Stealthy, long-limbed creature with no facial features besides a mouth? Check! Big, green eggs? Check! Viscous secretions for immobilizing victims? Check! Tentacular appendages rammed down those victims throats, filling them up with parasites? Big check! Stranger Things wears its Alien influences proudly. Joyce’s conviction that her child is alive against all odds in the clutches of such a beast mirrors Ripley’s desperate search for her surrogate daughter Newt in the final reel of Aliens.
3) The Goonies (1985)
Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Will of Stranger Things have a bond immediately and deeply familiar to anyone who was a kid in the 80’s, or to anyone who has ever seen the 1985 Richard Donner/Steven Spielberg collaboration The Goonies. In that film, a group of young friends with a deep bond mix childlike enthusiasm and humor with wickedly grown up cunning to outsmart gangsters and find buried pirate treasure. The stakes are higher and deadlier for Mike and his friends in Hawkins, Indiana but their loyalty and “never say die” attitude would make The Goonies (whose leader was also an optimistic, non-athletic kid named Mike) proud.
2) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) / E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982)
The two films that most clearly established Steven Spielberg as a science fiction visionary deserve coequal mention for their influence on Stranger Things. Like Richard Dreyfuss’s character in Close Encounters who became obsessed with contacting aliens, Joyce’s obsession with reaching her son takes a toll on her house, pushes her remaining family away, and looks to everyone like a descent into madness. When she finally figures out how to communicate with Will using strings of Christmas lights it is very reminiscent of one of Close Encounters’ most iconic scenes.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas are having a very E.T.-like adventure with Eleven. She may not resemble Spielberg’s lumpy alien physically, but thanks to having lived her entire life in a laboratory, she is as clueless as E.T. when it comes to human behavior. The shout-outs are almost too numerous to catalogue, including scenes with Star Wars toys and escapades while wearing a blonde wig. When it comes time to soar in front of the moon on bicycles… Well, let’s just say that’s when the shout-out gets brutally deconstructed and Eleven has a much different plan for dealing with her pursuers than E.T. did with his!