Stranger Things would not have happened without these movies

After its immense success, it's hard to imagine a world where Stranger Things was never released. However, that could have been the case if it weren't for these movies.

Stranger Things season 2 key art. Image: Netflix
Stranger Things season 2 key art. Image: Netflix /

Welcome to Hawkins, Indiana, a small town where the paranormal comes to life, horrific secrets hide on every corner, and the worst is yet to come for Eleven, Mike, and the rest of the gang. While we eagerly await the premiere of the fifth and final season of the Netflix hit series, Stranger Things, it's time to take a step back and look at how it all came to be in the first place.

What were the Duffer brothers' inspirations when crafting the horror series? Are iconic characters such as Steve and Nancy based on protagonists from other big-screen projects? Why do some scenes of the series feel a little too familiar? Well, it's time to answer all these questions and more as we look at the movies that helped bring Stranger Things to life.

Photo: Batman / Warner Bros. Studios, Image Courtesy Fathom Events Press (Batman 80th Anniversary) /

Tim Burton's Batman

It may not seem obvious at first glance, but Batman (1989) is perhaps one of the biggest reasons why we can enjoy Stranger Things today.

Before the iconic DC movie premiered, Matt and Ross Duffer saw many of its commercials and couldn't help but be captivated by Tim Burton's art direction. After they finally watched Gotham City come to life behind a screen, they recognized Tim Burton's signature style in many other iconic projects such as Beetlejuice. It was this notion of a director's personal stamp that pushed the Duffer brothers to pursue a career in filmmaking.

"When we started to see TV commercials for Tim Burton’s Batman, it looked like the most mind-blowing thing I’d ever seen."

Matt Duffer

While Batman (1989) didn't directly influence the story or character of Stranger Things, it's the reason why the Duffer brothers attempted to create a series of their own. Without it, perhaps history would have been different and audiences wouldn't have known about the dangers that lie on the Upside Down.

Alien 1979

If you ever find yourself in a twisted version of Earth filled with weird creatures, floating particles, and many tendrils, then you know you are lost in the Upside Down. This scary alternate dimension has a unique design that audiences can instantly recognize with one look. So what could've possibly influenced the creation of such an eerie place? Nothing other than a movie that's just as horrifying.

In an interview with Variety, the Duffer brothers revealed Alien (1979) was used as an inspiration to determine how the Upside Down would look, specifically with the snow-like particles floating in the air. Besides, the Xenomorph was also used as a blueprint when creating the design of the Demogorgon.

"We talked about “Silent Hill.” The video games were an inspiration, and “Alien” was an inspiration, in terms of the look."

Matt Duffer

Following in Alien's footsteps, the Duffer brothers wanted to create an animatronic that could be used to film the scenes involving the Demogorgon on Stranger Things. They believed nothing would beat the feeling of a real monster being there on set with all the actors. And judging by the final result, that proved to be the right choice.

" We’re specifically thinking about Ridley Scott’s Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. So from very early on we knew we wanted to build an animatronic monster."

The Duffer Brothers


Stranger Things hides a lot of references to popular '80s movies that are incredibly easy to miss. However, if there's one that audiences immediately recognize without fail, it's the nod to E.T.'s bicycle chase scene.

Both the Netflix series and the Steven Spielberg movie feature sequences where a group of kids is trying to escape from the cops by riding on bikes. After a while, when there appears to be no way out, the gang's new super-powered friend uses its special abilities to finally lose the police. Additionally, both sequences were shot in a similar fashion, making it clear the Duffer brothers wanted to pay homage to E.T. in Stranger Things.

As if that wasn't enough, the way the relationship between Mike and Eleven developed is also shaped by E.T. as reported by Entertainment Weekly. After all, Elliot takes the Extra-Terrestrial being to his house, gives it a tour of the place, and shows him a bunch of his toys, which is the same thing that happens between Mike and Eleven after they cross paths in the forest.

"Just as E.T. is about the connection between E.T. and Elliot, this chapter is about the connection between Eleven and Mike"

The Duffer brothers

There are also a few E.T. easter eggs to be found in Stranger Things, such as one graffiti that reads "E.T. phone home" on a phone booth in season 4, or Eleven using a dress and a blonde wig to disguise herself in season 1 just like E.T. did.

