These Are the Movies That Inspired Stranger Things The Talks Today

The Duffer brothers have never been afraid to wear their inspirations on their sleeves, and it’s certainly obvious with Stranger Things. The science fiction, horror, fantasy, and adventure components of the series are direct inspirations from some of the Duffer brothers’ favorite ’80s films, and they’ve used those inspirations to make one of the most popular television shows in recent memory. With Netflix users watching billions of hours of the show across all four seasons, many viewers might not know about the various inspirations that helped to bring the town of Hawkins, Indiana and all its characters to life.

Whether it’s the setting, the story, the characters, or even the monsters in Stranger Things, it has all been inspired by a piece of ’80s popular culture in one way or another. Here are 10 movies that helped to inspire the creation of Stranger Things.



Alien has inspired the creation of Stranger Things in a few ways, not just one. For starters, the xenomorph alien was one piece of the movie that was translated over to the show. According to Ross Duffer, the design of the xenomorph had a direct influence on the design of Stranger Things’s iconic Demogorgon monster. Of course, the name of the character came from Dungeons and Dragons, but the actual design for the towering monster was drawn from Alien.

Also, Matt Duffer said that the planet in the film came to inspire the two brothers as well. The planet that we see in Alien had floating particles in the air, which we also end up seeing in the Upside Down, along with vines, spored, and “weird organic growths.” These growths were used with practical effects, similar to some of the practical effects that we see in Alien as well.



Akira is a 1988 anime film that centers around a teenage member of a biker gang that also happens to have psychic powers. This teen is a part of a group of psychic kids, known as Espers in the film. These teens are used as test subjects by the government in order for them to be used for the government’s own personal gain. This is eerily similar to Eleven and the group of kids that she was with at the Hawkins laboratory, as they also had psychic powers and were experimented on by the government to further the government’s own personal Cold War agenda.

And an even further similarity is that the Espers in Akira were identified with numbers for their names, exactly like the test subjects at the Hawkins lab. The Duffers have cited the film as an influence for the structure of the show, and the similarities between the groups of kids in Akira and Stranger Things are blatantly obvious after you pay close attention to them.

Related: Is Stranger Things Based on a True Story?


Carrie 1976
United Artists

The easiest similarity to point out between Carrie and Stranger Things is that both stories focus on a teenage girl with telekinetic powers who is bullied by her teenage peers. This is most obvious in the first half of season four of Stranger Things when Eleven is bullied by Angela at the Rink-O-Mania, and she has a chocolate milkshake thrown on her. While Eleven ends up attacking Angela, it’s not with her powers, unlike Carrie when she unleashes her powers on her bullies after being doused in pig’s blood.

The point still stands that both Carrie and Eleven are powerful girls who were mercilessly bullied by others. While the Duffers have mentioned that the book Carrie, written by Stephen King, has been a huge source of inspiration, the same could be said about the film, as they both tell the tale of the telekinetic girl that can’t quite control her powers.

Stand By Me

Stand by Me Coming to 4K Ultra HD with Never-Before-Seen Deleted Scenes
Columbia Pictures

Along with Eleven as a main character in Stranger Things, we also have the group of young boys Will Byers, Mike Wheeler, Lucas Sinclair, and Dustin Henderson. This group dynamic was inspired by one of the Duffers’ principal inspirations for the show, which was the film Stand By Me along with its previous book adaptation. The film was such a big inspiration, in fact, that the Duffer brothers even had the young actors read lines from the film as part of their auditions for the show.

But the inspirations and references don’t stop there, as we see Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Eleven walking along a set of train tracks during the first season as an homage to the film. Plus, there’s even an episode in the first season of Stranger Things titled “The Body” which is also a direct reference to the story in Stand By Me, where the group of boys set out on an adventure to find a dead body.

The Thing

The Thing
Universal Pictures

While many movies that you’ll see on this list inspired either the story or design of the characters in the show in some way, The Thing provided a different kind of inspiration to the Duffer brothers. The Thing is famed for not only its gripping and suspenseful story, but also for its practical effects. The Thing was able to bring a massive, grotesque monster to life with entirely practical effects, which left a huge mark on Ross Duffer. It left such a huge mark, in fact, that when the Duffers were creating Stranger Things, they made it a goal to use as many practical effects as they could, even though villains such as the Demogorgon and the Mind Flayer have been CGI across the show’s run. However, the villain Vecna has an entirely prosthetic costume, not only to make the character feel more alive, but also to help the fellow actors feel like the character is really there as well.


