So, you’ve consumed Stranger Things entirely too quickly. And now you have no idea how you’re going to wait until season 4 comes out. Well, fortunately, the show was inspired by countless movies that can help quench your thirst a bit. If you’ve seen them already, then you know perfectly well they’re just what you need. If you haven’t, then it’s absolutely time to soak in the real deal, and not just settle for a reverent homage! These selections were alluded to, or influential to, Stranger Things. However, all references aside, they actually capture the essence of their decade and setting.
It, oddly enough, is actually a result of the tremendous success of Stranger Things. The story was updated to take place in 1989, opposing the source material to incorporate the current trend. It even borrowed Finn Wolfhard himself! This is one of many stories about suburban kids uncovering the mystery of an evil, invading force. Also, the kids have to deal with growing up, all the while. The film’s horror is tastefully executed, with the dreaded Pennywise being driven by a terrifying Bill Skarsgård. In fact, the performances are impressive all around. But if a supernatural clown wasn’t enough, every single adult in the film is icky or terrible. This movie also has modern production values, which doesn't hurt.
One of the most effective Stephen King adaptations ever put to film, director Brian De Palma spent a lot of his career paying homage to Alfred Hitchcock. As such, the movie develops its tension slowly and effectively, and is filled with the paranormal. It may not be from the 80’s, but it’s a Stephen King classic about a young girl with telekinetic powers. She has a troubled home life, and deals with a lot of high school drama, which eventually pushes her over the edge. There’s a lot of growing pains in this story, especially emphasized by that agonizing opening about Carrie’s first period. A bullied outcast, with an oppressive mother, it’s hard not to be sympathetic for her. As such, it’s both rewarding and difficult to watch her snap.
This movie is an absolute breeze to watch, with a runtime that’s fitting for an homage to the Universal Monsters. One of the co-writers is Shane Black, who has developed a number of famously successful movies. Then there’s the director, Fred Dekker, who only has two other movies to his name. And yet, he once again blends comedy and horror into a children’s tale. A group of witty kids have to save their small town from the forces of Dracula and his cohorts. It sounds silly, and yes, it absolutely is. However, although the tone is cheesy, the monsters themselves are presented as genuinely scary things. This selection is perfect for Halloween, and certainly for Stranger Things fans.
This is a movie that wasn’t actually popular when it came out, but has garnered complete reverence since. In Stranger Things, it was referenced at a theater before season 3, but now it couldn’t be more blatant. The Russian villain that’s after Hopper and Joyce not only has a similar build and appearance, but is even depicted like Arnold’s T-800. There’s always a reason to revisit the original Terminator film, which has great performances and Stan Winston’s fantastic special effects. The movie is full of 80’s culture like neon, big hair, and terribly dated synth music. The evil Model 101 is actually treated as a serial killer throughout the film, and the relationship between Reese and Sarah is genuinely touching. So, the combination of horror, action and romance makes it a great selection after viewing Stranger Things.
Another reference from season 3, it just doesn’t get more 80’s than this movie. It’s steeped in dated vernacular, hilarious attire, and nostalgia for the 50’s. Easily one of the best films ever made, it starts off rather slow, before you realize that so much of what you’ve just seen is crucial because of time travel. With the incredible Michael J. Fox, then known for Family Ties, an everyday kid ends up threatening his entire family’s existence after going back in time. All thanks to an odd, unexplained friendship with an old, manic scientist. Who makes a time machine out of a DeLorean, by stealing plutonium from Libyans. Does any of this sound plausible? No. Is it entertaining? Beyond compare.
If you go into this movie expecting to be scared, you probably won't leave satisfied these days. Even at the time of Poltergeist's release, there had already been films like The Exorcist and The Changeling that took paranormal oppression more seriously. This movie leans more towards fantasy, and involves a suburban family that discovers a portal between realms in their house. This doorway between dimensions causes a number of disturbing occurrences, namely the vision of a melting face. So, there’s no denying that the premise had a large effect on Stranger Things. It’s been contested that Spielberg may have directed it himself, rather than Tobe Hooper. That says a lot about how perfect this movie is for you Hawkins fans.
This is a unique story all around, mixing in elements of horror, comedy and even Christmas. Although, it was written by Chris Columbus himself, who would go on to helm Home Alone. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, this strange movie fills one more small town with an unnatural, invasive force. A teenage kid gets a weird little creature for a Christmas present, who later spawns a group of vicious counterparts. Gizmo is very much like Dustin’s pet, in season 2. This movie is over-the-top, cheesy, and bizarre—all the necessary staples of the decade. At times, it’s genuinely endearing, needlessly sad, and a lot of fun. Keep coming back for the mom’s initial showdown with those pesky gremlins.
This is the first of two movies that comes immediately to mind when watching Stranger Things for the first time. And it took them three seasons to finally directly reference it, as a poster outside the video store. Firestarter is the story of a little girl who can cause fires with her mind. Also, a clandestine laboratory is chasing her down because of those abilities, for nefarious reasons. Drew Barrymore is fun, and it has T.J. Hooker’s Heather Locklear. The effects could use some work, and the cinematography is literally nonexistent. However, it’s conceptually robust, keeping you intrigued about the end. And the villain has a questionable, disturbing interest in Barrymore’s protagonist. It really makes you want to see him get his comeuppance.
This is probably one of the most famous movies of all time, although Spielberg is known for making movies like that. It’s very likely that he’s made something definitive for all of our childhoods, at one point or another. But in a time when he pumped out an entire trilogy of Indiana Jones classics, there’s no omitting this obvious selection. A broken family discovers a supernatural presence, with the government hot on its heels. E.T. helps to heal a damaged home life, as the kids alone uncover the mystery of his powers and goals. Yet again set in suburbia, the movie is filled with that playful Spielberg charm which Stranger Things has borrowed often. This is essential viewing for any human being, let alone a Stranger Things fan.
It’s time to reference Stephen King again. Truly, what is Stranger Things without his influence? Stand By Me is one of the most engaging, emotional coming-of-age stories ever told. It boasts an all-star cast, who play another set of kids in a small town. This time, the savvy group discovers a murdered corpse, and they go about investigating the truth. It’s an incredible adventure, and they frequently have to contend with a frightening bully. That may seem like a trope, but we all know that’s just reality. There’s always a bully. The framing device is also very touching, with Richard Dreyfuss reflecting on his childhood. This movie has pure nostalgia for a different era—but it’s still a perfect fit because of its themes and tone.