Stranger Things success lies on its ability to connect with a range of generations through many references to beloved movies from the seventies to our present day. Which have you spotted?
In this Golden Age of TV, we know that many wonderful series are being created only to be stopped after a first season. It doesn't matter if they've amassed a faithful following, in this cut throat world of streaming if you don't captivate millions then you're taken to the block and axed. Watching series has become like a romantic relationship, you start hesitant with the first few episodes, then as time progresses, you become invested only to arrive home one day and realize that the series is no longer there. No explanation, no closure, just silence, I feel it's the worst kind of ghosting.
But one of the series I am faithful to and I know will endure for some time is Netflix' Stranger Things. It is a well loved series because of its plot, special effects, and most importantly its references to cult classics that people have loved for many years. So, you may have picked up a few of the references along the way as you watched the series unfold, but a few treasures may have escaped your notice, so here are my favorites.
Alien (1979) Dir. Ridley Scott
The Alien movies are pillars of science fiction cinema and are an inspiration for many productions, so it isn't far-fetched that Stranger Things isn’t the exception. The most important reference is the Demogorgon, the monster that terrorizes the small town of Hawkins, where the story takes place. Both creatures share similar features and it is a great wink to Ridley Scott's fantasy world.
Ghostbusters (1984) Dir. Ivan Reitman
This is probably the obvious reference, since the kids actually wear the iconic Ghostbusters’ suit and sing the movie's song while riding their bikes. However, there’s a bit more than that. To start with, there are some hidden Easter eggs in the setting of the series, like the “Ghostbusters Certificate of Anti-Paranormal Proficiency” hanging on Dustin’s bedroom wall. Besides that, there’s a scene where he’s approaching the trash can where Dart (a strange pet he later adopts) is hiding. This is basically an homage to the scene where one of the characters approaches the iconic and gooey Slimer. Finally, there’s a point where Lucas pronounces one of the most famous lines of the movie, “It’s judgment day.”
The Goonies (1985) Dir. Richard Donner
One thing i've learnt from kid gang movies is that they're smarter and better at solving issues than adults. Basically, the Stranger Things group was inspired by these movies, especially The Goonies. The group's patterns and even some of its characters mirror this iconic movie. The difference would be that in the 1985 film, the kids are looking for a treasure, while here they’re basically looking for their missing friend, which makes it a bit gloomier and darker. Much better in my opinion.
The Exorcist (1973) Dir. William Friedkin
I’m trying very hard not to spoil anything, so bear with me and honestly I’m not actually giving away too much of the plot. When season one ended, we discovered that after being rescued Will seems to have a secret connection with the monster. In season 2, we finally find out what links them by connecting the dots between the horror film, The Exorcist and Will's story.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Dir. Wes Craven
One of the references to this movie most people talk about is the scene where a creature behind the wall at Joyce’s house starts moving, making the wall look strange. This is clearly a wink to the classic horror film where we see Krueger trying to reach his next victim. Now, this isn’t the only reference we can spot in the series. According to the creators, the Demogorgon was inspired by two creatures from horror classic cinema: the Boogeyman, and Freddy Krueger himself. The Demogorgon lurks and stalks its victims in a very similar way.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Dir. Steven Spielberg
To start with, in both stories we have a parent that’s experienced supernatural things and needs help from others and they simply look delusional or crazy in the eyes of the community. Now, the scene you can see above belongs to the first episode of the series, and it mimics Spielberg's iconic scene . Just like Will opening the door and encountering a rare red sky, in the movie little Barry Guiler poses exactly like Will, looking at an orange apocalyptic sky that reveals the alien premonition is true.
Star Wars Saga (1980) Dir. George Lucas
Not only the series is filled with visual references to the saga in terms of sets and props (there are posters, little figurines, and allusions to other main characters), but it also has some of its plot within, mostly seen in Eleven’s character. Her powers remind us of the Force and she could well be a young version of Luke Skywalker. She’s somehow learning how to use the force, and even when tempted by the dark, she decides to use it to save the people she cares about.
ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) Dir. Steven Spielberg
Perhaps all the references to E.T. are the ones that the spectators loved the most and the one that appear more often. There’s a clear connection between Eleven and the cute alien, but the most evident connection is when the kids disguise the alien so the adults won't find out, ring a bell?
Firestarter (1984) Dir. Mark L. Lester
When Stephen King watched the series, he posted his comments on Twitter and fans got their hearts melted. He mentioned that watching it was like, “watching Steve King's Greatest Hits. I mean that in a good way.” Now, there’s evidently way too many references to the Master of Horror’s stories, but this one was essential to the development of Eleven's character (well, some claim also Carrie was an inspiration). The film tells the story of a couple that after being injected with a drug develop telekinetic powers. They have a child who inherits the trait. Now, Eleven’s character takes after the girl and the father, who also bleeds after using his powers. The connection is evident, even the colors and wardrobes are very similar.
Some may roll their eyes and say that the series lacks originality and it is taking advantage of the creativity of others. But I feel that each reference is perfectly crafted to give a new angle to the story. This technique has been used by others, like Tarantino, and I believe Stranger Things isn’t the exception. All of them nurture the plot and make it even more approachable for the audience.
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