies, and slobber-drenched dog demons. The Duffer Brothers have openly discussed how their filmmaking heroes contributed to their mega-hit of a TV show, and the list of creative inspiration is as long and distinguished as it is creepy. So, we decided to put together a complete list of the most obvious film references in Stranger Things for your enjoyment!
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The 'Indiana Jones' Franchise
Stranger Things' brooding, hard-punching, Tommy Bahama shirt-wearing, lovable cop, Hopper, is based largely on Indy's character. His big heart can be overshadowed by his arrogance and tough-guy persona. But, in reality, Hopper is a teddy bear. The Indiana Jones franchise is also referenced when Max takes control of her brother's car, driving crazily through Hawkins with a block of wood strapped to her feet so she can reach the pedals -- just like Temple of Doom's fun sidekick character, Short Round.
The 'Mad Max' Franchise
The aforementioned scene where Max stole a car and drove like a bat out of hell through the streets of Hawkins reminded us of Mel Gibson in Mad Max. And of course, her character's name is Max.
'Nightmare On Elm Street'
Remember when Freddy Kruger pressed his face and hands through a wall, bending the wall as if it were made of plastic? Well, in Stranger Things, there's a carbon copy of that scene between Holly and a scary Demogorgon.
'Alien' and 'Aliens'
It's obvious that the Demogorgons are all some form of the alien from Alien, starring Sigourney Weaver, while the underground tunnels and Demogorgon eggs are the spitting image of the Alien tunnels and eggs. The actual writer of Alien, Dan O'Bannon, is even mentioned in a TV newscast that Hopper watches in the police station.
Now it's true, we've yet to see anyone slide through a hallway in just their tighty-whities singing Bob Seger, but in the Halloween episode, Steve and Nancy are actually dressed up as Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay's characters from the movie.
Eleven is like Carrie White -- a young, quiet girl with amazingly secret telekinetic abilities who unleashes hell on her enemies when necessary for her survival. Surely we'll see a prom scene in a future season of Stranger Things.
If you're unfamiliar with Scanners, you're truly missing out on a gruesome and ridiculous horror/sci-fi classic. A telepathic man helps a scientist hunt other people with similar powers, eventually turning into a head-exploding blood bath. In Stranger Things, Eleven melts soldiers' minds in the lab until they bleed out of their eyeballs and collapse. It's not quite a head explosion, but it's pretty effective....and gross.
'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'
An absolute classic in the sci-fi film genre, this film set the stage for hundreds of films and TV shows after it. Stranger Things uses several filming techniques and general imagery concepts from Spielberg's film. Dustin's toys come alive on their own in season three and drive/walk themselves down his hallway, very similar to several telekinetic scenes in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Also, the town of Hawkins is set in Indiana, the same state in which Close Encounters takes place.
'Stand By Me'
Stand By Me is a Steven Spielberg film adapted from a Stephen King novella. It's about a group of friends going on an adventure, getting into mischief, and almost dying along the way. Sound familiar? Any time you have a group of kids walking down a railroad track, humming and singing songs together, it screams Spielberg and King.
A giant, psychotic, killer dog chases people down and drools all over every square inch of earth along the way. Demogorgons and Cujo share these character traits, although Cujo is a tad bit cuter.
'Empire Strikes Back'
Without a doubt, Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film ever made, so why wouldn't you steal a bit from it? The Force is very similar to Eleven's powers and abilities, especially as seen in season two when Eleven moves an entire train car with her mind, just like Luke Skywalker lifting his X-Wing out of the swamp while training with Yoda. The boys in Stranger Things are all Star Wars fans and mention the films several times in the dialogue. The absolute best moment comes when Dustin calls Lucas "Lando Calrissian," in reference to being a traitor.
Yet another classic Spielberg film reference, the opening scene in the pilot episode of Stranger Things is an homage to the pizza and Dungeons and Dragons scene in E.T. Suburban kids in a normal setting who experience something extraordinary is the basic theme throughout both E.T. and Stranger Things. An even more on-the-nose reference is when the kids dress Eleven in a pretty dress in order to make her look like a normal girl -- exactly like E.T., minus the flower hat.
Again, a Spielberg-driven reference from a J.J. Abrams film about a group of kids who are thrown into an unbelievably, out-of-this-world scenario. In season two of Stranger Things, the scene where the kids are being attacked by the Demogorgons while hiding in a school bus is almost an identical scene in Super 8.
'Escape From New York'
John Carpenter has directed classics in the sci-fi and horror genres for over 40 years. He's the king of suspenseful, on-the-edge-of-your-seat, creepy music scene that builds perfectly towards a scream-out-loud climax. In Stranger Things, the Duffer brothers used Carpenter's music from Escape From New York in several episodes to build the tension to a maximum level of scary.
The main character in Firestarter is insanely close to Eleven's character: a young girl with extraordinary telekinetic powers, on the run from the government, while dealing with real life issues and the general balance of good versus evil. Eleven's nosebleeds that occur from using her abilities is a direct reference to the character in Firestarter.
The original IT, another Stephen King film, portrays the frightening overlap of an interdimensional evil with a relatively peaceful small town. A group of young friends work together to fight the evil and save the town, while all the neighboring adults somehow ignore the massive amounts of weird deaths and disappearances.
This classic Spielberg teen adventure tale is about a group of outcasts who save the day. Also, Sean Astin is in both Stranger Things and The Goonies. Ready to geek out a little? In season two of Stranger Things, Sean Astin's character refers to the map of Hawkins, and it almost feels like he's about to say "it's a map to one-eyed Willie's treasure."
In season three, we see an Arnold look-alike character who's basically the Terminator except he's Russian and not sent from the future. Maybe someday he'll even be the governor of California.
John Hughes Movies
In broad terms, Stranger Things is a scary version of an '80s teen movie. And no one did '80s teen movies better than John Hughes. Stranger Things exemplifies the concept that a group of outcasts can come together in harmony to overcome and achieve together, forming a lifelong friendship along the way.
This is where Hopper's character really comes to form. Similar to Jaws, Hopper is a small-town sheriff thrown into an unimaginable scenario of tremendous evil. He's the reluctant hero, but eventually becomes exactly what we need in a protagonist. Hopper's full-size '70s Ford Bronco is almost identical to Roy Scheider's SUV in Jaws, and the Demogorgons were conceptualized by the Duffer brothers with the giant shark in mind.
Gremlins is a perfect example of how a furry, cute, magical pet can have a massive dark side. The similarities to Dustin's pet Demogorgon, Dark, are spot on. As Dark gets older, he grows into a frightening evil dog capable of absolute terror.
Clearly Ghostbusters had a major influence on the kids in Stranger Things. They dress up in Ghostbusters costumes for Halloween and somehow all end up being Venkman, because Bill Murray is the king.
One of the most intense scenes in Jurassic Park is the kitchen scene when the kids are hiding from the raptors. It's the most thrilling, intense game of hide-and-seek in history. The Duffer brothers recreated their version of Jurassic Park in season two when the kids are stuck in the Hawkins lab and have to find a way to turn the power back on so they can somehow escape with their lives intact. The influence reappears again in season three when they're hiding from various types of evil beings and Demogorgons.