‘Stranger Things:’ 11 TV Shows, Games, and Movies That Influenced the Netflix Show

in Television

Stranger Things characters looking into the Upside Down

Credit: Netflix

Stranger Things is one of Netflix’s most defining shows, a breakout hit the likes of which television rarely sees. The Duffer Brothers-created supernatural thriller made stars out of Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Noah Schnapp, Gaten Matarazzo, and Caleb McLaughlin and thrust Dungeons & Dragons into the forefront of pop culture for the first time in years.

However, Stranger Things is more than just throwing some 1980s-era roleplaying references over a creepy electronic score with a dash of Star Wars and the best performance from Winona Ryder in years.

Matt and Ross Duffer have been candid about the hodgepodge of influences that went into creating Stranger Things, and we’re here to round up 13 of them for you.

We’re sticking to television shows and movies because if we had to go into detail about how Vecna is an anagram for the surname of legendary science fiction and fantasy writer Jack Vance or how a Mind Flayer is actually called an Illithid, we’d be here all day.

‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’

A Nightmare on Elm Street featuring Freddy Krueger
Credit: New Line Cinema

According to the creators of Stranger Things, they pitched Netflix on the show by showing executives a vast selection of pop culture they felt was spiritually in line with their idea. Among those picks was A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), the Wes Craven horror film that made a generation too scared to sleep and even more terrified to dream.

A Nightmare on Elm Street kicked off a franchise that would eventually involve dream warriors, dream children, and even a crossover with Jason Voorhees. But, at heart, the concept is brutally simple: if teens in a particular neighborhood in the 1980s go to sleep, they will be murdered in their dreams by Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), a horrifyingly scarred monster who has survived death in order to continue murdering children.

The similarities between Stranger Things and the Wes Craven film are clear: both involve groups of children terrified by a largely unseen monster, both take place in small, idealized American towns that are seen to have darkness under the surface. When you start bringing the later elements of psychic abilities, it’s a direct line.

Plus, Robert Englund would go on to play Victor Creel, another disfigured man with a dark past, in Stranger Things season 4, so that’s neat.

Related: ‘Stranger Things’ Season 5 Won’t Release For Years, Report Say


Cover of Firestarter by Stephen King
Credit: Viking Press

The now-iconic typeface and logo of Stranger Things were directly inspired by the original cover of Stephen King’s 1980 novel Firestarter, but that’s not where the connections end.

Both the 1980 novel and the 1984 film adaptation of Firestarter starring Drew Barrymore involve a young girl who has been experimented on by a secret government agency, resulting in her developing terrifying psychic powers. After Charlie McGee and her father manage to escape the shadowy institute known as the Shop, they are both pursued by government agents, just like Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown).

While Charlie’s powers may be pyrokinetic and Eleven’s are more on the side of telepathy and psychokinesis, the two girls are cut from the same cloth.

In general, Stephen King’s horror work can be considered a primary influence on the show, but it is rarely quite so blatant as in Firestarter.


Hellraiser Cenobites
Credit: Entertainment Futures

Hellraiser is one of the more grotesque major horror franchises, which should make the connection to Stranger Things a little more tenuous.

However, Ross Duffer has specifically called Hellraiser (1987), an adaption of Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart, a huge influence on season 4 of the show. Specifically, the Duffer brother says that the horrific, mangled appearance of Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) emulates Pinhead (Doug Bradley), the otherworldly pain demon/angel.

To quote: “Hellraiser is a big one,” Ross said. “Pinhead really freaked us out when we were younger. We really want to imbue Vecna with some Pinhead vibes.”

Considering that Hellraiser was a pretty controversial movie in its day for including interdimensional creatures who have passed beyond human concepts of pain and pleasure but still have some heavy BDSM vibes, it’s impressive that Stranger Things managed to get that on the show.

‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Credit: Universal Pictures

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), directed by Steven Spielberg, stood as the highest-grossing movie of all time for over a decade, enchanting audiences with its combination of heartfelt sentimentality and groundbreaking special effects.

The reign of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial as box-office champ was broken by Jurassic Park (1993), a different Steven Spielberg movie with groundbreaking special effects, but its cultural influence is arguably still stronger than the one about dinosaur theme parks.

The idea of a group of suburban children trying to hide a creature with mysterious powers from both the government and their parents had to come from somewhere, and Eleven can thank Elliot (Henry Thomas) and his buddies that the Duffer Brothers picked it up.

Related: Steven Spielberg Made Sure Drew Barrymore Thought E.T. Was Real

‘Stand by Me’

Stand by Me featuring Jerry O' Connell, Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, and Corey Feldman
Credit: Columbia Pictures

And we’re back at Stephen King again! Don’t worry, it won’t be the last time.

