“Stranger Things”: So Many Amazing Stephen King and Steven Spielberg References We Stopped Counting

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By William Hicks | 5:45 pm, July 27, 2016

Warning to the unconverted: This article contains spoilers from Season 1 of Stranger Things.

What makes Netflix’s new series Stranger Things amazing is the prolific, if not shameless use of ’80s pop culture to craft the narrative. Stephen King and Steven Spielberg are the most obvious treasure troves of references, but the showrunners of Stranger Things drew upon many stories to weave together their strange tale of disappearances in a small Indiana town. And that’s not a bad thing. Stranger Things may be a hodgepodge of easily identifiable references and plot lines from our favorite 80s horror books and Sci Fi movies, but it’s a wonderfully entertaining hodgepodge nonetheless.

Here are some of the best examples:

1. Firestarter

Eleven’s character seems to be drawn directly from Steven King’s 1980 novel. In Firestarter a couple partakes in a secret government hallucinogenic experiment while the wife is pregnant. When the daughter is born, she is endowed with powerful pyrokinetic abilities. The daughter is eventually captured by the shady government agency and experimented upon to test the extent of her powers. Sound familiar?

2. E.T.


Spielberg’s E.T. is obvious source material for Stranger Things. From the kids riding around town on nostalgic ’80s bikes to hazmat suits to the blonde wigs both E.T. and Eleven share, the film was absolutely indispensable to the new Netflix series.

The scene where Eleven flips the van over the kids clearly is heavily reminiscent of when E.T. levitates the bikes to escape from government agents. Also, the scene where Eleven is home alone, checking out the house, was ripped from E.T.‘s own hijinks home alone. Even the way the kids find Eleven, in the woods at night, looks heavily derivative.

3.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind


Winona Ryder’s obsession with the paranormal force that took her son closely resembles Richard Dreyfuss’ own perceived madness in Close Encounters. In the film, Dreyfuss constructs a tower out of mashed potatoes and shovels dirt into the house, while in Stranger Things Ryder decks out the living room in Christmas lights and hatchets a hole through the wall.


4. A Nightmare on Elm Street

The scene where Nancy and Jonathan lure the monster into the trap and light him on fire is very similar to a scene in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, where the final girl sets booby traps for Freddie around the house and eventually lights him on fire.


Also, the way so much of Stranger Things plays out in Nancy’s 80s teen girl’s bedroom is also very reminiscent of Nightmare, including the scenes of her dreaming.

5. Alien

Alien (which came out in 1979 but we’ll still call it the 80s) gets a lot of love in Stranger Things. When Winona Ryder finds her son, his mouth is hooked up to a strange tentacle that looks very similar to the facehugger aliens.

Many of the creepy elements of the upside down world also seem to be taken from the Engineers’ ship in Alien.

6. Poltergeist 

Probably the most direct scene taken from Poltergeist is when the Department of Energy sends one of their men through the portal on a lead to presumably find the monster. In Poltergeist the daughter is sent through the portal tied to a rope — except in that case she survived.

7. The Goonies 


It is difficult to point to specific scenes, but Stranger Things definitely shows the influence of The Goonies. 

The whole idea of a bunch of kids setting out on a dangerous adventure to solve a problem without the help of their parents gives the series a Goonies vibe. Coupled with teenagers and younger kids working together, despite earlier treating each other poorly. Plus, the kid with no front teeth totally fills the Chunk role.

8. Stand By Me and It

stranger things stand by me

The shot of the kids walking down the rail road in search of the portal to the upside down world seems to be taken directly out of Stephen King’s Stand By Me (as in, the classic movie version of Stephen King’s short story, The Body).

The idea of a band of nerdy kids hunting for a monster who snatched one of their own is also a direct reference to the Stephen King classic It. And who could forget, of course, the first scene of It when the boy goes missing, much like the boy who goes missing at the beginning of “Stranger Things”. The only thing that Netflix left out? Pennywise the Clown.

9. Carrie

The Eleven character seems to be a cross between the girls in Firestarter and Carrie (both Stephen King, of course). Eleven’s telekinetic powers more closely resemble Carrie’s, and they both share obsessive and creepy parental figures.

The final scene of Carrie receives homage as well. The moment where Nancy’s hand reaches out from the portal to the upside down world closely resembles Carrie’s hand reaching from the grave in the Brian DePalma film.

10. Scanners

Eleven’s favorite method of dispatching her enemies alludes to David Cronenberg’s Scanners. While in Scanners telekinetic powers are used to make people’s heads explode, Stranger Things takes a less bloody route and simply makes the victims bleed from the eyes, implying severe internal damage.

Stranger Things certainly doesn’t suffer from the anxiety of influence. In one scene, you see a security guard at a morgue who appears to be reading a hardcover version of Cujo, with a huge picture of a young Stephen King on the back. King himself didn’t seem to mind getting knocked off by Netflix. Far from it.