Super 8

Stop me if you've heard this before. A group of normal kids living in the late '70s and early '80s see themselves involved in a horrifying situation where they need to help a super-powered being escape from the cops and military. Sounds familiar? Well, we're not talking about Stranger Things (nor E.T. for that matter), but rather Super 8. The 2011 movie helped shape the feeling and storytelling of the Netflix series, as revealed by the Duffer brothers on the Happy Sad Confused Podcast:

"I loved “Super 8,” but then it was just gone. No one else did it. And I do think there was an appetite – or that’s what I hoped – for this type of storytelling, so that really more than anything is what it is, is trying to stay in that zone."

The Duffer brothers

It's easy to see how the J.J. Abrams movie inspired the feel and structure of Stranger Things. They both start with pre-teens living a normal life before their life gets turned upside-down (pun intended) by accident. Before they realize, they see themselves involved in a great paranormal mystery that slowly unravels before audiences' eyes. Things greatly escalate when powerful groups that worked in suspicious experiments get thrown into the mix as well. And even though both live-action projects feature kids as protagonists, neither of them is afraid to get dark and violent when needed.

The similitudes between Stranger Things and Super 8 are undeniable.


Trying to fit in high school is difficult enough — let alone when you have superpowers — and there's no better example of that than Carrie. So it doesn't come as a surprise that the Duffer brothers looked at the 1976 horror movie for inspiration when writing Eleven's arc for Stranger Things. That's especially evident in season 4 when she is bullied on the ice skating rink to the point of no return.

The scene where El snaps after being thrown a drink and laughed at right in front of her whole class is incredibly reminiscent of Carrie's prom scene. Stephen King, the writer behind the original novel, even commented on the matter:

Eleven's struggle to control her powers is a key aspect of her story through all seasons of Stranger Things. So Carrie's horror roots and superpowered protagonist made it the perfect inspiration for such an important arc.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street has shaped Stranger Things from its very inception, but its mark on the highly acclaimed series can be better appreciated during its fourth season. After audiences were finally introduced to the mastermind behind all the horrors that torment Hawkins, it became evident Freddy Krueger himself heavily influenced this key character.

Not only does Vecna look a lot like Freddy, as both monsters are covered with burnt skin, but the two are able to possess their victims' minds to exploit their biggest fears and traumatic memories as well. Besides, American actor Robert Englund, famous for portraying Freddy Krueger on the big screen, brought Victor Creel to life on the Netflix series. He just so happens to be Vecna's father.

Without A Nightmare on Elm Street, we could have a completely different antagonist on Stranger Things. Perhaps audiences would've seen a villain that wasn't human as the first seasons led us to believe. But in case that isn't enough, as the Duffer brothers also revealed in an interview with Men's Journal that the 1984 movie was used as a cultural reference when creating the series:

"The teens are in that sort of ‘80s horror film like Nightmare on Elm Street (...) where nerdy outsiders have to band together to overcome this terrifying horror."

The Duffer brothers

The Goonies

We've talked about the movies that inspired the Duffer brothers to become directors, the ones that shaped Eleven's arc along with her relationship with Mike, and the ones that influenced the design of the Upside Down and Vecna. But this next film had one of the greatest influences on the creation of Stranger Things so far. Without it, the gang as we know it may have been completely different.

In an interview with Cut Print Film, Ross Duffer talked about how Mike's character was inspired by Mikey from The Goonies:

"Mike was originally a little bit that Mikey from The Goonies, that Sean Astin soft-spoken dreamer type."

Ross Duffer

On that same page, it's easy to find a lot of parallels between characters from the 1985 movie and Stranger Things. Steve Harrington, an athletic teen who can be protective and responsible in tense situations, resembles Brandon Walsh. Besides, Nancy Wheeler could be based on Andrea Carmichael (who happens to date Brand in the movie just like Nancy goes out with Steve in the first seasons).

Granted, the Duffer brothers later revealed the personalities and traits of some Stranger Things characters changed once their roles were finally cast. But had it not been for The Goonies, the blueprints for their creation could've been completely different.