Stand by Me (1984), directed by Rob Reiner and adapted from the Stephen King novella The Body, has that key Stranger Things element: a group of children in a past decade struggling with a world that ignores them at best and more often brutalizes them.

Unlike many entries on this list, Stand by Me has no supernatural element to connect it to Stranger Things, but the creators of the show felt so strongly that its tone matched that they had child actors like Finn Wolfhard and Gaten Matarazzo use lines from the movie to audition. Clearly, they nailed it.


Jaws featuring a shark
Credit: Universal Pictures

Steven Spielberg’s theatrical feature debut, Jaws (1975), concerns a small town terrorized by a largely unseen, inhuman creature who emerges from the darkness to drag its prey away. If the Demogorgon were any animal, it would 100% be a Great White Shark.

But even more than the thematic connection, Stranger Things and Jaws are united by the two lawmen trying to keep things together and mostly failing. Chief of Police Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is frequently seen in the show in poses and scenes that deliberately mirror those of Chief of Police Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), presenting Hopper as a spiritual heir to the exhausted lawman out of his depth.

Stranger Things season 3 even makes it clearer: at one point, Hopper drunkenly walks out of a restaurant quoting Brody, saying, “I’m the Chief of Police, I can do anything.”

‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’

Close Encounters of the Third Kind featuring a group of people.
Credit: Columbia Pictures

Steven Spielberg, reporting for Stranger Things inspiration duty. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) follows a group of people obsessed with strange, light-filled phenomena that turn out to be benevolent aliens. None more closely than Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a man who alienates everyone around him with his need to figure out what is happening around him, which can be considered thematically similar to Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder).

Even more explicitly, Stranger Things season 2 echoes an iconic Close Encounters scene in which a young child opens a door to a swarm of brilliant lights. This time, it’s Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), who should know better than to open the door to otherworldly forces. These alien forces aren’t so benevolent.


Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano in Prisoners
Credit: Warner Bros

Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners (2013) is widely considered one of the bleakest and most depressing movies of all time, and for good reason.

The plot of the movie follows Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), a family man whose daughter is abducted and will stop at no desperate act in order to find her. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrests a mentally disabled man (Paul Dano), and things only get worse from there.

While most people would not see a movie about child abuse, torture, and mistaken revenge and think “mega-popular adventure show,” most people are not the Duffer Brothers. According to Ross Duffer, “It was great seeing those characters in that tone on the big screen, but we thought it needed more… It was taking that idea of a missing child and combining it with the more childlike sensibilities that we have. You know, can we put a monster in there that eats people? Because we are nerds and children-at-heart, we thought it was the best thing ever.”

Wow, guys.

Related: Fan-Favorite Actor Reportedly Replacing Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in ‘Deadpool 3’


Still frame from Akira, Stranger Things
Credit: Tokyo Movie Shinsha

Akira (1988), Katsuhiro Otomo’s adaptation of his own 1982 manga, is one of the greatest anime films of all time, bar none. It feels like a cheat to say that Stranger Things was influenced by it because it has basically permeated pop culture like few other stories ever have

Like Firestarter, Akira involves a youth with psychic abilities experimented on by a secret government facility. In this case, it is a disaffected teenage member of a Japanese motorcycle gang named Tetsuo, but the principle is still there. While the storyline of Akira may deal with a futuristic Neo-Tokyo and global concerns, there is no doubt that the Duffer Brothers were thinking of Tetsuo’s psychic rage screams when Eleven unleashes her full power.

‘Silent Hill’

Silent Hill game freeze frame with a monster, Stranger Things
Credit: Konami

The Silent Hill series of Konami horror survival games have terrified gamers for years now with their unique fusion of eerie emptiness, horrific monsters, and enigmatic storytelling.

It is thus no surprise that Stranger Things took much of its visual representation of the Upside Down, the mysterious parallel dimension from which all horrors arise, from Silent Hill’s fog-hilled paranoia. Ross Duffer says, “Silent Hill is the one most people have picked up on… Because that’s the least subtle one, with the look of the Upside Down and with all the fog and the forest dripping. Obviously, we were really looking at that game for visualizing this other world, so that’s a big one.”


Tim Curry as Pennywise in IT, Stranger Things
Credit: ABC

Once again, it all comes down to Stephen King.

Perhaps more than anything else, Stephen King’s novel IT (1986) and its various adaptations are key to Stranger Things and practically primal in their intensity. The idea of a group of “loser” outcast children with a sole female member in a small town filled with violence who find themselves pursued by an unknowable, unstoppable alien force was drawn up decades before the Duffer Brothers got to it.

While the creators have not been as effusive in their praise of IT as some other shows, games, and movies, it’s impossible to deny. When Stranger Things season 5 is finally over and the show ends, at least you’ll be able to take a trip to Derry.

What will happen in Stranger Things season 5? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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