Universal Pictures

The Duffer brothers have stated that out of all the films they have seen, Jaws is “probably” at the top of their list as their favorite movie. So of course, with a movie that the brothers adore so much, they are going to take inspiration from the film and use those inspirations as much as they can. For example, everyone’s favorite police chief Jim Hopper was actually based on the police chief that we see in Jaws. Not only that, but the build up around the shark and the fact that viewers don’t even see the shark was a direct inspiration for what they did with the Demogorgon in the first season of the show. They didn’t want viewers to see the creature right away, leaving an element of the unknown. This element of the unknown leaves more suspense than if viewers saw the Demogorgon all the time, making it feel like the Demogorgon is something to truly be feared.


Poltergeist movie

Poltergeist turns an ordinary television into something extraordinary when Carol Anne gets warped into the television. She is taken to another dimension and is held captive as her family tries to get her back. Carol Anne even uses the seemingly normal television to communicate with the beings that kidnapped her. If a kid being sent to another dimension and using a normal household item to communicate between dimensions sounds familiar, that’s because that’s exactly what happens to Will Byers in the first season of the show. Will is kidnapped by the Demogorgon and is sent to the Upside Down. However, Will is able to use lights, most prominently Christmas lights that his mother Joyce sets up, to communicate with his mom that he is alive, but is in grave danger. The Duffers used this concept to the fullest and were able to make a smash hit with the first season of Stranger Things thanks to this inspiration from Poltergeist.

Related: Stranger Things: Every Major Horror Reference, Explained


A scene from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Pictures

Another film that the Duffers have cited as being a major inspiration for the creation of Stranger Things, E.T. is even stated as being “foundational text for Stranger Things in tone and tenor.” Not only that, but the Duffers have gone on record saying that the early relationship between Mike and Eleven is based directly on the relationship between Elliott and E.T., such as Mike hiding Eleven from his parents or Mike showing Eleven what life is like for a normal teenage boy.

Even the opening shot in Stranger Things of the boys playing Dungeons and Dragons is a nod to the film in a scene where Elliott’s brother Michael is also playing Dungeons and Dragons with his friends. The references and inspirations go on and on, as there are too many to even list. While Stranger Things wouldn’t be possible without a lot of these old school movies, E.T. is definitely a major one that had one of the biggest impacts on the show.

The Goonies

The Goonies (1985)
Warner Bros. Pictures

Similar to Stand By Me, The Goonies helped to mainly inspire the group dynamic of the young boys Mike, Lucas, and Dustin along with teens Steve Harrington and Nancy Wheeler as they search for Will Byers. Another reference to the film, which is probably the most lasting reference in all of Stranger Things, is that Mike Wheeler’s name came directly from Mikey Walsh, one of the main characters from The Goonies.

Stranger Things even had the luxury of bringing in an actor from The Goonies, as Sean Astin was brought in for the second season of the show when he played the lovable Bob Newby. Overall, a bunch of kids going on an unexpected adventure is certainly Goonies-esque as well.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

nightmare on elmstreet
New Line Cinema

Finally, we have A Nightmare on Elm Street. The Duffers have stated that Elm Street really scared them back in the day, because inserting this unexplainable evil such as Freddy Krueger into normal American life is one of the scariest things to them. This is the basis for the entirety of Stranger Things, as a seemingly normal life in middle America Hawkins, Indiana is turned upside down when Will Byers vanishes, and strange monsters and alternate dimensions start suddenly popping up. Plus, in the third episode of the first season of the show, when the Demogorgon pushes through the wall and stretches it out is very reminiscent of an Elm Street scene when Freddy attempts to push his way through the ceiling in Nancy Thompson’s room.

The inspirations go all the way to season four of the show when teens are being visually tormented by Vecna, which is also eerily similar to the way that Freddy would torment his victims before killing them. And season four goes even further with Elm Street inspiration by having Robert Englund star in the show as an older version of Victor Creel, a man who was one of the first people to be tormented by Vecna.

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